“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils,” C.S. Lewis observed. “One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors.”

A third error into which we fall — one that may be unique to humans in the late 20th century and early 21st century — is to believe the devil is just a misunderstood, lovable rogue. A case in point is the new series “Lucifer.” This, too, pleases our ancient foe.

“The angel Lucifer was cast out of heaven and condemned to rule hell for all eternity…until he decided to take a vacation.” So begins the Fox Network’s one-hour drama.

This devil-in-retirement calls himself Lucifer Morningstar, runs a nightclub, visits a psychotherapist and speaks with the requisite British accent to convey — at least for American ears — intelligence and enlightened understanding. This kinder, gentler 21st-century Satan is portrayed as funny, clever, smart and, most important of all, cool and reasonable. Indeed, he says he’s “sick and tired” of the battle between right and wrong, good and evil, light and dark. He’s too enlightened to keep up those old-fashioned pretenses.

Early on, he encourages one of his former protégés — a pop star who literally made a deal with the devil years before — to pull herself together and stop wasting her life on sex, drugs and alcohol. But when she is killed in a drive-by shooting, he wants justice. As the show’s website explains, “He feels something awaken deep within him as a result of this murder. Compassion? Sympathy?”

So, Lucifer Morningstar partners with an upstanding LAPD detective. It goes downhill from there. Larded with suggestive dialogue and suggestive scenes, lots of bad acting, lots of bad theology and lots of bad language, the show is not worth watching. However, it is a textbook example of our culture’s total misunderstanding of evil — or more accurately, its trifling with evil, its willing flirtation with darkness.

Out of Light into the Shadows

It pays to recall that the Bible, from beginning to end, describes Satan in blunt, unequivocal terms.

In Genesis, he is the deceiver who twists the Father’s words to seduce Adam and Eve away from the light and into the shadows. “You will not certainly die,” he hissed in the Garden, directly contradicting God’s word.

In Ezekiel and Isaiah, many scholars see clues about Satan’s own fall. Conceited by his beauty and driven by pride and envy, he tried to make himself “like the Most High.”

In Job, his handiwork is death, destruction, and disease. It was Satan who murdered and stole. It was Satan who ruthlessly urged Job to curse and mock the Father. Job endured great hardship not only so the Father could show the enemy that man was capable of goodness and integrity — and worthy of the Father’s blessings — but also to remind us that there is often more to what we endure than we can understand in the here and now.
In the Gospels, he torments and tempts and terrorizes. Jesus calls him “a murderer from the beginning” and “the father of lies.” “There is no truth in him,” Jesus explains, as if to warn us. “When he lies, he speaks his native language.” We know that Satan “entered Judas” to seduce him into betraying Jesus. But there are other episodes where Satan is not explicitly mentioned but was surely at work — when the Sanhedrin turned their noble assembly into a kangaroo court, when Peter denied and disavowed his savior, when Pilate shrugged and washed his hands, when Stephen was martyred, when Saul persecuted the newborn Church.

In the epistles, he is compared to a prowling lion in search of prey. He is called the father of lawlessness and chaos. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians describes him as the “god of darkness.” In Revelation, he is identified as the one “who leads the whole world astray.” He and his henchmen are variously labeled as dragon and serpent and beast.

As Christ’s followers, we are called to speak the truth in love, even when — especially when — our culture seems unwilling to listen. And the truth is that Satan is anything but compassionate, sympathetic, or just. He is the author of evil.

Wreckage

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Although these words were penned in 500 BC by Chinese warrior Sun Tzu, they could just as well have been written by David or Paul to instruct us on how to deal with our eternal enemy. Indeed, the scriptures often use the language of battle, conflict, and danger in relation to Satan — and understandably so. After all, he’s been at war with God since before the serpent slithered into the Garden. Ever since, their battleground has been the world around us and the hearts within us.

Although the old hymn sweetly assures us, “This is my Father’s world,” it doesn’t look like God’s world — a place where justice and mercy reign, where “righteousness and peace kiss,” where the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the calf, the lion and the infant play together. That’s because the Father has allowed Satan to peddle his wiles and wares. To be sure, the Father can exercise dominion over anything and anyone, at any time. And one day, His will on earth will be done just as perfectly as it is in heaven. But until then, scripture tells us that the world around us is dark, broken, and fallen. And Jesus tells us why: Satan is “the prince of this world” (see John 12, John 14 and John 16). In fact, we learn in Job that he roams “throughout the earth.”
However, Satan is not omnipotent, omniscient or omnipresent. Those are qualities reserved by God to Himself. That means we shouldn’t blame everything on the enemy — every car accident, every ache and pain, every sneeze and sniffle, every computer crash, every bump in the night, every natural disaster. To do so is to elevate the enemy to a god-like status, which is the very place he wants to be, as Lewis shrewdly observed.

Not every problem of ours is a spiritual battle akin to what Job endured, although some are. There are indeed “spiritual forces of evil” that wage war against the Father in a realm beyond our field of vision. But the good news is, well, the Good News. Jesus “made a public spectacle” of the enemy. The empty tomb means Satan has already been defeated. “The reason the Son of God appeared,” John tells us, “was to destroy the devil’s work.” All that’s left now is for Christ to lock the guilty one up — the one who tempts us, then accuses us, then shames us. The victory is won, but the battle is not yet over.

How can this be? Consider an imperfect example from our own history: When the Marines raised the flag on Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945, four days into the Battle of Iwo Jima, it served as a signal to the troops and to the world that victory was at hand. As the U.S. Navy explains in a history of the battle, “This symbol of victory sent a wave of strength to the battle-weary fighting men below, and struck a further mental blow against the island’s defenders.” Yet the battle would continue for more than a month.

In the same way, when we see the cross and the empty tomb, we can be assured that Christ has won, even though the enemy has yet to be vanquished. In the interim, Christ has shown us how to take our stand against the devil’s schemes — the enticement to sin, the blurring of right and wrong, the lie that he doesn’t exist, the lie that he controls everything, the lie that he is compassionate or cool.

Our Savior offers to outfit us with a helmet of salvation to protect our will; a shield of faith to extinguish and block all the tempter’s seductions and lies; the Word as our sword; a breastplate of His righteousness to cover up our weak points; a belt of truth to hold everything in place; boots fashioned out of His perfect peace, enabling us to stand and fight, and when necessary, to flee from temptation; and a promise that if we ask for His help in resisting the tempter, heaven will intervene. For Jesus, who took on our flesh in order to live among the brokenness of mankind, knows from experience what “the prince of this world” has done to this world.

As we gaze upon the wreckage — the wars and genocides, the spreading chaos and anarchy, the mass-murderers masquerading as holy men, the countless abortions, the human trafficking and modern-day slave trade, the grime of our popular culture, the collapse of family, the pervasive notion that the only wrong behavior is judging something to be wrong — we know Satan is not on vacation.

Alan Dowd writes at the crossroads of faith and public policy.