It was early spring 1990 and I was a junior at Wheaton College (IL) majoring in both chemistry and philosophy (funny how my mom is a chemist and my dad is a philosopher). Most every MWF that semester I had lunch with my girlfriend and future wife, Jenna, who was a year behind me majoring in Spanish. Right after lunch I would go straight to Symbolic Logic class (taught by Dr. Jay Wood) and then Physical Chemistry II (quantum chemistry taught by Dr. Narl Hung).
Lunchtime conversations with Jenna were wide-ranging and often intense. Topics of conversation were often related to theology, as we both were wrestling with big questions in our Christian faith (as Wheaton students are wont to do!), trying to incorporate what we were learning in the uniquely diverse Christian environment of Wheaton with what we thought we knew from our own upbringings. (I say ‘uniquely diverse,’ because while everyone at Wheaton is Christian, the non-denominational character of the college meant a very wide range of denominations were represented in the faculty and students, from an Episcopal priest on the English faculty, ordained Baptist and Presbyterian pastors in the Bible department, first-generation Chinese immigrant Christians teaching in Biology and Chemistry, to a handful of Catholic students [Catholic faculty are still not hired at this confessional Protestant school]).
On this particular spring day, then, as Jenna and I sat in the new college cafeteria (Anderson Commons, though to this day it is still better-known by the one-time name of the old dining hall, ‘Saga’), I was trying to convince her that the ‘devil’ mentioned in scripture really does not exist. I was arguing that it was just a fiction, an unscientific myth from millennia ago that helped explained certain phenomena now well-understood by modern science–things like epileptic seizures, evolutionary understandings of sins like selfishness and lust, and diseases of the mind like schizophrenia and psychopathy. All these things demanded explanation, and in the absence of modern science, a being like the devil made the most sense to ancient people–a particular fallen angel, known as ‘Satan’ or ‘Lucifer,’ created by God but choosing a path against God and continually trying to thwart the loving relationship between God and humanity (see C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters for a famous depiction of the devil’s action in the world).
Well, Jenna was having none of it and we left each other after lunch, she shaking her head in concerned annoyance at me. I walked to Logic class, going over my arguments for the non-existence of Satan and feeling quite convinced still despite Jenna’s doubt.
Logic class had about 20-25 students, and that day we went through a list of exercises from our textbook, Understanding Symbolic Logic by Virginia Klenk (see image above). One by one, we took turns reading the next statement and then verbally converting it into symbolic logic. Prof. Wood was not commenting much at all as we went through this, as most everyone was doing it correctly. My turn came, and of course I got exercise h shown above: “Devils do not exist.” I was somewhat taken aback, but quickly chalked it up to an amusing coincidence, and proceeded to verbally give the exercise. “Devils do not exist,” I said aloud, “There is no x such that x is a devil.”
As if this was not already strange enough, something truly bizarre then occurred. Prof. Wood slowly looked up from his text at the front of the room, stared me in the eye for a silent moment, and intoned in his characteristic baritone voice, “Peter, do YOU believe devils exist?” Shivers ran down my spine in a way they never have before or since as I mumbled out an answer, something like “Uhh…Yes…I think I better.”
That moment has vividly stuck with me for 26 years. My gut tells me God showed me the truth about Satan through that amazing coincidence in Logic class. I mean, I just brashly denied the devil’s existence at lunch, and within an hour I randomly had an exercise that made me state aloud in class “devils do not exist” and then the professor, who had not spoken at length to anyone, stared me down (as if into my soul) and warned me, saying essentially Are you really so confident about your knowledge of the world, of spiritual matters that necessarily elude your materialist system of scientific explanation? Be careful, “for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (2 Cor. 11:14) Please understand, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19)
What do you think about this? Is it just a natural coincidence? Or is it a supernatural moment of divine teaching? How can we know for sure?