Satan Is Not an Atheist

“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’  They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good” (Ps 14:1).  Leopold comments:  “Fools have always said there is no God.  What is described is more largely practical atheism rather than theoretical atheism.  Both may be included.  When men deny God’s existence or live as though He were not, then wickedness prevails … Atheism bears its proper fruit in rotten conduct.  Many have been the times when such utter degeneracy of mankind has been all but universally in evidence, but it always has its beginning in severing the connection with God” (Exposition of the Psalms 139). 

By Leopold’s observation, Satan is a fool on a practical level, but he is no fool on a theoretical one.  More accurately, Satan doesn’t believe in God theoretically but empirically.  In other words, he knows God exists not by faith but by fact.  While Satan’s origin may be postulated by inference – i.e., that he is a created being who along with angelic colleagues rebelled against God and made themselves His enemies – Scripture does not flesh out these details.  However, Satan does appear in Scripture with super-human qualities as man’s spiritual and mortal enemy, working tirelessly to deceive man and alienate him from God via transgression of God’s law.  And in that capacity he has a firsthand acquaintance with God.

Satan is cursed by God.  After enticing Eve to sin, Satan is targeted by God for special condemnation:  “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life”  (Gn 3:14).  This seems to be a “hybrid” curse of sorts, part directed to literal serpents, and the greater part aimed at the devil himself.  As the rainbow later becomes a perpetual sign of God’s promise never to flood the planet again, now the snake becomes a sign of God’s condemnation upon man’s chief enemy – Satan – who is to be avoided even as most seem to have a natural aversion to legless reptiles. 

Satan wanted to turn humans against God and win them to his side, but he will never gain those who truly love God and wish for fellowship with Him.  Embedded in the curse against Satan is the first promise of redemption:  “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Gn 3:15).  Thus, in the horrible aftermath of sin in Eden, Satan’s eventual demise is foretold, and it will come through the seed of woman whom, in the person of Eve, he had co-opted into sin.  Jesus, of course, is conceived in the womb of a woman – Mary – without the involvement of her husband.

Satan is limited by God.  The malevolence of Satan against God and man is seen in the early chapters of Job where Satan impugns the great patriarch’s faith (Job 1:9-11).  But in this interchange, which raises more questions than it answers, Satan and God are in antagonistic conversation.  In their disagreement about the genuineness and resilience of Job’s faith, God grants special permission for Satan to afflict Job to an intense degree, first against his children and possessions, then against his very body.  Thus in this confrontation we learn that Satan doesn’t have unfettered control over mankind to afflict, torment or overpower him.  For God’s own purposes Satan is granted unique access to Job but is held short of homicide:  “Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life” (2:6).  Again, Satan is undoubtedly a theist; he here converses and negotiates with God over Job’s integrity.

Satan tries to entice Jesus to sin.  Scripture doesn’t entirely reveal what Satan knew or didn’t know about the nature of Jesus’ incarnation.  Did he know this was leading to the redemption for sin?  Was he desperate to neutralize that outcome?  Did he realize this was the fulfillment of the curse issued against him in Eden?  Or did he just hate God so much that when the Son was made manifest in a human body Satan wanted to do to Him what he does with everyone else – entice Him into transgression?  This raises something of a conundrum:  If Satan realized that Jesus’ death meant salvation for mankind (and ultimate defeat for himself), why would he incite Judas, Pilate, the Sanhedrin and others against Him in the trial and crucifixion?  Nonetheless, Satan’s hatred of all things holy and righteous is manifest in the wilderness temptation (Mt 4:1-11).  If nothing else, Satan is an optimist!  Not one to let an opportunity for corruption go by, he does all he can to drive a wedge between Jesus and His Father and convince Jesus to bow down at his feet.  Are we not both awed and relieved by the surpassing moral clarity and strength of Jesus, even after forty days of starvation, which enabled Him to withstand this onslaught?!  Our own future and eternal hope lay in the balance of this all-out attack against Jesus in His human vulnerability (cf. Jas 1:13).

Even the demons are theists.  It is significant that during the temporary era of demon possession the demons were well-acquainted with Jesus:  “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God?  Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Mt 8:29).  Not only do they know the Lord, they also know the destiny that awaits them.  Such miserable creatures, these demons – along with their master, the devil!  In futility they rebelled against God, then infected the pristine creation of God  through lies and deceit.  All morally responsible men and women have been alienated from God by Satan’s enticement into sin.  And they know that eternal damnation awaits, yet in unmitigated demonic hatred they continue their efforts against God and His saints.  Yes, both Satan and his wretched hordes believe in God – and tremble! (Jas 2:19). 

But many humans ARE atheists.  And unlike the demons, they do not tremble in their atheism.  At least not overtly.  Many atheists are brash and cavalier in their attacks against God and believers.  They see belief in God as simplistic, uneducated, unsophisticated – a naïve acceptance of myths and legends that prop up the empty hope of eternal life.  They scoff (2 Pet 3:3-6) at those who through evidence believe in an unseen God even as they swallow the illogic of naturalism which says everything came from nothing, order and complexity just magically happened and the wonder of life came from non-living “stardust.”  If the consequences weren’t so disastrous, the whole thing would be laughable.  But the only one laughing is the devil as he enslaves one soul after another.  But that laughter, and the tragic atheism of man, is destined for eternal oblivion.