Thursday, January 28, 2010

Details in the Devil


I recently heard a debate between a Buddhist, a Christian and a Humanist. (No, this isn't a joke.) It was sponsored by the Veritas Forum and held at Columbia University. (Buddha, Man, and Jesus: Three Perspectives on Life.) The three intellectuals discussed a variety of religious topics, but the most heated discussion concerned hell. The Christian was scorned and attacked by the other two panelists for holding to the traditional New Testament doctrine of hell.

In chapter 9 of Revelation the abyss of hell opens its mouth and out comes a swarm of demonic creatures straight out of a horror film. (Revelation 9:1-11) They add an important element to Revelation - evil. Not some type of "natural evil" like natural catastrophes. Not the evil of the human soul. This is intentional conscious evil in the universe headed by an Evil One.

There is a spiritual darkness at loose in the world. These dark forces are important features of the Book of Revelation. Without these characters Revelation would be a boring and tepid affair. All good stories need a villain. In Revelation the devil and his minions play the evil roles. The archetypal battle between good and evil makes up the warp and woof of the book.

What are we to make of evil? There is no doubt that there is an abyss of evil in the human heart, a shadow side of the psyche that is often unacknowledged and projected onto our enemies.  We vilify and dehumanize others and thereby make them easier to imprison, torture and kill. After all, they are not fully "human" like we are. This accounts for Auschwitz and Abu Ghraib, slavery and abortion.

But there is more to evil than human depravity. To limit evil to human beings is just another form of anthropocentrism. There is evil in the heavens. It is no accident that evil is pictured as a fallen star; it comes from above. After all, the story of Lucifer says he was an angel in God's court before his fall.

The symbols of Revelation point to a reality that we deny at our own peril. As Van Helsing says in the 1931 Dracula film, "The strength of the vampire is that people will not believe in him." The same goes for the devil.

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