Wednesday, April 19, 2006

the devil?

A few posts ago, Liz asked what I thought the Quaker view of the devil is, and I gave a quick response, in the comments area, but I'll try to give a more full answer here. This is a sticky topic, because believing in a personified devil figure is not very popular in our postmodern culture.

It's obviously very difficult to pin down the "Quaker view" on anything, so I'll do my best and then say what I think.

In early Quakerism there was a lot written about being involved in the "Lamb's War," that is, the war of Jesus against the powers of darkness. I don't think they probably questioned whether there was a personified devil any more than they questioned whether there was a personified God. To the early Friends, having faith is to become a soldier in a war against evil (to be distinguished clearly from the War on Terror!). They recognized that there were evil forces at work, and that it took sacrifices in order to advance the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is not a flesh-and-blood kingdom, it's not going to be a government or even a form of government (although Penn kind of tried that), but it's a coming age when the righteousness and justice of God will rule because all will know and follow God. Their work as Christians and as Friends (which were one and the same to them, as far as I can tell) was to follow their commander, Jesus/Holy Spirit, even when it meant death. And it often did mean death, or at least imprisonment, because they were sincerely fighting against evil, and evil was fighting back.

As far as Quakers today, Quakers in "developing" countries I think generally would believe in a personified devil. They are mainly on the evangelical end of the Friends spectrum and tend to read the Bible more literally. Their cultures generally are more spiritual, in that they believe in a spirit world that effects daily life all the time, for god and evil. So they can understand Christianity with its duality of good and evil spirits.

Although there isn't exactly a personified devil in the Old Testament (the serpent is never named as the devil, the "adversary" in Job is interpreted as the devil but not so named), a concept of a personalized devil has developed by New Testament times: Jesus is tempted by THE devil (given a definite article in Greek, meaning it is a specific entity not just a force of evil or a demon), the Lord's Prayer in Matthew says "Deliver us from the Evil One," (again with the definite article in the Greek), and Jesus and his disciples expel demons from people--and these are just a few examples. So there is definitely biblical reason to believe in personified evil spirits and one head devil.

American Christian Quakers don't talk about the devil much, at least in circles I've been in. There is talk of sin and sinful nature, and I think it's more popular to think of an evil force that corrupted our human nature, as it was supposed to be created, from the Image of God to a distorted image that can't help but sin until it's regenerated by God's grace through Christ, and through the Holy Spirit helping us to recognize God's grace and accept it. Many American Quaker Christians also believe there is a devil who personifies evil and may encourage acts of evil in the world.

Some people think that demon possession is really mental disorders, and Jesus could heal the person's mind as well as their body, so he wasn't expelling demons but healing the mind. But this doesn't really make sense with the biblical witness because the demons can talk, they recognize Jesus as the Son of God, and they can be driven out of a person and into pigs.

And some American Quakers don't believe in a devil at all, especially those who do not identify themselves as Christians or who think the Bible is an interesting and helpful story but shouldn't be taken literally at all. Probably some American Quakers don't believe in evil, only in structural injustice, which causes evil things to happen, which influences more evil things...etc.

So what do I think? Well, philosophically and theologically, from a Christian perspective, there are many problems with believing in a personified devil, and there are many problems with not believing in said devil. If there is a devil, where did it come from? Did God create it? If so, can God create evil? There is no place in the Protestant Bible where the story we're told of Satan as a fallen angel appears, although I think it's in the Apochrypha (which is in the Catholic Bible), so probably was written sometime between the Exile and the time of Jesus (about 500 years). So pretty much in the Protestant Bible, the devil just shows up in Matthew 4 for the first time and there is no indication where it came from. So it's hard to know if Judaism was just influenced by its neighbors, espeically Zorastrians who were complete dualists, and took on the idea of a personalized devil when there really isn't one, or if the understanding of the evil spiritual world kept developing over the years as they learned to understand the good spiritual world more fully as well.

Another problem is dualism. If we believe in the devil, does that mean there's another force that is outside of God? If God can't take any part in evil, how could it come to be without God? Is there another eternal power besides God? Christian doctrine says no: God is the only infinite. So where could this evil being have come from? We can explain sin as a rupture in relationship with God, and that God din't create this but created the possibility. But it's harder to explain an actual entity whose purpose and personhood is evil incarnate.

At the same time, as a Christian I can't just ignore passages in the Bible that talk about a personified devil. I can choose to believe that they are allegorical, but I can't just discard them without thinking about them.

And I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately for a couple reasons. First, I read an autobiography of a Christian woman from South Korea for my church history class, and she said she hadn't believed in demons but then she saw someone with a demon, and she and another minister prayed, they talked to it, and eventually it came out of the man. This autobiography was written in 1988. I don't think she's making this up. We could explain it away by saying the person had a mental breakdown and believed there was a demon speaking through him but he made it all up, but he wasn't even a Christian and knew nothing about Christianity and yet the demon knew the name of Jesus, etc. (Cho Wha Soon, "Let the Weak Be Strong: A Woman's Struggle for Justice," 1988.)

And today I was reading a book called "The Song," part of a trilogy of "The Singer," "The Song," and "The Finale" by Calvin Miller. These are allegorical stories that explain Jesus' life and then how Christians can live like Jesus. They're really cool--you should read them. They're written almost in the form of poetry, and the flow of the words and the imagery is amazing. Anyway, so the devil comes to this Christian (although they have different names, it being an allegory), and has changed forms. No longer is he "World-hater," this being that everyone knows is evil and whom they fear because of his evil power, but now he is "Sarcon," he is beautiful, he is the ideal person, he knows science and trusts reason, and people are drawn to him because they can understand what he's saying--as opposed to the Christian message. Instead of loving something outside themselves, Sarcon teaches people to love themselves and to try to reach some ideal. Knowledge is the ideal, and science will get them there, because if they just figure out one more thing they'll be able to unlock the secrets of the universe. This is a form of trying to be like God--not that science is evil in itself, but the desire to know everything so that we can be in control, this is idolatry.

So I wonder if perhaps "the devil" has changed forms in Western culture. Instead of being a personified being who we could easily avoid, evil has become amorophous--just the basic desire for power and control, knowledge that will keep us from death, understanding that will keep others subjected to us. If people were possessed by demons they would know there was evil out there. But they're being sneakier--with subtlties we can't quite grasp we are influenced to desire power, recognition, control, love, on our own steam.

I'm not sure if there is no personified devil, or if there is. I'm not sure if there are demons. But I know that there is evil, that sometimes I'm taken with an inane desire to do something that I know is stupidly hurtful or wrong, that sometimes I don't want to do what I know would draw me closer to God who is Life, and whether this is just me and my own stupid human nature or whether this is a personified devil doesn't really matter much. But I'm not throwing out the idea of a personalized devil just yet, because I've had experiences where there's a feeling of deep, unexplainable darkness, and I can't forget the power this has. But thankfully, amazingly, God's power is greater.

I pledge to be in this Lamb's War, even if it takes suffering and death, even when I'm scared, even when I'd rather do something more "respectable." Who's with me?


Swallowtail said...

I'm with you, Cherice! And as I see the issue of evil and a Devil, I don't believe in a devil with a capital D but I do believe in evil as people (or out-of-body souls) who stray from God and good.

It's been a pleasure reading your blog but this is the first comment I've posted. Thanks for sharing.

Kurt :)

Lovin' Life Liz said...

I haven't had time to read all this yet since I've been super busy but thanks for responding to my question. Can't wait till I have time to read this!

david said...

How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the mount of assembly on the heights of Zaphon; I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High." But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit. (Isaiah 14:12-15)

Not the Apocrypha. Isaiah. however, also not likely the devil either. Likely the king of Babylon.

Johan Maurer said...

I've posted a survey on related questions here (and have sent it to many people around the world). If anyone is led to respond to any or all of the questions, you can do it on that site or in e-mail to me at johan(at) Thanks! And thanks, Cherice, for what you've offered here.

cherice said...


Thanks for putting up that quote from Isaiah. I know that's what Protestants use to justify the idea that the devil is a fallen angel, but I think there's a more explicit story about it's hard for me to believe that Christians developed a whole doctrine based on that reference which clearly has to do with human rulers in the context. But I haven't studied this doctrine specifically, so I'm not sure what other literature there might be about the origin of the devil.

I AM said...

Cherice: I just finished reading your blog "The DEVIL' very well put.I myself have read the BIBLE twice back in the 80's but started seading it about a year ago.
Is it not possible if GOD made everything than we must assume that He also made the one that we knoe as the Devil! Why one might ask? To me as I was taught that oppisites atract.Possible, so if one was to create the world and everything in it wouldn't it be fair to say that he wanted someone to share it with? And if so is it not possible that he made the opposite of goood wich is EVIL.
Why one might ask? kind of like chest or checkers to play you must have a apponant.Like any other gameeventually everyone wants to go first, except the creator of the game knows all the rules and how it realy works.
So if GOD created everythihg and wanted someone to play with is it not possible he chose the oppisite.
Is it not possible that the earth is just a big game table and his oppisite wanted control so he was sent to earth to control.
Ibelive that God gives everyone the willingness to choose right over wrong.
Is it not possible that the Devil as the mast majoritie fo the world belives is just a Spirit who willingly chose and still chooses write over wrong.
If so than is it not possible that the world has now become a very large yard for a game of hide and seek. With good seeking evil.
A personalized Devil? Good question. If the Dvil is a male like alot belive it is true than where would he/his Spirit hide? Is it not possible that he would either enter the body of a woman or have a sex change. That would or could explain when the Bible states the he is a beautiful deciving person.
So I ask myself many times over why did GOD come down to earth? To save soul or collect spirits?
It is my understanding that you can kill a body, you can loose a soul, But what about the Spirit? I don't belive that one can kill a Spirit only cast it out as Jesus did when he sent the two Spirits in to the pigs.
So it is my understanding that many people inthe world are trying to kill the Evil Spirit that is in the world today but only end up Setting it free. Free to tavle about and willingly choose another body to torment, how unfair to the person that has become the holder of the Spirit.I belive that it is unfair for any body,person, or soul to have to go through that.
So how would one go about finding who we have come to know as the Devil today.In hide and seek the object is to catch the person but in a Spiritual War is it not possible that we must catch the Spirit? And who could do that? The Creator,GOD or JESUS the second comeing. And why the second coming? Is it not possible that He must come back for if He madethe Spirit know as the Devil than is it not Possible that he could be the only one who could capture the Same Spirit without it driving Him crazy as it has been doing to people for around 2000 years
The Spiritual War between GOD and The EVIL Spirit The Great War or should I say The Great game of hide and seek.
If you can kill the body,lose a sole and can't kill a spirit would it not be faie to say that if one where to send a Evil Spirit into pigs than one must assume that when the pigs dei than the Spirit is once again set Free, ouch.
So than one may come to belive that Jesus has or had to come back to earth to COLLECT the Spirt that GOD made.
So if killing the body sets if free and casting it out sets it free than is it not true that the Spirit has to go back to the Creator.
The mofia has a thing called the kiss of death, where one not kisses but in true fact they suck the life/Spirit out of the body and willingly holds it inside.
So in my personal Spiritual War I am haer to save souls, set bodys free and collect Spirits of the EVIL nature.
Iam just a vessle of GODS who has more faith in my father who I choose to call GOD my creator than most people have in themselves.
If people would belive in themselves and theire abilities as I belive in them and there abilities than they would come to realize that there is nothing that they can't do.
RELIGION: I must first say that theire is "NO WRONG RELIGION " only "RELIGION DONE WRONG" we must willingly choose write over wrong.
I have enjoyed your blog and resopnding to your thouhts for this is my first time responding to a blog and have only just started my blog wich you can find by typing (
my e-mail is ( others.
My Spiritual battle has just begone.Keep praying to your God And for me.
One more thought to ponder.
deffinition: He Odviosly Love You
Because I Belive Love Exist.
My Spiritual battle has just begone.

Regards: I AM

Nancy A said...

I use the word devil because it's a good word with a long historical context. I like the allegorical tale of the fallen angel because it explains evil very well. Evil is good inside out. Like a glove, it now fits on the other hand.

Like the George Fox song says, "You can't kill the devil with a gun or a sword." Sometimes I think we could douse it with water, like the Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz.

But more likely, we'd just turn it back right side out. We extend a hand, befriend, speak to that of God, believe in the transformative power of human love and connection. The devil ceases to be devil and becomes friend.

Jung talked about evil in terms of the Shadow inside us, the unresolved issues, the pain we hide from, the feelings we suppress. Once we face them, accept them, deal with them, they simply become parts of who we are. They lose their power to do such harm to us and others.

I think there's a bit of the devil in that.

Peter the Anderson said...

Hi Cherice,

Dropped in for a moment, and saw this post. The Devil as a personality definitely exists, even if only in the body of human beings and their lustful and greedy societies. It's hard to discern through natural philosophy whether or not there are angels and demons in some alternative mode of being, but it is surely wiser to treat the powers of heaven and earth as more than merely a metaphor for personality archetypes, isn't it? Anyhow, I think of the fish in the sea and wonder whether there might also be creatures which literally live in fire, 'Beings of energy' rather than of matter. That might help.


Albion said...

Dear Cherice,

I've been reading some of your older posts, and I saw this one, and I just had to respond.

Have you ever met anyone who simply HATED and DESPISED Jesus?

I have. I could mention his screen name, and his e-list with over 400 people on it, but I won't.

"The father of lies". He hasn't changed his personality, and his 'followers' have the very same personality that he has.

Yes, the Lamb's War is the real deal.

But it's kinda of like 'Gospel Order', one must BELIEVE IN the Gospel, to have 'Gospel Order' (I owe Terry Wallace for this right on quote).....RIGHT?

Ditto, for the Lamb's War, one must actually BELIEVE IN "The Lamb" (Christ Jesus), to actually particpate in 'the Lamb's War'.

Mostly the devil (I believe) struts around alot, mouths off alot (like his devoted followers), but for him to actually EFFECT US, we must fall for his temptation(s), otherwise, he just huffs and puffs, but never really blows the house down.

If I understand George Fox correctly, the early Quakers came into such a state of victory that they began to lead lives that were basically free of sin.

Should'nt this be our goal, as well?

Then all worry and thoughts of the devil and darkness vanish....taken away by the Light of Christ, Within US.

Some thoughts to ponder.

In Christ's Light, Albion