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Satan-Dead or Alive?

TWO voices I heard recently have made me examine the question of evil. One was of a clergyman, making the impassioned plea on television that we must accept Satan as real or else become his victims. The other was the voice of Andrew Delbanco, who wrote a book entitled The Death of Satan, subtitled How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil.

Now, as a Christian Scientist, I've learned that evil can be classified, not as a reality, but as a misunderstanding of the presence and power of God. Whether it is called Satan or evil, it is mental darkness, which can be displaced. The teachings of Christian Science are consistent. They insist on one God-one cause, one effect, one substance, one good-in whom there is no evil at all.

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This newspaper was founded not to turn away from the evil happenings of the day, but to report them constructively. You might say, ''Why report killings in Burundi, if evil is not real? Did those killings not happen? Might they happen again? Is there something we can do about it?'' The last question is the most useful, and the answer is yes.

The very exposure of evil should goad good people to do something. Various international groups, dedicated to preserving and improving human rights, are taking steps to rid different countries of human rights violations. It's important to support those activities. Still, there is something more specific that each individual can do. We need to pray for God's power to rule evil out of men's hearts.

We can find our hopes strengthened that our prayers will be answered by calling God by His Biblical name, Love. While it may not always be easy to understand God, we instinctively know that Love cannot include evil. And Love, as the supreme and ultimate ruler, has all power to sustain itself. Each day we can pray to express the qualities of Love, such as unselfish affection, compassion, forgiveness.

Recognizing God as infinite and good, we must admit there cannot be an opposite to Him. Indifference, hatred, revenge, have no place in Him. Good cannot produce its opposite, evil. According to the religious tradition of one God, evil has no legitimate creation.

When seventy of his followers returned to Christ Jesus after having healed many people, Jesus said, ''I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven'' (Luke 10:18). This statement apparently dismisses evil as ever having had any power. As the Bible records, Jesus himself was tempted to doubt his own spiritual nature (see Luke 4:3-13). ''If thou be the Son of God'' the tempter repeated to him, to do this and this and this. Jesus refused each temptation-each evil thought-and finally dismissed them all with the command ''Get thee behind me, Satan.'' It was once pointed out to me that Jesus couldn't have had much respect for, or fear of, Satan, just to say ''Get thee behind me.'' One doesn't turn one's back on a formidable enemy-a real evil. Satan should be recognized as the mere temptation to believe that there is something or someone not created by God.

We all face the temptation daily, to believe that we are no more than physical, material beings. Yet the demands of Christianity are to obey spiritual laws and to subdue the selfish motives associated with mortality. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, stated, ''To the physical senses, the strict demands of Christian Science seem peremptory; but mortals are hastening to learn that Life is God, good, and that evil has in reality neither place nor power in the human or the divine economy'' (p. 327). This was written in the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

To deny evil is not to ignore it. Actually, every time that we try to improve some bad situation, we are essentially saying that evil does not have a legitimate place or power; we are working against it and admitting that something better can be the reality right there. Whether confronting gang or tribal warfare, drug abuse or sexual molestation, political assassination or terrorism, we are virtually saying, ''Man is better than this.'' We are saying that evil doesn't have the last word-even that evil isn't ultimately real, and, therefore, can be destroyed.

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