Monday, May 19, 2014

Satan: Lifting the Veil - Part 25: Conclusions?

Table of Contents:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Two Case Studies
Part 3: Serpent = Satan?
Part 4: What is Satan's Real Name?
Part 5: Accuser
Part 6: A Son of God?
Part 7: God's State Prosecutor
Part 8: God’s Sifter
Part 9: Azazel
Part 10: Desert Temptation
Part 11: What Does a Jewish Messiah Look Like?
Part 12: Bow Down to the Domination System
Part 13: Proclaiming Jubilee
Part 14: The Evil One
Part 15: The Angels of the Nations
Part 16: The Gerasene Demoniac
Part 17: Further Lessons on Exorcism in the Bible
Part 18: Driving Satan from Heaven
Part 19: The Unveiling of the Beast of Rome
Part 20: Unveiling the Beast Today

Part 21: Jesus and the Domination System

Part 22: Violence
Part 23: Death
Part 24: The Advocate
Part 25: Conclusions?


And so this series comes to a close.  There is so much information that I wish I could have included somehow within this series - so many ideas and connections I would have liked to have explored.  And after all the research I've done, I only feel like I have more to explore - my hope is that for my readers, they have found this exploration to be an experience which opened them up to living a truly human life.  And perhaps some of my readers will have decided to do a little research into spiritual matters on their own - this would be a great accomplishment, in my opinion.

I want to give a few concluding thoughts before I end, however.  If it is not clear at this point what my position on the matter of "the Satan" is, I will state it clearly at this point: I believe that what I'd call the satanic or the demonic is a reality, in that it is an actual phenomenon that people across all walks of life have experienced.  But I do not believe Satan is a distinct personality.  Satan is an experience, but not an entity, in my view.

Face your fears....

In "Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination", Walter Wink writes:

[T]he New Testament insists that demons can have no effect unless they are able to embody themselves in people (Mark 1:21-28 par.; Matt. 12:43-45//Luke 11:24-26), or pigs (Mark 5:1-20 par.), or political systems (Revelation 12-13).
The Satanic is a reality that is expressed in the shaming and fear-ridden voices within, as well as through the collective aggression of a society that has affirmed and cultivated these voices. 

Satan teaches us that evil can be deceptive - it is often disguised as good.  But the flipside of this is that even those who have evil also have good in them.  And the irony of the "search for Satan" - as I sincerely hope I have communicated through this series - is that as soon as we mark someone else as belonging to Satan, we have taken on the role of the Accuser.  And so in order to truly fight this nature, we must find ways to fight for the truth without accusation and scapegoating.

To do this, I believe that the church needs to truly embrace dialogue.  First of all, this involves opening dialogue between denominations, and secondly I believe we must learn to dialogue with people of other faiths (or lack thereof).  There is so much we can learn from each other if we would do this.  And we must be clear - dialogue is not the same thing as arguing.  Arguing is really two opposing monologues - two tribal thought models that butt heads.  When we argue, we protect the thought model that has been constructed by the tribe, and defend that model at all costs from the "hostile outside tribes" without ever really considering whether or not their point of view has any merits.  Outsiders are seen as enemies - and so we become Accusers.

But dialogue is about respect.  When I dialogue with you, I don’t necessarily have to end up agreeing with you - I just want to understand why you think the way you do.  Dialogue - rather than assuming you're wrong, evil and stupid - assumes that everyone has reasons for believing the things they believe and wishes to understand these reasons.  We can hope to earn the right to critique these views after we've listened - but dialogue does not enter into the discussion with this agenda.

In “The Emergent Christ”, Ilia Delio writes:

The word dialogue means two interacting logoi, a crossing over from one world into another for the sake of sharing experience, mutual understanding, and mutual trust; a meeting of horizons, enabling return to one's own world with a deepened horizon of meaning.  Dialogue is a form of wisdom when knowledge gained through conversation leads to conversion, a deepening in love, and thus a new way of being in the world. Dialogue that is not self-expansive is self-limiting, and self-limiting dialogue is basically a monologue; essentially, we wind up talking to ourselves.
I think that the apostle Paul gave a good model for dialogue in I Thessalonians 5:19-22:
Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.
There is wisdom in the Yin Yang
Think about that first phrase - “do not quench the Spirit.”  It is implied that if we immediately reject anything that comes our way which does not agree with the thought model we have already constructed, then we are quenching the Spirit.  But conversely, if we accept everything without testing it, we may be subjecting ourselves to evil.  So we carefully, thoughtfully, lovingly test what comes our way - hold on to the good, reject the evil.

In order to dialogue, we have to see the good in our "enemies" - rather than finding the "devil" in them.

And we need to see dialogue as more than a way to spread the message of the church - dialogue is good for us, too.  During the Bill Nye / Ken Ham debate, at one point Nye brought up the scientific mystery of sex - scientists would ask why sex had developed through evolution: wouldn't it be more efficient for a species to reproduce asexually?  And the mystery began to unravel as they studied a certain species of minnow where some of their colonies produced sexually, and others asexually.  And the scientists discovered that the asexual minnows were more susceptible to bacterial infections.  It seems that sex was a biological communication system - a way for a species to pass on the "knowledge" its immune system had gained within the colony.  I think this is a powerful metaphor for what is happening to the church today - because the church has isolated itself, it has become more susceptible to ideological "infections".  But if we can dialogue with outsiders, we can learn from them, and our "immune systems" will be stronger.

The Parable of the Long Spoons
There is an old legend that tells of Rabbi Haim's visit in a vision to the realms of Heaven and Hell.  The legend tells that the Rabbi was given permission to request anything he wanted by his angel guide, and he asked permission to see both Heaven and Hell.  His guide took him first through the gates of Hell, which he was surprised to find were made with ornately worked gold and were quite beautiful.  Through the gates, he entered a large dining hall, and the smell of the food within was mouthwatering.  Rows of tables were piled with exquisite food.  But the people sitting around each table were pale and emaciated - moaning with hunger.  As the Rabbi looked closer, he noticed that each person was holding a long spoon, but that both of their arms were splinted with wooden slats so that they could not bend either elbow to bring the food to their mouths.

"I understand", the Rabbi says - his angel guide replies "but do you?"  At this point the Rabbi is taken to Heaven.  Strangely enough, he notices the gates look quite similar to the gates of Hell.  And upon entering, he finds the same beautiful scene - rows and rows of tables piled high with sumptuous food.  But in this dining hall, each person sitting around the tables looked healthy and well fed.  But strangely enough, the Rabbi noticed that they also had their arms splinted in the same manner, and were holding the same long spoons.

And then he sees it - as the people talked pleasantly, one person would take his spoon, dip it into the food, and lean across the table to feed his neighbor!

The Rabbi pleaded with his angel guide to take him back to Hell so that he could tell them the answer to their plight.  The angel complies, and the Rabbi dashes into the room and shouts to the first starving man he sees: "you do not have to go hungry!  Use your spoon to feed your neighbor, and he will surely return the favor and feed you!"  The man leaps up in anger and shouts in reply: "You expect me to feed the detestable man sitting across the table?!  I would rather starve than give him the pleasure of eating!" 

And then the Rabbi understood fully - Heaven and Hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The only difference is in the way that people treat each other.

Forgiving the "Devil"

In order to defeat the Accuser, we must see Jesus' teaching of the love of enemies (Mt. 5:43-48, Lk. 6:32-36) as a key doctrine and mission of the church.  And to do this, we must learn to "forgive the devil".  We can no longer see anyone as pure evil, or irredeemable, or even as enemy.  We must see every person as precious. 

St. Jerome once said:

I know that most persons understand by the story of Nineveh and its king, the ultimate forgiveness of the devil and all rational creatures.
Likewise, Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
Unless you know how to love your neighbor, you cannot love God.  Before laying an offering on the altar of God, you have to reconcile with your neighbor, because reconciling with your neighbor is to reconcile with God.  You can only touch God through his creatures; you will not understand what is true love, the love of God, unless you practice the love of humanity.
We need to learn how to see the devil within, and then use this not as a tool for shame, but as a way to open up empathy towards our so-called enemies - so that they might become our brothers. 

In "The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil's Biblical Roots", authors T. J. Wray and Gregory Mobley write about the idea of Satan as our half-sibling:

Another virtue of the story of Satan is that it provides a parallel narrative to orthodoxy. Satan fell, and so did Adam. Satan abused his moral freedom by rebelling against the divine will; such rebellions are humanity’s favorite leisure activity. In the Watchers myth, it was the desire for illicit love, the angels’ amorous interest in the forbidden fruit of mortal women, that led to their fall from grace. Similarly, religious traditions urge their congregants to marry within the tribe. In the Lucifer myth, it was the vaunting pride of the rebel angels that led to their fall; as John Milton had Satan say, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heav’n” (Paradise Lost 1:264). Similarly, as the author of Proverbs warned, “Pride goeth before a fall” (Prov 16:18). Thus, Satan is a useful teaching tool, the ultimate bad example in religious instruction; living proof, if indeed he can be said to “live,” of what happens when freedom is not wedded to responsibility. It is as if Satan is an allegorical representative of the human race. Perhaps this is another reason why Satan remains such an attractive figure in Western culture and why his story matters to us. As strange as it may sound, we might actually feel a degree of kinship with the Devil. Indeed, this truth is buried deep within the lore of Satan, in the core tradition of the Watchers myth. For all his horrific personas, Satan is, in many respects, our half-sibling. As the Watchers myth tells it, Satan’s father may have been one of the rebel angels, but his mother was one of the daughters of men. Satan may be our evil older brother, but he is our brother nonetheless. And, through the ingenious machinations of his temptations and traps, we recognize that Satan knows us better than we know ourselves.

A Final Closing Thought
The battle against the Accuser within, and the Accuser without (expressed through the corporate spirit of the Domination Systems of our society) may seem daunting.  But we cannot lose hope - we must learn to see that our faith can move mountains, as Jesus says in Matthew 17:20.  Jesus expressly stated that if we have faith like this, "nothing will be impossible for you."  Jesus was not a superhero who swooped in and took care of all our problems - rather, he was showing us the Way.

In "Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination", Walter Wink outlines a brilliant set of statements that must never be separated.  To do so perverts the truth and functions as a danger to ourselves and others.  The three statements are:

  1. The Powers are good (Rom. 13:1-6).
  2. The Powers are fallen (uh...see Jesus' entire story, and the book of Revelation...for starters).
  3. The Powers must and will be redeemed (Col. 1:20, Phil. 3:21).
If we accept number 1 without the others, we pervert the truth because we end up supporting systems which dehumanize and destroy.  If we accept number 2 without the others, we become agents of chaos who rebel against any and all forms of organization.  But if we keep sight of these three truths, and never lose the hope in the third, I believe that we can change the world.  I will close with one final quote from "Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination":

How remarkable, that despite its sober exposes of the Domination System, the New Testament is so free of gloom or quailing before the Powers! From beginning to end, there is only the note of victory - a victory in the unknown and open future, for the whole human race and the universe, and victory even now, in the midst of struggle. There is an absolute and unshakable confidence that the System of Domination has an end. A new world of partnership, of compassion, of human community, of conscious awareness of the limits of power, awaits us. We are to struggle with all our might and courage for its coming, yet we cannot make it come. The conditions of its arrival are beyond our control, yet we have a fairly clear idea what they are; and as a sufficient number of people are attracted to God's domination-free order, and commit their lives and fortunes to bringing it about, it will happen, because it has been happening, and it is happening now.


  1. I have found your posts to be very helpful on my spiritual journey. I miss them and hope that you're planning another series. On heaven and the afterlife maybe?

    1. Thank you very much, Sarah!

      I am, actually, working on a new series! It will be a while, though, before it is ready. I told myself after I finished this series that I was going to take a break from writing for a while, because I had put so much of myself into this that I was mentally exhausted (though it was also thrilling). But I got an idea for a new project pretty quickly afterwards due to a couple books I happened to be reading. But I plan to take my time on it and read quite a bit before I start using the notes I'm taking to write the next series.

      It will, however, touch on some of my thoughts on the afterlife. I will be exploring some Jewish theology, and attempting to show how this should reshape how we conceptualize the gospels (and Paul for that matter - though I will be focusing on the gospels). The end result I will be arguing for is a mystical view of Christianity.