Today I was reading from the book of Matthew and I came across a passage that has influenced my understanding of what exactly the devil is. I have had problems understanding the devil as a being in competition with God, because I believe God has all power in existence (and therefore, how could a being like the devil exist in opposition to Him?).
The passage that inspired me was Matthew 16:21-23 which says this:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
When he rebukes Peter, it is clear to me that Jesus doesn’t consider him to literally be Satan (after all, he is one of Jesus’ chosen disciples), but instead he is speaking about Satan in a metaphorical way. The devil in this instance is a spirit of distrust and a lack of faith.
We all experience distrust, but does this mean we have Satan inside of us too? I would argue that this is only the case if we understand Satan to be a certain spirit or attitude, rather than that fallen angel with the red horns as he is often depicted.
It is also true that in the Bible people are given demonic possession by God in order that He might be glorified through their healing by Jesus. Again, the devils in question aren’t horned beasts or fiery dragons, but are spirits that come from God to serve a specific purpose. There is a theme in the New Testament that God gives people ailments in order that He might be glorified by Jesus’ miraculous healing ministry. See, for example, John 9:2-3:
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
So again here we see that the ailments of the sick are given to them by God (and I believe we can include demonic possession) according to His higher purposes. When viewed in this light, I find it much easier to accept Biblical references to the devil or Satan, as He is not some kind of great dragon that is literally fighting with God, but is a spirit under God’s control.
Feel free to join the debate: Who or what exactly do you believe the devil is?