I’d do a trackback but Blogger doesn’t “do” trackbacks…

Lp has started an interesting discussion on Satan and on the lack of reference to Satan/the Devil/ the demonic/etc. in the sorts of academically rigorous moderate-to-liberal protestant semnaries of the type we have attended.

I inevitably get uncomfortable when such discussions start–but it’s rarely for the reason you might think. The way I break it down is like this:

1. I’m a rational person coming from a scientific worldview.

Now, this isn’t up for negotiation–especially if I’m being honest with myself. I think a lot of believing, traditionalist Christians want to pretend that this isn’t the case. But it is; this is who our generation is.

2. My tradition tells me that there are actual extant beings of a spiritual order–i.e., angels and devils and–by extension because they are of the same spiritual order–God and Satan.

But it doesn’t stop there. We also have to go with point three…

3. I have experienced things that have no obvious rational explanation. The angels/devils/God/Satan referenced above seem like likely non-rational explanations–but other explanations could cover the same territory as well including unlikely/strained rational explanations.

So what do you do? I’ve discussed this a little in reference to the creeds but on the strength of 3 I try to hold both 1 and 2 simultaneously and acknowledge that I can offer no compelling rational framework or set of mechanisms that can model 2 in scientific terms. So, I live in a post-Enlightenment scientific world and willing accept the presence of spiritual beings that I cannot explain.

The problem I spoke of before? It’s with those who have diffculty with or refuse to hold 1 and 2 in tnesion with one another. They either run with 1 and reject 2 or they run with 2 and reject 1. C’mon people, we don’t know it all. Healthy ambiguity is good…

The line that I like the least is this one: “Well, I really do believe that ‘evil’ exists. Yep, evil’s out there in the world but I don’t believe in a physical Devil guy with a tail, horns, and pitchfork. Instead, I think of the devil as the totality of all the evil out there–but personified.” Seen this one before? If there is discussion of Satan/the Devil at a mainline seminary, chances are that it’ll look like this…

I *really* don’t like it because it leads so easily here: “Well, I really do believe that ‘good’ exists. Yep, good’s out there in the world but I don’t believe in a physical God guy with a long white beard and a robe. Instead, I think of God as the totality of all the good out there–but personified.” …and that’s just not right. We who are Trinitarian Christians believe that God is more than an abstracxt personification of a principle. Indeed, we believe that one person of the Trinity became incarnate as one of us and that another moves in, among, and through us daily. The abstraction language is logical and rational…to a point. But it looses touch with what we actually believe.

That’s why I insist not on a resolution that pretends that I/we/humanity understand how everything fits together but on a healthy ambiguity that pragmatically holds together what seems to work.

Domine, non est [785]

1. O LORD, I am not proud; *
I have no haughty looks.
2. I do not occupy myself with great matters, *
or with things that are too hard for me.
3. But I still my soul and make it quiet,
like a child upon its mother’s breast; *
my soul is quieted within me.
4. O Israel, wait upon the LORD, *
from this time forth for evermore.

6 thoughts on “Satan

  1. LutherPunk

    Holding things “in tension” means being able to admit that we are not all-knowing, something may are not capable of.

    Perhaps there is a post in there somewhere: Living the Mystery

  2. *Christopher

    Having actually faced evil in a number of ways in life, both in terms of inner demons which can be played upon to the destruction of self or others and in terms of truly evil presences both possessing persons and spaces (it’s a curse of being a more intuitive sort), I will say I believe that evil is out there lurking to destroy souls. The Name of “Jesus” really is my first restort in all cases.

    On the other hand, I don’t throw out science either, and in fact, I think with regard to psychology, for example, that it is quite helpful and in some branches consonant with the work of the Elders and others before us in working through inner demons. It’s a tension that is as you put it well, Post-Enlightenment. I understand though that reason is both logical and intuitive, and so this doesn’t seem so problematic.

  3. Annie

    I once made a man furious because I said that I wasn’t sure there was a Satan. I was denying his very real experience of this entity. He proceeded to tell me his whole experience.

    I still do not know if there is a Satan or not. But I do know, without any doubt, that there is such a thing as evil. I’m seeking knowledge about it even now. I don’t think people are evil. I think that evil is something from outside a person. To call this something a demon or a devil works for me. Evil will serve the selfish desires of a person to get a hold on them. Deception is key.

  4. bls

    Don’t know if this helps at all, but British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington, once famously said that “not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.”

    And he was only talking about the natural world….

  5. LutheranChik

    One of my favorite Psalms, Derek! — I call upon it often.

    I’ve also had experiences — thanks be to God, not too often, but several times — of palpable evil that were simply too other to be explained in a rational way…experiences that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

    I think living in the tension between what we think and what we both confess and on some level also intuit is the best we can do. And as Bro. Martin advised, periodically making the sign of the cross and reminding ourselves that we’ve been baptized and marked with the cross of Christ don’t hurt neither.;-)

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