The figure of Satan is often perceived as a fugitive from a Halloween party. He is portrayed as wearing a silly red suit. He has cloven hoofs, horns, a tail, and carries a trident. Such a figure is a point of ridicule among those who deny biblical Christianity. I once asked a college class of about thirty students, "How many of you believe in God?" The majority of the students raised their hand. Then I asked, "How many of you believe in the devil?" Only a couple raised their hand.
One student blurted out, "How can any intelligent person believe in the devil in this day and age? The devil belongs to superstition along with ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night."
I replied, "There is a far more credible source for believing in Satan than for believing in goblins. You may not be persuaded of the trustworthiness of the Bible, but it is surely a more credible source than Mother Goose."
To lump Satan with witches and goblins is to do violence to serious and sober thought. I followed my discussion with the college class with another question: "If you believe that God is an invisible, personal being who has the capacity to influence people for good, why do you find it hard or incredible to imagine that there is an invisible, personal being who has the capacity to influence people for evil?"
Perhaps our problem with Satan rests on the fact that we react to a caricature instead of the biblical view of him. In Scripture, the term Satan means "adversary." We know him as the devil. He is a high angelic creature who, before the creation of the human race, rebelled against God and has since battled with human beings and God. He is called the prince of darkness, the father of lies, the accuser, and the beguiling serpent. The real portrait is nothing like the horned, triad-bearing, comedic adversary to which we have become accustomed. That image, at least in part, arose out of the medieval church. The silly picture of Satan was intentionally created by the church in order to poke fun at him. The church was convinced that an effective ploy to withstand Satan was to insult him. His most vulnerable part was seen as his pride. To attack his pride was seen as an effective way to repel him.
The biblical view of Satan is far more sophisticated. He appears as an "angel of light." That image points to Satan's clever ability to manifest himself under the appearance of good. Satan is subtle, beguiling, and crafty. He speaks with eloquence; his appearance is stunning. The prince of darkness wears a cloak of light. Scripture also speaks of Satan as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Christ is also referred to as a lion, the Lion of Judah. He is a redeemer, the anti-lion and devourer. Both images speak of strength.
How, then, should the believer react to Satan? On the one hand Satan is indeed fearsome. In 1 Peter 5:8 we are told that "your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." The believer is not to respond, however, in sheer terror. Satan may be stronger than we are, but Christ is stronger than Satan. The Bible declares, "He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). Satan is, after all, a creature. He is finite and limited. He is limited in space and time. He cannot be in more than one place at a time. He is never to be regarded in any way as an equal with God. Satan is a higher order of being than humans; he is a fallen angel. But he is not divine. He has more power than earthly creatures but infinitely less power than almighty God.