Interest in ghosts, demons, and evil spirits of all kinds has been fueled by paranormal filmmakers and Internet gurus. They have created films, TV programs, DVD's, and Web sites that portray vicious battles being waged by Satan against God for the allegiance and obedience of humankind. Many of their productions are focused on identifying houses that supposedly are haunted or where demonic activity has occurred. Some of these can be rather scary, especially for young people and adults who are troubled with whether or not evil spirits actually exist.
Having a PhD degree in demonology (the study of demons) from an accredited university, people frequently ask me about the reality of an ongoing cosmic battle being waged by Satan against God. My answer is that when we are dealing with spirits -- good ones and evil ones -- by their very nature we are unable to see, feel, smell, or hear them. So whether one believes in God and Satan, and angels and demons, is a matter of religious faith.
It is impossible, in my opinion, to believe in the central message of salvation as found in the New Testament without accepting that God and Satan are real spirits, not just the spiritual symbolism used to portray the constant tension between good and evil in human existence. Let's start with the story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness (Mathew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13). And for clarification, "Satan" and "the devil" are used synonymously; "Satan" is the original Hebrew form, and "the devil" is the later Greek rendition; and both are used to refer to the head of the evil spirits in opposition to God.
Immediately after Jesus is baptized, he is led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. This encounter of Jesus with Satan was not initiated by either Jesus or Satan; it was God's idea. Jesus was given no preferential treatment during this encounter with the devil, and no restrictions were placed on the devil, no holds barred. The devil was free to tempt Jesus in any way he wanted and to retaliate in however he chose if Jesus did not succumb to his shrewd and cunning enticements. Yet Jesus, who was fully human, resisted the tempter's power by using only those human faculties that were available to all humankind. Satan met his match. Jesus did not yield to Satan's temptations.
Being tempted by the devil was the first incident in Jesus' ministry following his baptism, and since it was initiated by God, it should be taken as a foreshadowing of Jesus' lifelong battle with Satan. We know from the beginning what the outcome of this battle will be: Jesus will be the eventual victor. And we have the choice of either teaming up with Jesus and sharing his victory over Satan in our lives or of living life without Jesus and sharing in Satan's ultimate defeat.
This is only their initial encounter. As Luke says in 4:13, Satan departed, waiting for other opportunities to attack Jesus. And he found many good opportunities, and attack he did! We see throughout the Gospels that time and again Jesus is compelled to defend himself against various types of skirmishes with Satan, and Jesus always prevails. And finally, thinking he would rid the world of Jesus forever, Satan was the primary force behind the betrayal, trial, conviction, and crucifixion of Jesus. In the end, it appears that Satan has won--but only for a couple of days. On the third day Jesus is raised from the dead. Satan has miscalculated what the end result would be. Satan thought he would eliminate the influence of Jesus by getting rid of him. Instead, Jesus has become the most influential person in history.
The remainder of the New Testament tells of other aspects of Jesus' ministry; the political situations of the existing governments; the work, torture, beliefs, and victories of the early Christians; and the constant message that God and Satan, and God's angels and Satan's demons, are in an ongoing struggle to win the hearts and minds of humankind.
But what has happened since the early biblical days when Jesus lived on earth as a person? God and Satan have continued to battle for the allegiance of humankind as we live our daily lives--have continued to struggle for being the main influence in what we do, what our primary interests are, how we treat one another, our general dispositions, and on the list goes.
Governments on all levels in our own country have become dysfunctional and bogged down in political posturing, and violent crime is ever present throughout the United States. The world is in a chaotic muddle, filled with distrust, hatred, torture, and killing. One cannot help wondering if Jesus and his disciples of today are losing. But where we are now can be compared to the time during a war when you know you will win, but there are still battles that have to be fought before the enemy is totally defeated.
We know that Christ and his followers will be the eventual victors, but Satan and his evil forces still have power to do harm, and battles will continue until the final victory of Christ becomes a reality.
I believe in the central message of the New Testament--that God and Satan are in a great cosmic struggle, but that victory will come through acceptance and allegiance to Jesus, the Christ. I believe that Satan is the primary influence behind the terrible suffering so many people are undergoing. And my prayer is that the truly religious peoples of the world will join in prayers to the being they worship and seek peaceful and merciful solutions to the many problems the peoples of the earth are facing.
May God's will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!