"A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it. Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on men, fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face, and the hair on my body stood on end. It stopped, but I could not tell what it was. A form stood before my eyes, and I heard a hushed voice:
'Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker? If God places no trust in his servants, if he charges his angels with error, how much more those who live in houses of clay, whose foundations are in the dust, who are crushed more readily than a moth!” -- Eliphaz the Temanite (Job’s friend)
-- Job 4:12-18
-- Job 4:12-18
I approach this posting with trepidation. Is there a force of evil in the world? Is there a supreme boogie man who is out to get us? To get me? Might I attract his attention? I don’t like the idea at all and I tend to push the idea aside. Perhaps I’m a little like the Cowardly Lion. If I don’t believe in spooks they will leave me alone. But I do believe in spooks, I do, I do.
Most of the world believes in God. Christians believe in a personal God, a creator who knows each of us, and cares for each of us. Most christians believe in Satan, but perhaps not a personal Satan. Is there a dark side to the universe or are we projecting our own failings onto a convenient myth, avoiding responsibility. (Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." Genesis 3:31) Perhaps what we call Satan is nothing more than a personification of our own failings.
There is evil in the world. True evil. Annie R., the woman who brought our children out of Haiti, told us of some things she saw while rescuing those war orphans. She told us about the night procession carrying an infant to a sacrifice. (She called in several favors to leave Haiti with that child.) She told us about gangs roaming the streets of Carrefour at night and their executions of “street rats” (she counted over a 150 bodies on a walk two weeks after the military coup). There is a saying in Haiti that "children are like dogs, worth nothing." They are thrown away. Literally. People abandon their children at the dumps. Annie pulled some children out of the rolling garbage beneath the heavy equipment.
There is the evidence of evil on my own sons’ bodies. Isaac’s face is scarred by the burns of hot cashews (a Haitian tradition to ward off were-wolves).
And Jeremiah. His body is still misshapen in so many ways, whether from lack of prenatal care, malnutrition, or abuse, I do not know. Once I cut his hair all off with shears. There are scars and dents all over his poor head. His feet were crushed, the growth plates behind some of his toes are so damaged the toes do not grow.
He was starving when he was found, and he fully expected us to eat in front of him and not share. When we first brought him home he was so excited but suspicious of the bowl of rice in front of him. He had trouble believing it was all for him to eat. He had the biggest grin on his face when we told him that he could eat as much as he wanted. His favorite topic is what he ate last night, what is for dinner tonight, what others are eating, or have eaten.
It makes me angry to think of him starving while others ate. It is evil to do that to a child.
There is ample evidence of evil in the world. Do a google search on Idi Amin, or Saddam Hussein, or Adolf Hitler, or Josef Stalin. Read about Ghengis Khan, or Nero, or the worshippers of Baal. An hour spent researching the evil that men do will lead you to one of three conclusions:
1. Men have a great capacity for evil.
2. There is a force of evil that prompts men to do unspeakable crimes.
3. Or both. Sometimes we choose, and other times we are prompted.
There is ample evidence of good in the world. No other creature can rise to such heights. Ghandi, M.L.K Jr., Mother Theresa, Stephen Biko, and countless others sought to change their societies, regardless of the cost to themselves.
We love. We sacrifice. We appreciate. No other creature appreciates beauty as we do. I have never seen a dog marvel at a rainbow or thrill to a sunset.
“What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?” --Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2
We are capable of great things and evil things. Art and torture. Compassion and cruelty. Generosity and greed.
We can be selfish, destructive, gluttonous, self-righteous. We can justify anything. We are consummate sophists. We paved over paradise and put up a parking lot and complain that there still isn't enough room for our SUVs.
But does that argue for a malevolent force to the universe?
Consider that rainbow for a moment. We have the capacity to enjoy its beauty. There is something within us that lifts at the sight. It is more than an emotional response. It precedes the emotion.
I learned to speed read in high school. I was reading at an astonishing rate with comprehension. I tried it on David Copperfield (by Charles Dickens). There was no emotional punch. The heart is not as quick as the mind. Search yourself and you will find this true. You know that there is a lag between emotional news and the emotion itself. We know the emotion is coming before it arrives. We see the rainbow and some living thing twists in our chests. It is like a thing apart from hearts and lungs and mind that responds. It is our soul.
Now, let us take the opposite example. Sometimes we sense evil just as we sense beauty. Children are often better at this. Do you remember walking into a dark place and feeling something dreadfully wrong there? You know that the place is empty except for you. Yet your heart races as you walk over to the light switch. And it races even faster when you must cross back that dark space when you turn to leave. You are tempted to leave the light on.
My wife felt that recently. During the fire (see previous postings) she and a friend were searching the basement of our church to ensure everyone was out. She was walking down the hall, approaching the place where the fire was burning. She kept calling out for our son, partly to hear her own voice.
She was getting the “heebie jeebies." She was so nervous that when she opened the closet at the end of the hall she half expected a body to fall out. She felt the presence of evil. Her words.
She tells me that when she heard the crackling of the fire it sounded like a chuckle in the dark. She turned up the stairs and saw the flames dancing in the gloom. Our friend ushered her quickly out the nearest door, certainly saving her life. The area soon burst into a fireball.
I have had similar experiences. Times when I was young, times when I lived in a yogic ashram. I shy away from thinking about them. As I write I think, “oh that would be a good illustration for my point, or that other story, or the time that. . .” But I don’t want to think about it. I want to get to the light switch as quickly as possible.
So I guess I’m going to chicken out. I don’t want to think too hard about it. But I believe that many of you reading this have stories that illustrate this point. (Feel free to leave them in a comment.)
It follows then that if we believe in a personal God, we must believe in a personal Satan. Or at least that one of his minions might occasionally drop by to whisper in our ears, just as that voice in the darkness did to Eliphaz.
To what purpose? Why would he? What has he to gain? The book of Job provides a hint. There is a force that believes God made a huge mistake in creating us. It argues that all we need is hard times and we will curse His name. That is the bet he had with the LORD. And he believed that even Jesus the Christ could fall to temptation; that the putting on of flesh is so inherently corrupting that even the divinity incarnate would fall to his whispers.
And to some extent it is true. We are easily tempted. We tire, we hunger, we lust and envy and lie and rationalize. We are a self-centered lot that rejects the power behind the rainbow.
Just as there are extremes to human behavior, there are extremes on the spiritual planes. The universe is filled with polarities. Positive and negative magnetic poles. Protons and electrons. The strong atomic and the weak atomic. Credit and debit. Good and evil.
Evil is real. But he does not have free reign. The LORD put clear limits on him in the book of Job. And for those who have turned to face their fears in the darkness between the light switch and the door, we have found that a strong rebuke in His name is a powerful defense.
We are capable of sensing the presence of evil. We are also capable of sensing the presence of good. And we can make choices. This may be a fallen world, but the LORD is near.
His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!"
He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" -- Job 2:9-10