The Warring Cosmos, Part 3
Blind Heroes In a Universe of Light
After my previous foray into misconceptions about the devil and satan, a friend asked, “He’s not Lucifer. He’s not the god of this world. He’s not a fallen angel. He’s not the antichrist. So what is he?”
First of all, God is good in the middle of intense pain. In fact, he’s so good at turning tragic situations around that a whole bunch of people have been fooled into thinking that he caused them in the first place. But God doesn’t play both sides of the board. So why doesn’t he clearly say who or what is to blame?
One reason could be that Heaven does not give place to the devil — to evil. I don’t mean the “grit your teeth” kind of resisting mention or attribution. I mean divinity may honestly not even consider it. Perhaps after John’s Revelation heaven more or less forgot.
So, the devil is a nobody — that’s the short answer.
In fact, I think it very telling that Scripture is rather silent about demonic origins. One reason could be that the Bible, and the future, is not ultimately about the devil. In the end, this entity, full of un-life and non-being, just does not matter.
Question: Didn’t Adam and Eve give the serpent their authority over the world when they disobeyed God?
I understand this has been traditionally taught, but there are no grounds for it in the Bible. Whatever the enemy may say or believe— e.g. during Jesus’ wilderness temptation—the fact remains that it is a liar, and the father of lies.
In Psalm 115 we see God laying down the actual situation.
The heavens are YHWH’s, and the earth he has given to sons of men.
For me, this and passages like it came as a reality check of the first order. They reinforce why God chose to interact with Cain face-to-face, ruler-to-ruler, rather than treating him as a less-than due to his parent’s transgression.
[Sin’s] desire is for you, but you must rule over it.
Remarkably, the implication here is that, even after The Fall, “The child shall not share the guilt of the parent.” (Ezek. 18:20)
But what is “The Fall of Man” really? Did man fall? From what, and in what way?
In resolving these questions, I believe we tend to go conceptually astray in a couple of areas:
- Sinfulness is not equal to loss of value.
- Power is not the same as authority.
The Value of Man
In our global economy, the value of things is set by the marketplace. It is a system based on supply and demand. If people want it, the price increases, if they don’t, it drops.
But this does not apply to you. Your worth is not determined by others, nor even your own self. You don’t get to have that right. Why? Because Jesus died for it, it is his. That is what ransom means. For that matter, your worth is not only set by the One who bought you, it is decided by the One who made you. And you are not on offer in any marketplace in the world.
There is a difference between good meaning “propensity to act righteously” and good meaning “having inherent worth.” Ask any parent. This is the problem with some of our theological views on sin, that we mistake the two so that it becomes more or less inscrutable why God would even elect people for salvation — except that it is all for his own self-glory, as one doctrine declares.
Yet, as Todd White notes,
The cross isn’t the revelation of my sin, the cross is the revealing of my value. “For Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” How much did heaven pay to get you back? Only what you are reasonably worth.
Even if none are righteous, not even one, and we are all incorrigibly wicked according to the law and our conscience, God crucified put a price-tag on human worth once and for all.
As Jonathan Welton notes, we are of equal value to Jesus in the eyes of the Father, otherwise he made a bad investment. He loves you with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). You cannot mess this up. It is as if the Lord threw up His hands and said, Look, I don’t care what you do or have done. I have already decided, ahead of time, from the foundations of the world, to absolutely love you no matter what. You just have no influence in changing that.
We know the scandal of grace is that while we were yet sinners, without a care for him in the world, Christ died for us. Yet, God’s motives here are not inexplicable. We need not wag our heads in wonder at the mysteries of divine grace. Jesus’ sacrifice is simply, wonderfully, love for something that came from Him. Beings made like Him. Made in His image.
We are his treasures. Many locked, or perhaps buried in a personal hell, but treasures nonetheless. Locks are for opening, no matter how rusty! Sunken chests for raising, no matter how deep! What sort of mess we get into changes nothing. And so for this most basic of all reasons human beings are “good.”
Kenneth Bailey concurs:
The sheep may be wounded or the wool damaged. The prodigal may be “messed up” as a person by his experiences in the far country. But the coin loses nothing of its value by being lost. This may be… why this kind of an inanimate object was chosen by Jesus for such a theme. In human terms “the lost” almost universally consider themselves worthless. This parable specifically denies that assumption.
Masters of the Universe
Authority gets power thrown in, but the reverse is not so. As has been seen throughout human history, one can rule without authority through deception, coercion, fear, et cetera. Power may be acquired illegally— ergo the need for Jesus’ descent into Sheol to acquire the keys of Death and Hades — but true authority is strictly within God’s purview as creator and sustainer of the cosmos.
For in subjecting everything to [man], he left nothing that is not subject to him. (Heb. 2:8)
A thief in your house — a house that you own — even if he is wearing your clothes, eating your food, and sleeping in your bed, is no reason to relinquish deed and title. This is the point of C.S. Lewis’ story Prince Caspian, which opens with a usurper having to murder his way to the throne, and The Horse and His Boy, in which a young prince is kidnapped and made to believe he is an orphan so he might never know the truth of his royal identity.
Power is about might, while authority is about right. It is why lords have, for millennia, sought to legitimize their rule by claiming it as divinely ordained. We would do well to realize the enemy has possessed precious little of the former, historically, and none of the latter.
While Adam and Eve did listen to the serpent, and in so doing gave him a degree of say over their personal lives, I believe it is too large and unnecessary of a stretch to say that he was handed authority over humanity, much less creation. In fact, far from a promotion, we cannot help but notice the strict demotion handed down immediately after the garden debacle:
On your belly you will crawl, and dust you will eat…
Evidently, he was worse off after the Eden incident than before!
Even Paul, in Romans 8, limits creation to being “subjected to futility,” not the devil’s authority.
Self-control is mentioned fifteen times in the Bible, from which it follows, then, that we are free agents in a non-deterministic universe. No spirit, evil or Divine, has absolute control over us. The former, because they can’t, and the Holy, because he won’t.
For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.
This is why I believe God does not arbitrarily hand out salvations either, for to do so would infringe on our nobility — that divine ruler virtue he endowed. And so, the origin of human trouble is peculiarly, predictably, human. In fact, it could very well be the combination of two of sin’s consequences listed in Genesis 3 — one for the woman and one for the man.
Your desire will be for your husband,
yet he will rule over you.
For you are dust,
and to dust you will return.
For the first time, creation witnessed a power struggle between two halves of the image of God — a tension only amplified by the relentless pressure of their own mortality. This provides a sensible explanation for a lot of the problems that have plagued mankind.
It seems clear that the universe is not a two-player match between God and satan with humans caught in the middle. Rather, Jesus came to demonstrate, in his own humanity, that it is the third-party, us, who co-hold the keys to our destiny. In fact, it is because we have God-ordained authority that we are able to grant power and influence to whomever, or whatever, we wish.
No wonder bad things happen!
As it is, we do not yet see everything subjected to [man].
But we do see Jesus… (Heb. 2:8–9)
Our Vast Potential
Howard Storm notes that, after two thousand years, we have not yet reached even the kindergarten of our potential. Though heaven is well aware of the blessing and curse of our heritage, they are not silent, nor inactive.
Ben Myers, a lecturer at United Theological College explains:
If there’s any picture of Jesus that I think really is predominant in ancient Christian preaching and writing from the first four or five centuries, it’s this theme of healing. Again and again Christians are drawn to this aspect of the gospel stories where there are people who are simply in desperate need and Jesus reaches out and touches them and raises them up.
One 4th century preacher, Gregory of Naziansus, famously said that whatever has not been assumed has not been healed, meaning that Jesus must have been able to experience everything that we experience in order to bring it all into wholeness and to restore the whole of our nature. One of the benefits of using healing language to describe salvation is that it gets us away from the dangerous notion that there is something inherently evil and corrupt about human nature. You do hear this sometimes in some varieties of Christian preaching, the idea that human beings are somehow essentially shameful, are somehow essentially disgusting to God. As if God were somehow offended by the sheer fact of our human nature. Or as if somehow our hearts were almost demonic.
What the ancient Christians believed is that human nature is nothing but good, it is created in God’s image, it is good through and through, and you can never lose that innate goodness once you’ve been made in the image of God. You can never become in the image of a devil, you can never become something that would be unrecognizable to God, or that God would be ashamed of. The problem is not that we have a bad nature but that we’ve misused our good nature and that our good nature can become broken, damaged, and impaired…
It was Christians always who were championing the inherent goodness of human nature. And especially it was the Christians who emphasized the goodness of the body, the goodness of sexual life, the goodness of ordinary day to day human relationships. Even though all of these can become destructive and hurtful, none of them are alien to God. None of them are far from God. God comes in and touches us at these points of our lives in order to heal us and to allow us to flourish as we were created to.
As has been said, the Creator intelligently gambled on placing his handiwork alongside man’s own fate, knowing that if sons and daughters would but find their way back to freedom, the whole of Creation would follow. Human authority is vital to a universe ruled by love and freedom, for it is a universe gifted to us by God. So, God did what no one expected and, loading the dice with himself, became a man like us to lead the way.
The more I learn, the more I discover just how vast a landscape of histories, languages and cultures are featured in the Bible. It’s not easy! Where do you start? That’s why I made a deck of ultra-convenient cards unlocking a rooted understanding of the world’s most treasured book, one card at a time. And, while you’re at it, become a patron and get all kinds of useful New Covenant merch sent to you.
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The Warring Cosmos, Part 2 ← P R E V I O U S