Posts Tagged ‘evil’

Who is Satan?

August 25th, 2010 | 8 Comments

This is the first post in a guest series by Arcamaede, who has contributed previously. Hope you enjoy it!

~ Steve

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This is the article that just wouldn’t die.  It has been several months in the making and due to ever increasing materials on the topic, it has been broken into six pieces.  I highly suspect it will evolve even after publication.

This article has been inspired primarily by my own curiosity into the origins, meanings, and application of all things “ancient.”  I don’t see the material herein as conclusive or by any stretch of the imagination complete.  This series is a result of my efforts to learn and grow in both knowledge and understanding.

I need to state my position from the outset that I see God as a reality which human words fail to encompass or describe as He is.  I understand evil arises as a product of social interactions between humans and does not have an existence outside of them.  Satan is a personification embodying those destructive interactions.

Approaching evil with this assumption presents problems.  A large part of the later utilization of the character of Satan will be to mitigate or absolve God from the problem of human suffering.  Because of this, we’ll be segregating “moral” evil from things like floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes.  I’m taking a naturalistic view of these — they are neither good nor evil; they just happen.

I do not want to leave the impression that I’m trying to make evil itself a moot concept.  The goal in this is to understand better the struggle that the communities that produced these ancient writings went through as they themselves struggled with evil and suffering.

The foundational challenge in this study has been untangling later conceptions of Satan from more ancient ones.  There are many cases where untangling becomes difficult and speculative.  We will attempt to untangle the sources of Satan over a series of five articles.

Part 2, Satan in the Old Testament, will introduce us to the “Accuser” and his role in the Divine Council.

Part 3, Co-evolution of pre-Christian Satan, will show how Jewish Scripture collides with outside influences.

Part 4, New Testament Development, will show how the New Testament presents Satan as a full-blown personification of Evil at war with a good God.

Part 5, Post 1st Century Development, demonstrates that modern theology of Satan had quite a bit of help from the early Christian Fathers.

Part 6, Modern Development, will be packed with interesting notes on how Satan became a commercial success despite an increasing doubt in his actual existence.

Hopefully these articles will come out roughly a week apart from one another (or less depending on favorable weather).  Given that I’m not a professional theologian, I’m forced to sprinkle these writings between actual work, family, and other spiritual activities.

Please feel free to comment agreement, disagreement, and hopefully contribution to the development of the ideas in each article.

Lessons from the Canaanite Conquest

August 9th, 2010 | 13 Comments

Second century heretic Marcion was quite a character. Because the only contemporaneous descriptions of his beliefs that survived are those of his detractors it’s hard to say definitively, but his distinctive teachings seem to have originated in the belief that the god of the Old Testament, Yahweh, was a cruel and evil god challenged by the good god represented by Jesus; for Marcion, this schema accounted for what was even then recognized as a sharp contrast between the harshness of God’s behavior in much of the Old Testament and the essentially loving nature of God as revealed in Jesus.

What has emerged as the “orthodox” way of dealing with the contrast in OT/NT divine dispositions is a vehement denial of any such contrast. And indeed, as I have said on this blog, the OT’s Yahweh is extolled as full of ever-new mercies and unending lovingkindness, and much judgment and hellfire is found in the sermons of Jesus. We are far astray if we deny that Jesus was said to have come “to bring a sword”; the aspect of the historical Jesus as apocalyptic prophet speaking the doom of the current age should never be too far underplayed. Instead, what we should emphasize is the explicit characterization of God’s motives for judgment as reflecting personal concern and a desire for restoration, not a craving for vengeance and some sort of legal satisfaction of abstract requirements. The religious leaders of Jerusalem were condemned because they caused the little ones to sin, because they did not care for the fatherless and the widow, and because they had proved themselves faithless “hirelings” by their indifference to the welfare of those over whom they were given supervision. The desire for restoration and concern for the marginalized is, again, something not at all alien to the later Old Testament writers; Jesus simply put the focus more squarely on those things by virtue of his place as the “image of God bodily.” God has an interest in judgment but not because of a desire to wreak revenge on those who have personally affronted Him disguised as disembodied “justice”.

Another danger lies in entertaining the idea that the OT depictions of God are completely erratic, when, quite to the contrary, there are actual reasons God was conceived of as the mastermind of the Canaanite Conquest when we consider the history of the Old Testament writings. We can learn lessons from the Canaanite Conquest by recognizing Scripture as something other than pure, undistilled divine truth. Keep in mind that whatever influence a man named Moses might have had on the customs of the early Israelites, it is manifestly clear from several features of the language in which the Pentateuch is recorded that significant redaction (editing) must have taken place between his time and the time those sources were recorded in the form we have them now. Few biblical scholars argue convincingly that there is no ancient tradition behind the OT texts we have, which were all written down and/or redacted into their current form somewhat late into Israel’s history by her religious leaders. With this in mind, consider this.

See, when the Israelite leaders, sometime after the destabilization of the nation of Israel (let’s not worry about exactly when for now) attributed their loss of national integrity to the judgment of God, they did so because they believed that God would not have let go of His people capriciously. If God let Israel and Judah undergo the hardship of being displaced by foreign conquerors, they were convinced it was because of conscious divine judgment upon them.

So, retracing their steps to see where they went wrong, they saw that so many of their people had become lax with the teachings passed down from of old — surely this was the cause of their nation’s fall! Naturally, they attributed their laxity with the laws and rituals of Yahweh to their close familiarity with the indigenous pagan peoples. The bitter “if only!” regret of pious Israelites over having fallen into the ways of the neighboring peoples was expressed in the sharpest terms by their conviction that they should have disposed of all pagan influences (the “good kings” are the ones who carry this out in the Kings and Chronicles), and projected further, they saw that it should have been must surely have been God’s intent for them to “nip it in the bud” by cleansing the land of all indigenous people as a show of devotion to God’s holy commandments. The herem commands attributed to God were merely a logical way of accounting for the predicament post-monarchical Israel was in, assigning the blame not on God’s impotence or unfaithfulness, but squarely on Israel.

What they apparently failed to fully appreciate — for which they can certainly be forgiven, lacking full revelation — was the breathtaking scope of God’s love. The author of Job tried to tell them, as did (Deutero) Isaiah: sometimes God’s servant suffers not because of God’s judgment but simply because of the selfish and hateful reactions of other men. God did not spare his own Son from evil men, but allowed him to be sacrificed; He promises both the redemption of suffering and commensurate vindication, demonstrated once and for all in the public display of the first Passion play. The lesson slow to be learned was that even though God rarely (if ever) intervenes in this life, He remains in control; the faithful response is not to come up with elaborate ways to blamecredit, or (as with the annihilation mandate) excuse God for actions He allowed in the functioning of His universe, but to look forward to how He is going to bring life from them. It is to hold His hand through the storm, holding on to the ideals He taught you in the calm even when you can’t feel His hand, and trust His character and ability to bring about good through it all.

“Total war” or just plain old war?

August 2nd, 2010 | 7 Comments

Apologist Matt Flannagan once again defends God against the charge of commanding the Israelites to commit genocide against the Canaanites. Not including the final sentence, his concluding statement articulates a very important reminder about the importance of recognizing the Bible as a product of ANE literature:

Consequently, if one does not read the texts in isolation and is sensitive to the genre of Ancient Near-Eastern writings then a literal reading is far from obvious. As Egyptologist James K. Hoffmeier notes, such a reading commits “the fallacy of misplaced literalism … the misconstruction of a statement-in-evidence so that it carries a literal meaning when a symbolic or hyperbolic or figurative meaning was intended.” This underscores an obvious but often neglected point, the bible is not written in accord with the conventions of 21st century English. It was written in ancient foreign languages and in the conventions that governed historical, legal, epic, etc writings of that time. To understand what it teaches accurately one needs to ask what it teaches given these factors. When one does this, it seems probably that the Old Testament does not teach that God commanded or that Israel carried out, the genocide or extermination of the Canaanites.

Contra Mundum: Did God Command Genocide in the Old Testament?

He evinces several parallels to other ANE hyperbolic descriptions of victory. But because they are all ex post facto commemorations of campaigns, either to immortalize or ameliorate prior events, there is certainly an argument to be made that they fit a somewhat different genre (in the generic sense) than the prescriptive “annihilate” commands from God that we find in the Hexateuch.

But no matter. Let’s just say God did not command genocide or the extermination of the Canaanites after all. Let’s grant that He only commanded them to subjugate, or, in Plantinga’s words, “attack them, defeat them, drive them out.” What does that buy us?

To my mind, little is gained by this sort of reasoning, however well defended. Those who have a problem with divinely mandated genocide are not likely to think much differently of this counter-assertion that He instead “merely” commanded war, killing, and the forcible removal of multiple peoples established in a homeland for centuries or more beforehand. The latter isn’t even a “just war” according to Augustine.

How likely is it that the God who we as Christians claim was exemplified in His self-sacrificial servant Jesus of Nazareth demanded as a non-negotiable act of obedience and faithfulness that His people wage a full-scale assault of an entire region populated by several civilizations — whether or not the method was “total war” or marginally more kid-friendly? That’s the question that needs to be addressed.

At very best, this proposed solution can be nothing but a first step along a long, long apologetics path. Until that path is plotted out and begun to be trod convincingly, especially since even the faintest historicity of the events in question has been challenged by competent ANE scholars, I’m infinitely more content to chalk it all up to retroactive history than to argue that God actually commissioned the Conquest of Canaan as depicted in the Old Testament. And I’m pretty sure God will forgive me if I’m wrong.

First things and last things

September 14th, 2008 | 52 Comments

I have not tried to find a reason to disagree with the majority when it comes to my theological positions. Any reader of this blog will recognize that this has nevertheless happened on occasion. Chiefly, theistic evolution puts me at odds with most evangelicals and full preterism puts me at odds with most believers. In other words, I hold a minority position on protology (the doctrine of first things) and eschatology (the doctrine of last things). From what I know, only a handful of Christians who accept full preterism also accept the scientific consensus on origins; likewise, only a few believers who accept the scientific consensus on origins accept full preterism. I am amazed by this because of how well the two fit together. I’ve been meaning to write a post such as this for some time, so here goes.

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Self-preservation, the Fall, and redemption

February 27th, 2008 | 20 Comments

In my explanation of man’s depravity from the view of a recurring, individualized (non-historical) Fall, I have argued that mankind’s natural separation from God was in origin a result of natural self-preservation instincts. These instincts progressed first into childish selfishness and then, with the onset of divinely gifted God-consciousness (Romans 1:18-21), those instincts gone unchecked morphed into moral failure (sin), to the effect that scarcely had our species become aware of its Creator before it began to reject Him.

I thought of this when I came upon the following quote from C.S. Lewis:

If God were a Kantian, who would not have us till we came to Him from the purest and best motives, who could be saved?

It strikes me that God uses the selfsame aspect that damns us to redeem us. Self-regard is not an absolute evil; it is a neutral currency of the universe, one of which our ultimate God naturally demands the ultimate possession. This is no doubt because our blessed Maker, in molding man in His Own image, also imprinted upon him another, converse attribute of which He is the ultimate expression: self-sacrifice. In fact, it is this expectation God has of us, not the self-regard shared by every creature from amoeba to ape, that separates man from beast. That God demands something we are in some sense capable of but not predisposed to do is analogous to a parent teaching her daughter to help her in the kitchen, or her son to brush his own teeth (without swallowing the toothpaste!) so they won’t rot out of his head.

In order for us to become like Him, we must subordinate our self-regard to our self-sacrifice; but thankfully, as Lewis notes, we are not required — nor are we able — to perform self-sacrifice wholly independent of self-regard.

What do you think of this?

The Fallout

February 15th, 2008 | 62 Comments

This is the eighth and final post in a series on inspiration, inerrancy, and hermeneutics.

So anyway what about the Fall? If no one human is the cause for our sinful natures, what is?

Depravity for me is summed up by self-centered living, which is inexcusable for a species that has achieved consciousness of the divine. We are all sinners because we all start off life living for ourselves, which, after early childhood and the awareness of Otherness sets in, becomes sin. Sin is a state of estrangement from God. Over long eons, God brought His children up biologically so that mankind became sentient and came to know that it had a Maker. At that point, God chose a different means to mature our species. We still struggle to subdue and tame our own biological impulses that lead to our detriment and God’s displeasure, but we master them not through natural selection, but by the overcoming power of the Spirit of God. Christianity is the next (and final?) phase in the evolution of God’s creation.

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And the Lord spake, saying, “What was I thinking?!”

December 19th, 2007 | 6 Comments

Preterists who deny a physical Resurrection of the Dead have been accused of being gnostic (because we supposedly believe that only spiritual reality matters and that the physical world is evil). Yet those who demand a destruction of the physical universe and the replacement with a spiritual new heavens and new earth are surely closer to this belief than are full preterists. We don’t see a reason to believe that the earth and the physical universe will not sustain us into virtual perpetuity. Our strictly spiritual Kingdom is more likely to take over the realm of the physical as we apply the mandate for dominion in every area of our lives. Those looking forward to a restoration of the physical universe need look no further than the preterist’s Kingdom of God made manifest in us, the sons of God, the co-heirs with Jesus.

Genesis 1:28 shows us the original intention God had for man: man was tasked with subduing the earth and ruling over it and its creatures. Now, think theoretically for a second. Was God thwarted in His plan? Was He forced to go back to the drawing board because man did something God knew he was going to do all along? Was the sum of human history a waste because no sooner did God give us the mandate, but we screwed up? Was God’s experiment with a physical universe a dismal failure that He’s been stuck with for millennia, while He sits up there and waits (for something or other) to wipe it off the map and forget the whole embarrassing experience? Poor God. Better luck next time!

This view is untenable for someone who believes that God is omnipotent and omniscient. So it’s really no wonder that Calvin and others devoted especially to the concept of God’s sovereignty should resort to the defense, “Well…God really wanted it that way! Yeah, He didn’t fail: He planned the whole fiasc–, uh, glorious plan!”

I think, rather, that His plan will be fulfilled and that His first-century work was a new beginning. We see a similar pattern in the flood account. What happened after God wiped out the wicked with the Flood? He started again, with the same earth and the same animals, and the faithful; in fact, the only change was in the topology and the exclusion of the wicked from the land. That’s what happened in AD 70. Noah, like Adam, was charged with populating the land with offspring and subduing the creation (Gen. 9:1-3, 7). So it is with us.

When Christendom has finally understood and embraced its reinvigorated Kingdom mandate, the physical world will reap the benefits. This goes for improvement in medical science: the world reshaped by the influence of Christianity has already done much in this direction, but there could be more. For instance, could Christians leading science in the far off future eventually essentially marginalize physical suffering, perhaps even going so far as to subjugate physical death? What about the environment? I don’t just mean caring for it in the ecological sense, but being able to predict and manipulate even the weather — sure, it sounds Star Trek, but my point is that the sky’s the limit. In a few millennia, the fallen world as we know it may be a distant memory, fading away much like the mother’s childbirth pain once she holds the newborn in her arms.

Is this fantasy?


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