Sympathy for the Devil? You Must Be Joking! as an Astonishing New Book Claims Satan Was a Force for Good . .
Byline: PETER STANFORD
TALK of the Devil has been brushed under the carpet in our churches in recent times. Once an essential feature of any decent sermon, Satan is now seen as an embarrassing reminder of the Church's superstitious past.
It is, after all, hard to sound as if you are in touch with the real 21st-century world when you are preaching about a monster with sulphur breath, scaly skin and a cloven hoof who lives in the centre of the earth in a fiery den called Hell.
Now, on top of this, an American academic, Professor Henry Ansgar Kelly, is publishing a book, Satan: A Biography, arguing that we have all got the Devil wrong. He was, in fact, a good guy all along, on the side of God.
Kelly's stunningly bold attempt at rehabilitation makes the late Lord Longford's efforts to convince the British public that Moors Murderer Myra Hindley was a reformed character look positively timid.
And if he's right, there may even one day be holy statues of the Devil on church altars next to the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus.
Kelly's thesis is based on Satan's one and only appearance in the Old Testament. In the Book Of Job, Satan - who has been patrolling the earth - argues that a wealthy but righteous man named Job does not really love God.
To prove him wrong, God puts Job to the test, allowing Satan to inflict all manner of hideous tragedies on the man. Satan slaughters Job's servants, kills his animals, then massacres his children before finally inflicting his body with painful boils and sores.
Despite entreaties from his wife and friends to renounce God, Job never does, arguing that God sometimes tries the ones He loves, allowing them to grow spiritually.
From this episode Kelly concludes that Satan is really a vital part of God's celestial management team rather than his archenemy.
HIS VERY necessary job, argues Kelly, is to test the faith of human beings - rather like an official investigator - and he gets a bad press because he is usually overzealous in performing his duties.
And it is true, as Kelly argues, that the story of the Devil as the fallen angel was concocted only just before the time of Christ - during the years between when the Old and New Testaments were written.
So what should we believe?
Is the Devil really the victim of the biggest miscarriage of justice in human history?
In short, the answer is a resounding no. The Devil really is diabolical.
The trouble is that Kelly's interpretation is based on a selective reading of the Bible, for he completely ignores the New Testament, in which the Devil is Jesus's principal rival.
Just as he tested Job, he tests Jesus, trying to tempt him away from God during 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness.
But there is a crucial difference. Jesus is not Job - he is God's representative on earth, the personification of good. And as his rival, the Devil can be regarded only as the personification of evil.
Indeed, can it be pure coincidence that if you take 'o' from good you arrive at God while if you add a 'd' to evil you come to the Devil?
And it is because he represents evil that mankind throughout the ages has been so bewitched by Lucifer, to give him another of his biblical names, as I discovered recently on a most prosaic level.
A few years ago I wrote my own biography of the Devil. I followed it with a book about Heaven. The Devil outsold paradise four to one.
Give us a choice between the ultimate sinner and a host of perfect angels and we opt every time for the bad guy.
Perhaps it is because we see a part of ourselves in him.
Over the centuries, the Church exploited this fascination, reinforcing the view of the Devil as the con man waiting round every corner to capture unsuspecting souls and lure them away from God. …