Is Satan God's exact opposite?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: In the Old Testament God is described variously as being "terrible" (Deuteronomy 7:21, 10:17; Nehemiah 9:32; Psalms 47:2), "angry" (Judges 2:20, 3:8; 2 Samuel 6:7, 24:1; I Kings 11:9; Lamentations 1:12), "jealous" (Exodus 20:5, 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24, 5:9, 6:15; Nahum 1:2), "furious" (Nahum 1:2), "unforgiving" (Josh 24:19), "Vengeful" (Nahum 1:2) and "a man of war" (Ex 15:3). If Satan is the antithesis — or the exact opposite of God — does this mean Satan can be described as nice, happy, unenvious, tolerant, forgiving, and a man of peace? Or does Satan share the traits of being angry, jealous, furious, unforgiving, vengeful, and a man of war, in common with God?

Answer: You’ve given us an interesting construct with this question… and I’ll not quibble about the facts of your citations. But at the end of the day, you’ve served up a false dilemma. As such, I cannot answer it as you’ve asked it — in terms of projecting Satan’s nature based on certain premises. I will answer it, though. But I’ll do so by showing you where the logic breaks down.

False dilemmas are built on false premises, and your main one, “If Satan is the antithesis — or the exact opposite of God — ” cannot stand. Why not? … I mean… that sounds like everyone’s understanding about Satan. But it doesn’t matter what it sounds like. Satan is not God’s antithesis nor is he God’s exact opposite. They may each be the personification of opposite things (like good-and-evil or love-and-hate), and they might lead opposing armies. But to be exact opposites they’d first have to be equal in a critical way: they’d have to be the same category of being.

God and Satan are different by type… and things that are different by type cannot be ontologically equivalent (or ontologically opposite). It’s like being in a building where there are people of the type “second floor” and people of the type “third floor.” They may have similarities and differences, but they will never be each other’s directional opposites, and they will never collide.

They won’t collide with God either because God is the type “umpteenth floor” … and he is the only occupant! This is why he will never run into his equal or his logical opposite: there are none. He alone is in the category of creator while Satan is in the category of creature.

But since God and Satan are both “beings” (as opposed to being rocks and trees), there will be similarities between them. But none of these observed traits can do anything to change their essences. God alone is transcendent over creation while Satan is merely part of it… and this is the basic difference that defeats the premise. The fact that they share certain traits is neither here nor there. Personality traits may diverge, converge or run concurrently without making the parties equal. Different circumstances warrant differing responses.

Additionally, since God and Satan are spirit beings, we usually observe them in Scripture through the lens of anthropomorphism. But note this well: that lens is interpretive. So, when through that figure of speech we see that God is angry, it’s time to stop reading the Bible as if it were a tech manual. God has no clenched fists — no face that turns red… although I believe he’s comfortable with projecting that image.

The next false premise is the implication that the whole of a being is only equal to a subset of his characterizations. For example, you started with seven (sort of) angry and vengeful quotes about God in order to paint Satan as the opposite of those characteristics. But that’s scripturally fraudulent. The whole counsel of the Scripture is that God is also loving (Deuteronomy 7:9; 1 John 4:7-8), forgiving (Leviticus 16:30;  Psalm 130:7-8), kind (1 Samuel 20:14; Psalm 86:15) — a God who loves peace! (Psalm 29:11; Proverbs 16:7).

So, if Satan were indeed God’s exact opposite — and if we only used these characterizations instead — then Satan would be back with his traditional reputation… and when both sides of an argument can be “proven” then nothing was proven.

So, why does the Bible show us these opposites? Doesn’t that make it contradict itself? Of course not! It is the nature of any being to manifest the full range of emotions over time, and the Bible certainly shows that true of God. Therefore, what can be said of God as he is correcting a grievous sin in one moment cannot be held as its logical opposite when Scripture shows him being patient with sin in another.

God is like us in this (… except without sin, of course). He deals with people through time… and he can be jealous at one instant and forgiving at another without contradicting himself. This is how life works… and this is part of what it means that we were made in his image. God knows how to communicate with humankind: he does it in kind. And this is why the Bible uses anthropomorphisms… but these come at a cost.

God must cross the communications gap between his perfect spirit to our imperfect flesh. This process has its limits… and you ran right into them. This isn’t the type of data you can extend to make stand-alone points. As a method, you cannot only plant your pole in one place and use it to vault to another. We must make cumulative cases for and against issues using the whole counsel of Scripture… and we know that Scripture speaks abundantly to both God’s and Satan’s characteristics.

As to the last part of your question, Satan shares some of the characteristics of God… but so do we… and so does every sentient being. This is commonality by design, so we must draw the line as to what these similarities might mean. They do mean that we play our games in a similar environment and among beings with similar personality traits… and when you think about it, how else could God set things up and still accomplish redemption?

But that doesn’t mean that any of us are therefore equal with God… and I think you were poking around the idea that God and Satan might be equal somehow. They’re not. And unless you can make an argument that Satan is also a transcendent being — and that instead of the Self-Existent One there might be the self-existent two-or-more — I don’t think that idea will ever gain any traction.

I hope all this helped.

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