By Pastor Phil Spohn
People sure have noticed that the Saucon Valley School District is hosting an “After School Satan Club.” If it was my kid, I’d encourage them to look beyond the name and join.
We live in a world with so much stimulus that it takes loud, wildly extravagant titles to catch our attention. After reading the fundamentals of the “After School Satan Club,” I believe it should be renamed “The Philosophy Club.” But, who would be interested in that?
Most people, especially Christians, can get bent out of shape when they hear words like “Satan,” “devil” or “satanic.” Our understanding of these words is very much different from the way the term “Satan” is understood in the Bible. As a matter of fact, the word “devil” never appears in the Hebrew scriptures (what some people call the Old Testament). Like everything we know, the concept of Satan or the devil evolved over time. Today’s concept of Satan is vastly different than that of the Satan in the Bible.
The Satanic Temple, which is sponsoring the After School Satan Club, uses the word Satan as it is used in the Old Testament. Satan is part of the heavenly realm that serves to challenge and critique issues or people. The term “Satan” in the Old Testament if often translated as “accuser or adversary,” to mean someone or something that challenges people to see things from another perspective. It is a literary figure who confronts people with an alternate possibility. Eventually, over hundreds of years, Satan became a red devil with pitchfork in hand and a pointed tail. Today, Satan represents evil. We see this type of “Satan” evolving in the New Testament, which brings us to today. “Satan” today has a life of its own.
I am drawn to the Hebrew understanding of Satan as a literary figure–mythic in nature–meant to challenge people to think. Many Christians should read Job, chapter 1. God and Satan are having a conversation about Job. Satan challenges God to think differently. Job is only a good guy because God takes care of him. Satan goes further, to say ‘take your ring of protection away from Job and he will be like all the other faithless people.’ Can you imagine God and Satan having a bet over Job’s faithfulness? That might seem foreign to us, but it fits well with the understanding of Satan in the Hebrew scriptures. Satan is a literary figure; one who challenges God to think differently.
The After School Satan Club has the same understanding of Satan; as one who challenges people to think for themselves. They value empathy, compassion, critical thinking, problem solving, creative expression, personal sovereignty and compassion. I want my kids to embrace all of that.
If you are looking for evil, you don’t have to look too far. Jesus’s understanding of evil is the one I embrace.
Mark 7:20-23 (NRSV)
20 Jesus said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
It’s much easier to point to Satan as the source of evil than to look inward and do the hard work of self-discovery.
Phil Spohn is Pastor at Christ Lutheran Hellertown.