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“Ask a Priest: What Makes Satan so Evil?”
Q: I have been thinking a lot about the whole story of the Bible, and I wanted to ask, What is it that actually makes Satan evil, besides having free thought and questioning God? Other than that, it does not seem like there is any reason to believe Satan is evil other than God telling us he is. I will admit I do not know a whole lot about the Bible, but God seems very hypocritical because he kills many in the great flood and has his commandment “Thou shall not kill,” but he tells the Hebrews to go to war and kill many people — soldiers and civilians — to get a city of their own. I am very confused by why I should believe Satan is evil because it does not really show. -A.K.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: A simple way to approach your questions is, first of all, to focus on one fact: God is infinitely good, infinitely merciful, infinitely true. To call God hypocritical is wrong and should give one pause to rethink assumptions.
Satan was an angel, a pure spirit created out of love for God. Satan was among the highest of the angels. God gave the angels a choice. Some chose to go against God, their creator and the source of everything good in the universe. With their fall they became the bad angels, the demons, with Satan foremost among them. Since then, the demons have been actively trying to destroy everything that God loves, especially human beings, through sowing seeds of arrogance, violence, deception, infidelity, and all other forms of sin — that is why the demons are evil.
Our first parents also sinned, and because of that we inherit original sin, a defect in our human nature. This has painful consequences. It darkens our intellects, weakens our wills and disorders our passions. This is why the world is in such a mess.
Now, God in his justice could have written us off, but he didn’t. He promised a redeemer (Christ). Much of the Old Testament is a narrative of how God reaches out and offers friendship to man, but man spurns him many times. This is not unlike a child who rejects his dad’s love and who shows disobedience at every turn. We wouldn’t fault the dad for disciplining the child, even severely, for the youngster’s good. This is kind of what happens in the Old Testament. God, like that dad, is loving, but his children are unruly. God’s reactions seem severe at times, but from his perspective he is trying to discipline his kids.
As to the brutal stories of the destruction of whole towns and peoples: It isn’t 100% clear whether God commands that, or whether Moses or another figure decides to carry out God’s general commands in a brutal way. This distinction is an important one. Moses and other people were a work in progress, and they didn’t decide things based on 21st-century standards of behavior (although news reports would indicate that the standards of this century aren’t always that elevated, either).
God’s highest revelation is in the person of Jesus Christ. It is in Christ that we find out who God is. God is a Trinity. God is love. That has to our criterion for understanding God. Satan had a better understanding of God, yet he rejected him. Which is why Satan’s sin was all the worse. Keep in mind, too, that Satan would do anything to have each of us join him for eternity. A sobering reminder of his evil intentions.
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