Jesus Christ calls the Devil a liar and the father of lies. He is ‘a murderer from the beginning’, who also tries to divert the Messiah from his divine mission. The reason why the Son of God came to earth was ‘to destroy the works of the Devil’, declares the First Letter of St John. And the most lethal of those works was to pervert humanity into disobeying God. Huh! Look about you, about the state of Britain, Europe, the West. Disobedience to the Creator has spread like a plague. How right is Scripture in branding Satan as ‘the ruler of this world’.
Still, the power of the Devil is finite. He is no anti-God but only a creature. Divine providence permits diabolical activity only in conformity to God’s benevolent plan. In that sense, the Devil is a sad being, doomed to never-ending frustration. Goethe’s Faust puts it well with the Devil’s servant, Mephistopheles: ‘That Power I serve that wills forever evil and does for ever good.’ Similarly, consider the daring bronze statue to Satan opened recently in the Vatican Gardens. It shows a handsome, athletic, almost nude Archangel Michael pinning Satan to the ground with his spear. Satan is portrayed as a fallen angel, his wings folded under him, a look of horror and defeat on his twisted face. Allusion to Revelation 19, where Satan is soundly thrashed by Michael and thrown down to earth, along with his evil minions. A bizarre monument to the Devil, yes, but one that depicts him as a tragic loser!
Herein is perhaps useful interfaith material. The idea is that there is a battle going on, a cosmic, universal jihad between good and evil. In this battle devout, sincere monotheists should be not enemies but allies…
Naturally, the Devil’s crafty schemes include sowing discord and dissension among the good. Thus the Qur’an warns how Satan causes dissension and strife (fitna in Arabic) amongst believers (22:53). The perverse deeds of some Wahhabi and Salafi sectarians in the Middle East might well be an example. Extremists do the Devil’s work when they target innocent people and so besmirch their own professed faith. Note how atheists like the notorious Professor Dawkins and his garrulous brigade espy every opportunity to portray religion as intolerant, fanatical and violent. That surely is Satan’s intention.
The interfaith jihad against Evil is varied and multifaceted, as mirrored by certain satanic symbolism. Some esoterists claim that the fifteen mystery of the Tarot, the Devil as Baphomet, a weird idol with four main aspects, shows that. The idol has a red, goat-like head, meaning fire and animality; black legs, i.e. the lower, inferior world; green scales, i.e. water or dissolution, and blue, bat-like wings, again the fallen angelic nature. Maybe all that is mystical gobbledygook but the meaningful point is that the Devil seeks to lure humanity, God’s creation, into practices of destruction, regression, inversion, disintegration and perversity. Again, if you have eyes to see you will discern the fruits of such deplorable realities all around you.
Rescuing the Devil from the limbo into which rationalists, progressives and liberal theologians have relegated him may not be Archbishop Welby’s favourite interfaith idea (doed he fear the foul Beast would take too much interest in him, I wonder?) but the priest feels it is spiritually imperative. Especially during the holy season of Lent. Leading up to the passion, death and resurrection of Christ at Easter. Lent begins with Satan’s temptation in the wilderness. It may look on Good Friday that it would all end in tears with the horror of the Cross. But St Augustine compares the Cross to a mousetrap. The Devil came, like a mouse, to get his prize, Christ as the bait. Instead, Satan found himself caught! And Christ rose triumphantly from the grave.
One thing I admire about Muslims is how they dare openly to tackle subjects now taboo in the decadent West. The Devil is one of them. Yet he is a thoroughly counter-cultural and topical figure. I look forward to a big interfaith conference on the Devil and his works. And who knows whether his satanic majesty may not deign to appear himself? (There is a story about a play in which a character played the Devil until…one day the real McCoy turned up to play on stage himself.) That would be a bit of a PR scoop, no?