Does the idea of the devil make sense? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
The next chapter in Zuersher’s book is on the devil. The first question Zuersher asks is why would an omnipotent God need helpers? Again, this falls into the category of “God does something I don’t understand. Therefore, He doesn’t exist.” It also assumes that everything that is done is done out of need. Why should I think that?
The interesting thing about an atheist giving theological objections like this is you want to ask how it is they did their theology. What criteria did they use? Did they go out and study the best works they could find, or did they just sit down one day and think about things and see what they thought was a hole and ran with it?
He also says angels don’t fit into monotheism. How? Your guess is as good as mine. This is a mistake even Rodney Stark makes in his latest book Why God? It’s thought that Jews, Christians, and Muslims aren’t true monotheists because we believe in beings like angels, but monotheism means belief in one God. It doesn’t exclude other spiritual beings.
Zuersher also says God could have created angels with a nature more like His own. Who is to say He didn’t? He couldn’t create them with a nature exactly like His because a created being will always have limitations, such as dependence on another for their existence. Creating a being doesn’t mean that God necessitates how that being will behave. That’s part of free-will.
He also says that the snake being the devil creates problems, such as why punish snakes? The answer is simply that the language spoken of the devil in this passage is that of shaming. It’s not making a categorical statement about snakes for all time.
Ironically, he does get something right. He does point out that the word for devil does mean adversary. This means many times what the Old Testament translates as satan could best be read as the adversary. It’s sad that the paragraph after this, he ignores the very suggestion he made in order to get at a contradiction he sees.
This is the account of the census in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles. In 1 Chronicles, satan is said to be responsible while in 2 Samuel, God is. Who is responsible? My solution is to say that satan refers to an adversary that God allowed to be raised up. David decides this is a good time to count his fighting men in response. Had Zuersher followed the rule in the very prior paragraph, he could have found a solution to what he considers an embarrassing contradiction and passages that are generally avoided.
The same would apply to Balaam’s donkey. The term used to describe the angel is a term that is translated as lesatan. Again, this can refer to an adversary. If you read it like this, the problem vanishes. Balaam is on his way and he encounters someone who opposes him.
So how did the devil enter into the system to begin with? Zuersher says that during the exile, Jews came into contact with Zoroastrianism and got the devil from them. We would really like to see the hard evidence of this. For someone who doesn’t accept oral tradition easily, why accept the claims of what Zoroaster taught when those really come to us from the time AFTER Christianity?
Finally, some people might want to say who are Chrisitans that the devil is behind works like Zuersher. I would say if so, the devil could find much better argumentation to use. Too many Christians have a tendency to blame the devil for everything and make him quite often on par with YHWH. Unfortunately, such fixation on the devil gives people like Zuersher more ammunition.