By David G Maillu

Dictionaries broadly explain the word “the devil” as “spirit of evil” or “wicked spirit.”

Does African religion or do African languages have a word for the Devil or Satan?

The answer is no. The Devil and Satan alias Lucifer are imported religious concepts from Europe. However, in African religion, good and bad spirits exist, but only as impersonalized spiritual forces.

 In Christian and Islam religion, that “spirit of evil” is called Devil or Satan. Christianity presents Satan in personalized form as a once-upon-a-time God’s Supreme Assistant, or Supreme Angel called Lucifer, living together with God in heaven. Lucifer became too jealous of God’s position and attempted to challenge God’s supremacy. He even took steps further to overthrow God in order for Lucifer to occupy the throne and become the new God.

 However, God Almighty reacted sharply. He cursed Lucifer or Satan, demoted and expelled him from heaven to live on earth as Satan. Upon Lucifer’s arrival on earth he vowed to continue his mission in challenging God among God’s creation. However, as God would not let Satan get away with his evil works upon humans, God promised that a time will come when there will be a Judgment Day for God to call both Satan and his human followers to account, wherefore, God will destroy the disobedient together with Satan permanently. The obedient will be invited to heaven (paradise) to live everlastingly happy in the Kingdom of God.

 Without challenging the Bible, let us begin by accepting that the biblical presentation of the evil spirit is basically foreign to African religion where God is not presented as living in a kingdom of his own somewhere out there away from his creation. The African concept of God is that God is simply the neuter Supreme Force behind all creations in the universe including the universe itself. Consequently, that Supreme Force and its creation are one and the same thing, undetached from each other. Their creation and existence is as scientific as anything could be; be it the Big Bang or whatever.

 The good and bad spirits in African religion form the social brackets within which human beings conduct the business of their life. Although the bad spirit is not condoned within those brackets, on the other hand, it is acknowledged without being appreciated. To make a mistake physically or spiritually is human. However, its being human does not qualify it for accommodation in the human homestead. It is only appreciated that without the bad there cannot be the good, physically and spiritually.

 In other words, the good and the bad form the two sides of the coin of life. It is the intrinsic interplay of the two in human functional living that determines the quality of the acting human being. The person inclined to doing bad things is seen as ruled by destructive practices; while the one inclined to doing good things is ruled by constructive or divine principles. Therefore, destruction must be constrained in the maintenance of construction. 

 Isn’t this the basic principle of life? In physics we learn about the two opposing sides: the north and the south magnetic waves that stand in opposition. The plucking of the negative element and the positive element on the battery creates electricity. Down to the element of the atom, there must be the union of the electron and neutron sides in order to create the atom. It’s the dialectics of life and death, love and hate, band and good, stupid and wise, freezing point and boiling point, up and down. There is here because there is there; and there is there because there is here.  

 It is in the personalized story of Lucifer and God as presented in the Bible that the African concept of God gets awfully puzzled. The story has it that, since God Almighty cursed Lucifer and expelled him from heaven, God Almighty has been sitting or resting somewhere out there watching and listening to Satan messing up with God’s beloved creation down on earth without taking an instant move to destroy Satan on behalf of the millions and millions of  humiliated and tortured human beings. Why would the loving God bear such inhumanity? Consequently, the African concept of God begins to wonder whether, behind the scene, God Almighty has a hidden message regarding his intention of letting the destructive Satan survive for so long on that mission.

 Otherwise, who should be blamed for people’s suffering under the hand of Satan? Should the blame be placed on Satan himself or should that blame be placed on the creator of Satan? Should the blame, at all, be placed on the victim, the human being? If the gun (might) that Satan is using to kill God’s beloved human beings was manufactured by God (the creator of Lucifer) and, since it is God’s responsibility to take away that gun and even destroy Satan, has God been playing a bizarre and bitter game on the human being?

 Or, from the African’s religious concept point of view, is the story indirectly saying that Satan and God are the two sides of the Force of Creation? For, how can innocence (God) be measured without guilt (Satan)? In the Day of Judgment, how will God measure the degree of those who love him without employing the instruments God Almighty had bestowed upon Satan?

Author is Executive Chairman Responsible for the Committee that Compiled the African Holy Text: KA, HOLY BOOK OF NETER