Believe in Satan?

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“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Believe in God, believe also in me.”
(Jesus to his disciples in John 14:1 NRSV)

This morning, my wife answered the doorbell to find two strange men bearing tracts and a briefcase. One asked her if she believes in Satan. She said simply, “No, thank you,” and closed the door. Did they expect to be invited inside?

Door to door evangelists for Satan? Probably not. I suspect they were fundamentalist Christians who have adopted “belief” in Satan as a literal, “personal” being (his Satanic Majesty) as their litmus test for Christian faith. If so, they are heretics (heresy means false teaching) who are setting unnecessary stumbling blocks between people and Christian faith, but on the more everyday level, their question was creepy, and I certainly would not recommend that anyone, especially not a woman alone, let them inside the house or even continue speaking with them. Close the door and lock it. Make sure you have your charged cell phone in hand or are near your home phone.

Were they physically dangerous? Probably they were not, but caution seems the wiser choice.

Now I’m thinking about how I might have answered them had I been home to answer the doorbell. My first inclination would be to reply, “No, I believe in Jesus Christ and the God who sent him. I don’t care to put my trust in Satan.”

I doubt they would agree they were asking people to put their trust in Satan, but that’s what belief in its true biblical sense means. Accepting the mere existence of something may amount to belief in common parlance, but such “belief” is not faith. Before Pluto was demoted from planet status, I used to explain to confirmation classes that I believed in the planet Pluto, meaning only that I accepted the likelihood of its existence even though I could not see it. “But,” I added, “I really don’t care very much, and if tomorrow scientists reevaluated their evidence and declared Pluto’s existence to be a falsehood, I would lose no sleep over it.” Nothing in my life is affected by the existence or nonexistence of Pluto.

Believing in God does not mean accepting the hypothesis that God exists or even that a God exists who is the Creator of the universe. Far from it, believing in God is a matter of life commitment, of trust and service. It means shifting one’s hope to God’s promises and trying to learn to want what God wants, not only for oneself, but for all people and the entire created order. Such belief reorients life and self-understanding and leads me into a different relationship with the human community and the creation (what we call nature). It is transformative.

Do these men want people to put such faith in Satan? I admit I am being disingenuous, but I’m doing so to make a point that might take us beyond the creepiness of the situation.

False teaching uses standards other than faith in Christ and so in the God whose redemptive truth he represents to us to set stumbling stones between people and the gospel, the good news of hope and salvation. Put this way as a litmus test of Christian faith, the question, “Do you believe in Satan?” proposes that if I don’t “believe in” Satan, I can’t believe in Jesus Christ. That’s heresy. That’s the very type of false teaching the apostle Paul declared anathema because it blocks people from God’s redemptive truth.

And it’s creepy, especially when two men confront a woman with it and appear to be trying to gain entrance to her home. Close the door and lock it.

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