A Question of God, Part 2: The Subtle Intentions Behind Satan’s Questions

April 14, 2021 Updated: April 14, 2021

We saw in our previous article that the fact that God in the Bible asks questions does not imply that his omniscience is limited. On the contrary, we argued that his asking questions was a way in which he revealed to the one interrogated the true state of play, or reality, in other words. This invariably meant exposing humans’ erroneous thinking and manipulative emotional states.

But it is interesting that God does not ask the first question in the Bible, which is also the first question to be asked “in the beginning.” No, that dubious honor belongs to the serpent in the familiar tale of Adam and Eve, which British historian Richard Cavendish describes as “one of the key myths of European civilization.” He says that it “lights up a whole network of reactions and connections in the mind.”

Who is the serpent and what is the question? And why is it important, or in Cavendish’s language, what is lit up in the mind by it?

The serpent who asks the question is generally considered to be Satan, the arch-adversary of God and of man. Let’s consider the question he asks. There has been a whole ruckus of controversy that Satan’s question in Genesis is addressed to Eve, not Adam, and that this implies that the woman is the weaker sex.

Certainly, Milton in his “Paradise Lost” put this spin on the story. But I think, in reality, neither sex was the weaker one. Both were dreadfully culpable as both were eager to defy the prohibition, and Adam did so, it would seem, without any scruples.

Tree_of_Knowledge with Adam and Eve
Eve may have picked the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, but Adam did not seem overly opposed to eating it. Line engraving by Theodor de Bry (1528–1598) after Jodocus van Winghe (1544–1603). (Public Domain)

Satan’s Misleading Question

Satan’s question is very simple: “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” There are two things to notice about this question. The first is that the tone of the question implies a mild rebuke of God, as if some person had quite arbitrarily withheld some good that another (Eve) was entitled to.

The second point is perhaps even more powerful. The quotation of what God says is deliberately falsified, but not by so much as one might easily notice. On the contrary, it invites the respondent—Eve—into that wonderful state which we have all doubtless experienced: We can eagerly correct somebody and, in doing so, feel as if we are slightly superior because we know more than they do.

What did God actually say to Adam? Not, “You shall not eat of any tree of the garden” but quite the contrary: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” The consequence of eating from that particular tree is death.

This has a very different complexion: “not eat of any” versus “you shall freely eat” but with one specific prohibition. Of course, by misquoting God, Satan also gets to avoid reminding Eve of what the prohibition actually is. And in her eagerness to correct Satan, she too seems to not exactly remember what God had said. God’s statement of finality becomes, in Eve’s thinking, something “not to touch” rather than not to eat (so exaggerating the prohibition) and “lest you die.” She is suggesting the punishment might be conditional; in other words, minimizing it.

The point is, for all this very fine linguistic analysis, it seems clear that Eve wanted to eat the fruit anyway—as did Adam, who doesn’t have any qualms about joining her—because she wanted satisfaction (“good for food”), she coveted what she saw (“delight to the eyes”), and she would be wise like God himself (“to make one wise”). Her appetite, her lust, and her conceit or arrogance all conspired to drive her to take Satan’s advice.

And as Cardinal Newman said in his “Apologia Pro Vita Sua”: “And so I argue about the world;—if  there be a God, since there is a God, the human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity. It is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator.”

There has been some “terrible aboriginal calamity” and this calamity is with us to this day. All religions testify to it—indeed, they would not exist without it—for all religions seek to address (and redress through acts of worship and devotion) the sufferings and purpose of the human race. The Christian religion has a special word for this “terrible aboriginal calamity”; it is called The Fall.

The serpent’s question leads to The Fall, the original separation between man and God. A detail from “The Expulsion of Adam and Eve From Paradise,” 1866, by Gustave Doré for “La Grande Bible de Tours.” (US-PD)

Satan Is Alive and Well

Is Satan alive and well today? The answer is an unequivocal yes! Satan is alive and well, and what this story, this truth, is telling us is exactly how Satan works. That is why it is so important to pay close attention to all truths as they appear in myths, but especially those that are incorporated into sacred texts, for these reveal even deeper levels and layers of truth.

How, then, is this helpful in understanding Satan today and how Satan works? If we look at his modus operandi with Eve, we see that the Devil has three decisive steps.

Three steps of the Devil:

  1. Befriend the victim and position yourself as though looking out for their interests. We recall that Satan appeared to be helping Eve grow as a person: She would be wiser as a result of the experience he advocated; furthermore of course, while doing this, he is encouraging her to think that she knows best (more on this in step 3). And in pretending to be her friend, he is mimicking virtue.
  2. Misquote or distort the facts of the situation to cause maximum confusion, yet seemingly provide an easy way out. This is done by encouraging her sense of knowing more and better through alternative interpretations of the facts or data—interpretations that conform more readily to her (and our) desires.
  3. Encourage feelings of moral superiority in the victim that will easily enable her (and us) to feel superior and to virtue signal; enjoy the fact of her gullibility even as she begins to think about how good she really is.

A fourth step might well be to ensure, as your victim moves toward catastrophe, that you’re not there to pick up the pieces!

How Satan Works Today

We see all of this methodology in all the “woke” ideologies that swarm around us today, threatening to beguile us with their (step 1) seemingly friendly intent, with their (step 2) pernicious misrepresentation of facts, and (step 3) their inculcation of feelings of moral superiority.

Robert Oulds and Niall McCrae, writing in their brilliant book “Moralitis: A Cultural Virus,” gives us a good overview of this with regard to the UK (without, of course, mentioning the Satanic connection that I am making). They write: “The mission of liberal left parties today is no longer socialist. … They claim to be fighting for equality, but really this is a self-serving campaign undermining traditional society.” So, notice that  “fighting for equality” (step 1) seems friendly: It’s helping others, the underclass, so that they can be “equal.”

But then, Oulds presents some actual facts to counter wokism’s deceptions (step 2). In the UK, “Current feminism is more concerned with the gender pay gap in overpaid BBC presenters than the breadline income of cleaners … The middle-class Women’s Equality Party was launched at a time when girls outperform boys in education, and young women earn more than men of the same age. The notion of male privilege is also at odds with the homelessness gap, victims of violence gap, the prisoner gap, the suicide gap, and child custody gap. And the notion of white privilege is preposterous to the lower social classes in ‘left behind’ towns.”

Adam and Eve with apple and serpent
Satan first beguiles the victim, then misrepresents facts to deceive him, and finally inculcates in him feelings of moral superiority. “Adam and Eve With Apple and Serpent” by Marcantonio Raimondi, after Albrecht Dürer. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Public Domain)

Finally, countering step 3 of woke agenda, which is the sense of moral superiority, Oulds comments that “the working class is not interested in identity politics and sanctimonious notions of ‘white privilege,’ ‘toxic masculinity,’ and ninety-nine genders.” He goes on to contrast how the metropolitan and international elites have assumed a moral supremacy over ordinary, everyday, hardworking people who find it difficult to understand—let alone embrace—why only whites are privileged, why only men are toxic, and why we need to celebrate ninety-nine genders. Ordinary, down-to-earth people have invariably got more important concerns.

If we remember our discussion of God’s questions in Part 1 of this article, we will see that there is a profound difference between the intention of God, which is to build human beings up, and the intention of Satan—to wreck humanity on the basis of misrepresentations, half-truths, and downright lies.

The old stories, as I regularly say on these pages, are the most profound and truthful of all. And perhaps if we all started paying more attention to how Satan works, we might be in a better position to cast him out of the gardens of our minds.

Part 1 of “A Question of God” explores the purpose of the questions that God of the Bible asks. 

James Sale has had over 50 books published, most recently, “Mapping Motivation for Top Performing Teams” (Routledge, 2021). He won first prize in The Society of Classical Poets 2017 annual competition, performing in New York in 2019. His most recent poetry collection is “HellWard.” For more information about the author, and about his Dante project, visit TheWiderCircle.webs.com