Church ApologeticsI write about Satan as if he’s a real spiritual being. All Christians believe that – right?

What if I told you that more than half of Christians in the United States “strongly agree” or “agree somewhat” that Satan is not a living being but is a symbol of evil? That’s based on a Barna Group study from 2009. Here are the results based on a nationwide survey of adults’ spiritual beliefs (1,871 self-described Christians were surveyed).

40% – strongly agreed that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil”

19% – agreed somewhat that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil”

10% – disagreed somewhat that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil”

26% – disagreed strongly that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil”

8% – not sure what they believed about the existence of Satan

That means less than one-third of Christians strongly believe in the existence of Satan.

So, how does that compare with what the rest of the country thinks about Satan? According to a 2007 Gallup Poll, 70% of Americans believe in the devil, while only 21% don’t believe in Satan and 8% are not sure. That’s up dramatically from 1996 when only 56% of Americans said they believed in the devil.

Does it surprise you that more Americans believe in the devil than Christians do? It shouldn’t because it’s part of Satan’s attack on the Church. The devil has worked hard to throw a thick cloak over himself and his kingdom of evil, even though the Bible clearly presents Satan as real as Christ (e.g. Matthew 4:1-11; 5:41; Acts 10:38; Revelation 2:10) and warns Christians to “resist” Satan (James 4:7) and not give place to him (Ephesians 4:27).

Paul warned Christians that Satan has many tricks up his sleeve (Ephesians 6:11) and regularly set traps and snares for Christians to fall into (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:7; 2 Timothy 2:26). What’s the most important part of setting a trap for someone? Make sure they don’t see it. People rarely fall into traps they see, so the trapper has to be careful to disguise the trap so people don’t know it’s a trap. Pretty clever, huh?

Two of my favorite authors are C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis wrote a series of letters in London’s Guardian newspaper more than 70 years ago known as The Screwtape Letters. Lewis published the letters in book form and dedicated it to his friend Tolkien. The Screwtape Letters became very popular on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Screwtape is a senior demon who writes to his nephew Wormwood, a junior demon. Wormwood is responsible for the damnation of an English man known as “the patient.” However, the patient becomes a Christian early in the book and Screwtape then guides Wormwood in what to do to keep the new believer from becoming serious about his new faith. Wormwood wants to tempt his “patient” to commit terrible sins, but Screwtape guides his nephew to distract his patient so that he becomes dull to his faith. That is a powerful image of what has happened to Christians in our lifetime. As we saw in the Barna survey, most Christians don’t even believe in a real Satan.

The insights of Lewis into modern Christianity and its lack of spiritual power – are powerful. Satan does his best work in the dark, unseen and unexposed by the light, where people (especially Christians) do not believe in him and his power. What do you see in these quotes from The Screwtape Letters about your life in Christ, your commitment to living for God? [Keep in mind as you read that the “Enemy” Screwtape refers to is God.]

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts …”

“Whatever their bodies do affects their souls. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out …”

“Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.”

“A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and more amusing.”

“Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is took weak and fuddled to shake off.”

“There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”

“All is summed up in the prayer which a young female human is said to have uttered recently: ‘O God, make me a normal twentieth-century girl!’ Thanks to our labors, this will mean increasingly: ‘Make me a minx, a moron, and a parasite.”

“Keep his mind on the inner life. He thinks his conversion is something inside him, and his attention is therefore chiefly turned at present to the state of his own mind–or rather to that very expurgated version of them which is all you should allow him to see. Encourage this. Keep his mind off the most elementary duties of directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate the most useful human characteristics, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practise self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.”

“Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that “suits” him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.”

“The search for a “suitable” church makes the man a critic where God wants him to be a pupil. What he wants from the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise- does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going.”

“What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favorable credit-balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these ‘smug’, commonplace neighbors at all.”

“Remember, he is not, like you, a pure spirit. Never having been a human (Oh that abominable advantage of the Enemy’s) you don’t realize how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary.”

“The Christians describe the Enemy as one “without whom Nothing is strong”. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them …”

There is a reason Satan doesn’t want you to know he really exists. People don’t pay attention to things they don’t believe exist. That allows the one who exists to go about their work unbelieved, unthought, unseen, unheard, unknown. What better way to control a mind and life than convincing the mind they are not real. Even when we think the devil and his demons might be real we hear a voice in our mind say, “move along, there’s nothing to see here.” And we do the bidding of the voice.

How can we resist something we don’t believe exists? We can’t and don’t. How can we flee from something we don’t believe exists? We can’t and don’t. How can we know the roaring lion is charging at us with full fury to devour us if we don’t have ears to believe in the danger of his attack? We can’t and don’t. How can we succeed in following Christ exclusively if we don’t believe in the devil who tempts us to follow everything and anything inclusively? We can’t and don’t. How then can we please the One Who died for our sins and lives for our future? We can’t and don’t.

May God open our eyes and ears to see and believe in the reality of Satan and his power to steal, kill and destroy.

“‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.” Mark 4:12 (NKJV)