The wise and dread Spirit, the Spirit of self-annihilation and nonexistence.
Other translations of the text have the line as,
The terrible and clever Spirit, the Spirit of self-destruction and nonexistence.
The dread and intelligent Spirit, the Spirit of self-annihilation and non-being.
The above is among the best and most concise descriptions of what the devil is and what the devil does or aims to do.
First, it elucidates that the spirit in question is a whip-smart, higher-order thinker whose base motivations are, or should be considered, alarming, horrible, and dire.
Second, it clarifies Satan’s overarching aims of damnation. The devil works to persuade others to annihilate and destroy themselves spiritually.
More specifically, he wants a person to exterminate the self that is capable of choosing resurrection and everlasting life; the self that could leave the world with a high degree of integrity, cohesion, and selfhood; the self that can freely align with God’s divine creative purposes and add to or expand Creation.
If the devil can entice an individual to willingly destroy that self, he fulfills his objectives as the spirit of negation.
The primal self is eternal and cannot be destroyed; however, the affirmation of selfhood within that primal self can be smothered and stamped out.
The self-destroyed self continues to exist in a veritable state of non-existence. Instead of an evolved, developed self – a being committed to working in harmony with other beings to further God’s divine plan – the self enters a state of existent non-selfhood; an unaware, unknowing being whose existence is non-being.
Ivan Karamazov uses the words terrible and dread to describe Satan but these do not adhere to conventional notions of the devil as some scary, fear-inducing horror film monster.
The devil is fundamentally the spirit of negation. His motivations are operational. He strives to convince the world that Jesus is not the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Listen, the choice the devil wishes to instill – the contra with which he opposes Christ’s pro – is not irrational!
A wise and dread spirit indeed.