Satan’s doubtful origin

Natalie and I are big fans of the TV series Supernatural. It’s got the same kind of wry, self-conscious, highly referential style as Buffy and Angel (two other favourites). But it also raises some abiding questions about good and evil and the nature of faith — albeit in a comic book-ish and Impossible To Finally Pin Down way.

One of the big questions concerns the origin of Satan. Satan’s supposed status as a fallen angel has provided a foothold for speculation throughout the history of the Church, and reached its zenith (in my opinion) in John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

In my corner of the world speculation about Satan is a non-starter. We scratch our heads at why other Christians make so much of it. And we doubt whether it’s possible to actually buy into the interpretation of the biblical passages that are usually cited in support.

And I totally get why. It’s a pretty dubious theological move to attempt to explain the origin of evil.

Evil is a fact. A menacing fact. It has invaded and left its dirty paw prints all over God’s good world. No-one’s denying that (I hope). But there’s still a mystery to it. Something that defies explanation. So it mustn’t be granted anything like the same status as all those other facts for which God is responsible.

We learn this lesson chiefly at the foot of the cross. There, evil isn’t affirmed. Nor is it somehow incorporated into God’s good plan (as a necessary stage in its evolution or a bit of cosmic contrast that allows its glory to shine more brightly). Rather, it’s defeated. Trounced. Brought to nothing.

But I’ve been thinking recently that it’s much the same truth that speculation about Satan’s origin seems intended to safeguard. Or at least the same truth from a different angle.

You see, however implausible and involved — and even frankly mythological — talk of Satan’s ‘fall from grace’ might sound, the idea that Satan was not originally evil appears to be another way of refusing to put evil on par with good. And that’s got to be good. Right?

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