by Matthew Sitman
Timothy Tutt makes the case for doing so, arguing that Satan is “clearly a theological construct found in many cultures and dolled up differently over time”:
In the earliest traditions of Hebrew scripture, both good and evil were God’s domain. Satan appeared in the books of Job and Zechariah. At first, he worked for God. In the Book of Job, the devil functions as something of a chief-of-staff, checking up on God’s lower level employee. (Some readers may be confused by this and think of the devil as tricky tempter right from the get-go, as in the Garden of Eden. Remember, even though the Book of Genesis is printed first in the Bible, it was not written first.)
As centuries went by, Satan became testier and more independent. He began to oppose God with accusations that tempt humans. The devil moved from God’s employee to less-than-loyal opposition. This move was, in part, because Persian thinking seeped into Judaism. For three years (from about 700-300 BCE), Persia ruled a huge chunk of land from the Indus River to Greece, including what is now Palestine and Israel. Even after the Persian Empire declined, their thinking remained. The Persian philosophy saw the world as a struggle of good and bad.
By the time that Christianity grew out of Judaism, the devil was a full-fledged bad boy, the enemy of God and humans alike.
In a follow-up article, Tutt finds belief in a literal, personal Satan doesn’t fit with his understanding of Christianity:
Satan works well if you’re into fear and punishment. But that’s not what Christianity is about.
Christianity is about grace and love. And grace and love are like poker. They require taking risks and gambling.
If someone hits you on one cheek, let him or her hit you on the other, Jesus said. In a religion of rules, the cheek-slapper would be punished. In a faith of grace, the cheek-slapper just might be so overwhelmed by your gentleness that he or she gives up cheek-slapping. (Of course, that might not happen. That’s the risky grace of the gospel. It’s a lot like holding a straight in your hands and hoping your opponent only has three of a kind.) …
Let me be clear: Evil exists in the world. We must wrestle with that. But old constructs need to be tossed. The Christian church clung to a flat-earth cosmology far too long. Preachers used the Bible to defend slavery. Luther and then other Reformers changed theological views of communion from transubstantiation to consubstantiation to symbolism. Each move required risk.
Recent Dish on the devil here.