There Is No Satan

Where does evil come from?

“The devil made me do it,” is sometimes heard. The comedian Flip Wilson made it one of his catch-phrases.

But I disagree. There is no devil, there is no Satan.

Instead, I’m convinced that evil is a necessary condition for Free Will; that is, without evil, Free Will has nothing on which to operate, no alternatives from which to choose. In order for Free Will to be of any use, “good” and “evil” had to be created.

Let’s make “Free Will”, which is the central premise in this, completely clear.
“Free Will” means you have the power, the wherewithall, the free and unencumbered ability to make a choice.

If you are walking down the road and come to a fork, you can choose to go right or left. In making the choice, you exercise Free Will.

But if you are walking down the road and the road just keeps going on and on and whether or not it follows the straight and narrow or meanders first through dark adn scarey places and then returns you to sunlit, flowered hilltops, if there is only one path to follow you aren’t making any choices. If there is only one path to follow, then in “walking down that road” you have no opportunities to use your Free Will. And if all the roads placed before you are constructed in that choiceless manner, your Free Will is of no use.

To use this gift of Free Will, you have to be able to choose. The road has to split and, facing it, you have to be in a quandry. What should I do? Which way should I go? You have to be able to choose either the left fork or the right fork, or to jump the fence and cut across Farmer Brown’s field.

Then your Free Will can be expressed, then God’s gift of Free Will can be used.

When God gave us the gift of Free Will, he had to also grant us the possibility of choosing good or evil. Both possibilities, “good” and “evil”, must both be in front of us. We must have the choice.

God had to create both “good” and “evil”. They are a necessary precondition to the exercise of Free Will.

And “Satan”, therefore, is nothing more than a personification, of taking a quality and giving it human characteristics, an identity so that we can talk about it.

The “devil” doesn’t make us do things. Be honest: we choose to do things. And sometimes we choose to do horrible things, some worse than others. For those who do horrible things that we deem as “criminals”, we lock them up, ostensibly for rehabilitation but, in reality, so they can’t harm anyone else.

We choose to do evil. It is our choice.

There is no devil sitting on my shoulder. Instead, he’s very much a part of me. He has to be because he’s an essential component of my Free Will.

Similarly, that angel on my other shoulder? He’s not there either. He is also inside me, a necessary element of my makeup.

God had to give me both that devil and that angel so I could use His gift of Free Will.

Now, here’s the biggee. Are you holding on?

For the same reason that there can be no all-bad Satan, by the same token there can be no all-good God. (I didn’t say “there’s no God”. I said “there’s no all-good God.”)

Ask yourself, how could an all-good God create evil? It’s a contradiction in terms. It just can’t be.

God gave us both “good” and “evil”. He had to be the one that did it. After all, that’s what we mean when we say “God” in the western, one-god view of theism. He is the omnipotent being and everything, every quality, every “every” is His creation.

So, God must know both “good” and “evil” as well as left and right, up and down, existence and nonexistence, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

God is “all” and He must know “all”. That is His omnipotence.

So God created us in a way that let’s us conceive of an all-good God as well as an all-bad Satan. Those perceptions of ours, of good and evil, are the essentials that make “choice” possible as we move through our lives.

Although we sometimes think of God and Satan as opposites, they really are just the two sides of the “choice” coin. They are simply two views of what we perceive as the ultimate core for making choices, for exercising our Free Will. We have to see the choice, and the choice has to be truly there, in order for us to really have Free Will. Without a choice, if it’s all fake and there are no forks in the road, then there is no choosing, no Free Will.

But, by the realization that occurs with “I think, therefore, I am,” so to can we say, “I think, therefore, I choose.”

In any given situation, we can see the good possibilities. We can see the evil possibilities. We can scratch our heads, ponder the pros and the cons, the benefits and the detriments. And then we can choose.

The real God made us that way, the ultimate God, the God that encompasses all possibilities.

This all encompassing, all knowing, omnipotent God gave us Free Will and the forum in which to exercise it. He makes the good and also the evil possible so that we can choose.

And in so doing, He surrendered His power for all knowing. He can no longer predict what we will do.

He gave up part of His omnipotence. He agreed to take His hands off and allow us to run the show. (But that doesn’t mean He won’t intervene if we ask Him!)

He chose to not only pass along His ability to choose, but also to sit back, withhold His future actions, and leave things up to us.

We get to choose.

 

Does this frighten you?

I think it should!

What an awesome gift gift but what a terrifying consequence!

The world and its future is ours to choose.

Yes, there are laws of physics that apply and our powers of choice must operate within the confines of the reality in which we exist, but we know how to split the very elements of existence, we know how to poison ourselves, we know how to go to other planets.

God set up those laws, and gave us the ability to master, to use, to exploit them.

He had to give us those abilities, and the possibility of learning them, of accumulating knowledge for millenia to master the intricacies of the physical world so that we could make the choices that determine, for good or evil, the future.

God granted us one of His most awesome abilities, the ability to choose.

You get to choose. I get to choose. Sometimes those choices conflict and we, you and me, get to choose how we will resolve our differences, sometimes by word, sometimes by one of us acquiescing to the wishes (choices!) of the other, and sometimes by violence. (I’m not being a proponent of violence in putting your choices into action. I’m simply stating that some do choose that method, not whether it is good or bad. That choice is simply the reality that some choose.)

So, the choice is yours, and the choice is mine.

I choose. You choose. And collectively we enjoy the benefits or suffer the consequences of our choices.

“The devil made me do it,” is a nothing more than silly denial of responsibility.

You get to choose. Right and wrong are both there before you. The all-encompassing God gave you the ability to choose. He has assembled this reality so that, before you are possibilities, both the evil and the good, and then He lets you choose.

This ability to choose is a gift of this penultimate God.

That ability to choose, that’s God’s most awesome gift.

The Bible says He made us in His image. This doesn’t mean He has two arms, two legs, a mouth, nose, eyes and ears because all of those are needed only in the physical realm in which we exist. God doesn’t needs hands to fabricate the universe. He simply wills it into Being. (He’s omnipotent, remember?)

The “image” of Him in which we are created is in the powers He gave us.

The power of observing, evaluating, weighing, choosing and then operating on this reality, those powers are our God-gifts.

He granted us some of His God-power and, by then leaning back and letting us go, He also granted us Free Will to determine our own lives and our own futures.

And one of the choices He granted us is to believe, or not believe, in Him.

That, too, is a choice He gave us the ability to exercise.

So I choose to believe in God, in both His omnipotence, and in His choice to give us the gift of Free Will and to withhold His guiding of every little thing that happens. I believe He turned much of that over to us.

And I do believe that, if asked, and if in His judgement He decides to intervene, He can do anything we might ask.

And, of course, He might also choose to answer our requests with a simple, benevolent, loving as a father to a child, “No.”

 

Lord, help me to see both the good and the evil before me; I know that sometimes one hides inside the other and what sometimes appears to be good can turn out to be evil. I wish to find the good, to do the good, to further the goodness. Help me to find it in the possibilities you lay before me. And give me the strength to realize it. And, Lord, in those times and places when the evil is thrust upon me, help me find the good that lies within them, and to accept all of this, the good and the evil, as necessary to Your Gift.

Thank you for the gift of Free Will. And help me — sometimes it terrifies me, Lord.

Amen.

Yes, But In That Moment …

In the New International Version of the Bible, Luke 6:27-30 says:

27“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

I’ve read all of the translations available at the above website and there can be no doubt of Jesus’ intended meaning: If you are struck in the face, present your cheek to receive yet another strike, and if someone steals your coat, give him the shirt off your back, and never ask for either to be returned.

Yes, that’s about as clear and unequivocal a statement as I’ve ever found.

To follow His way is to be a pacifist.

No question.

But let me now tell you what has again raised the conflict in my mind.

On a recent business trip, I received a grandfather’s testimony. The story centered on his grandson and it involved abuse, abuse so severe it may only be through the miracle of an answered prayer that the boy still lives.

Here is an extract of two paragraphs that begin to tell the story (for a complete copy of this particular article, click here):

“The compelling first flight of Air Compassion for Veterans illustrates the program’s impact in life and death situations. A 2 1/2 year-old boy named Alex Searles was beaten and abused while his father, Jason, a Marine sergeant, was in Iraq. The child’s mother had met a man on the Internet and developed a relationship with him, then went to Texas, taking Alex and his eight-month-old sister Ashleigh with them.

“When the boy had difficulty breathing and wouldn’t stop crying, the couple took him to the hospital and were then arrested and jailed for injury to a child. Alex’s grandparents, Bill and Sherry Searles, flew to Lubbock, Texas, from their home in Melbourne, Florida, to get temporary custody and make travel arrangements for Alex. Bill learned about the ACV program through a friend and was able to schedule a medical flight on a Learjet to Florida”.

But a much more in-depth description of the abuse and its subsequent developments are available, after registration and sign-in, through the grandfather’s blog-like diary at
http://www.carepages.com/ServeCarePage?cpn=AlexSearles&extrefid=tlcinvite
but be forewarned, what happened to this defenseless child is criminal and the story is graphic. There is a photo gallery as well as many diary entries to read.

As I sat and listened to Bill, I tried to imagine myself in his shoes and how I would feel, and more to the point here, I asked myself, what would I have done, what would I do in a similar situation?

And when Bill paused for a moment to get his emotions in check, I confessed, “If I had been in your position, Bill, I tell you truly I would now be in prison for killing the person who committed these horrible acts.”

So, here is the conflict: What would Jesus have us do when faced with such evil?

To resist evil through the use of force is clearly contrary to the above passage from Luke. I’m sure Jesus would pray for both the little boy and also for his abuser.

But if the abuser appears in my presence and begins to harm the boy, what then? Do I stand between the abuser and shield the child? If the abuser pushes me out of the way, do I again put myself in harm’s way? And if the abuser raises a weapon to put me out of the way permanently, do I, at that point, take this passage to heart and turn the other cheek and, in so doing, allow evil to have its way? Do I, through inaction, allow evil to have its way?

Or, do I resist? Do I resist evil, especially when I might be able to stop it? And if I resist, how strongly do I resist?

Just how universally do I apply this passage from Luke?

Pacifism in the face of violence to oneself is one thing. But what about when the threat is to others?

Let me ask you a question. If you had been on-board the second plane that struck the World Trade Center, if you knew what was probably going to happen in the next few minutes, what would Jesus wish you to do? Would you charge the terrorists knowing they have weapons and that you will probably be killed for naught just because there is some small chance you might be able to stop the murder of thousands of innocents even though your life is probably sacrificed no matter what?

We could pray that the Lord would give us answers to such questions but, for myself at least, I would rather pray that I am never faced with situations such as these.

Lord, keep me from such terrible tests.

And regardless of that, I also know that no words will suffice to rule if and when such a situation comes up in my life. No amount of preparation, of study, of contemplation will prepare me.

When faced with evil, what will I do?

When faced with such evil, I cannot tell you now what I will do then.

It is impossible.

Instead, I pray that should such a situation arise in my life, that Jesus will be there, that He will stand beside me, take me by the hand, and show me the Way.

God, help me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Because I am sure that, before that moment, there is nothing to say or do that will guarantee my actions.

All I can do now is pray that He will be with me then, and that He will give me His guidance.

Free Will is a terrible responsibility.

Lord, help me use it as You would hope.

In your hands, Lord. I’m in your hands now, and also then, and then forever.

Amen.

Jesus and Violence

As they say, I’m conflicted.

On the one hand I have the wherewithall, both mental and physical, both of which are God-given abilities, to protect myself. It is true, of course, that I can choose to use those abilities for good or evil and so the question arises, when, if ever, should I use force for the purpose of doing good?

And I’m not talking about using muscle to help someone to their feet.

I mean violent force.

When, if ever, is it “good” to use violent force?

Jesus certainly seems to be the consummate pacifist. His example seems clear. Indeed, one of the rare times he mentions weapons (Luke 22:38) is when he expects to be arrested and, so say some apologists, he wants the disciples to look like a band of criminals to facilitate his arrest. When he instructs the disciples to get swords and they say they have two of them, he responds, “That is enough.”

Jesus’ tone of voice in that phrase would have told us quite a lot about his feelings concerning weapons but, sadly, the printed word just does not convey it. We don’t know if he means, “Weapons are evil and I don’t want to hear anymore about them,” or “Two swords are sufficient to make us convincingly look like a band of criminals,” or even, “That’s a trivial detail; let’s get on to more important things now.” The available commentaries on this verse have different opinions. My bottom line has to be that I just don’t know.

I can rationalize the use of defensive violence, as opposed to offensive violence, on the grounds that if I fail to protect myself and am killed, I can no longer work to propogate, to promote The Way.

But I find no support for that rationalization in the New Testament. Clearly it is not in the written record of Jesus’ teachings.

Interestingly, that reference to swords does not appear in The Jefferson Bible which otherwise includes those statements and stories Thomas Jefferson felt were directly attributable to Jesus. Unfortunately, Jefferson did not include a commentary on why he omitted this particular verse.

But all that accepted, I still cannot get rid of the gut feeling that life is precious, that life is God’s work, that The Way says we should resist evil and promote life.

In the NIV, John 2:13-17, it says,


13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
17His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Some commentaries suggest this act of passion, this aggression, was an aberration and that Jesus would eschew such acts in spite of His actions that day.

But the fact remains that the Bible records this story of Jesus’ actions and, indeed, that it was even foretold. That is, to fulfill the prophecy, Jesus had to behave in this manner. To repeat,


17His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

But Jesus fulfilling the prophecy is one thing. My using force or violence such as Jesus did, is another. I am not fulfilling a prophecy. I am not Jesus.

So, when is violence good, if ever? When is it not a sin to use force in resisting evil? Should we all go, without resistance, to be fed to lions?

Some say, “Yes.” Some say complete pacifism in the face of evil is part of The Way.

But I have to then ask, if I don’t take medications to fend off disease, I may die. If a wild animal, maddened by rabies, attacks, am I supposed to surrender my life to it? Or am I only supposed to be a pacifist with other humans? What about non-violent aggressions such as verbal or written accusations that are intended to harm my well-being, or being unjustly tried in a court of law — shouldn’t I defend myself?

What constitutes violence? Is physical violence the only violence?

I think not.

Watch the immediate effect of verbal abuse on a child.

Witness the consequent effect that shows much later in that child’s life of the damage to his/her life.

No, violence is not just physical. Violence can be perpetrated in many different ways without being physical.

I don’t think Jesus would condone verbal abuse.

I do agree that he would have attempted to combat it with gentle persuasion but, faced with it again and again and again, would he have acted out as he did in the temple? And regardless of what he might have done, isn’t the very continuation of life based on innumerable instances of acts every day directed toward the resistance of the destruction of life?

Ultimately, it must become a question of degree, of which acts constitute good resistance and which acts constitute bad (evil) resistance (to evil).

Certainly wars and fighting often just go on and on as each side retaliates for the other side’s previous retaliation. It only stops when one side either chooses, or is forced (!), to stop.

Is the forceful cessation of war a sin?

Or should we just allow ourselves to be killed?

When extermination of all those who believe as you do is the avowed goal of a militant group, when and how do you resist or do you just let them in and bow your head to their sword?

And, to go to the next degree, when does “defense” turn into “offense”? I’m thinking of the US reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Specifically, when evil has shown its intentions and continues to foment such works, when is life served by travelling to evil’s lair and exterminating it?

– – –

Oh Lord, the world is so complicated and your gift of Free Will so terrifying in its awesomeness.
Please Lord, shine your light brightly so my cloudy eyes may see,
shout your words so my deafened ears will hear, and
guide my feet to the climb that will lead me to The Way.
And take pity on my frustrated and confused mind: strike me dumb with Your truth, I pray.

Amen