Free colouring sheets of "Jesus Showed Us!" by Bradley Jersak (author) and Shari-Anne Vis (illustrator) are now available.
Free colouring sheets of "Jesus Showed Us!" by Bradley Jersak (author) and Shari-Anne Vis (illustrator) are now available.
For a number of years now our local jail has housed gang-involved inmates in segregated units to avoid run-ins with enemy gang members. At times though the normal stresses of incarceration combine with internal tensions within a gang, leading to fights between fellow homies. For nearly four months this summer and fall inmates from one particular gang where locked down often three to a cell, 24/7 as deterrent and punishment for fighting.
During these months they did not benefit from weekly Bible studies nor daily time out of their cells for recreation and meals. A few weeks ago I was able to meet with this group for Bible studies two Thursday nights in a row. These thirty-minute gatherings have been precious tasters of the Kingdom of God.
The first time we met together nearly the entire inmate population of the lower tier of the pod that housed these men attended. 15 or so guys shuffled in and took their seats on blue plastic chairs around our familiar circle. Many of these men I’d known for years. Matt and I made the rounds shaking everyone’s hand, warmly welcoming them before we formally began our meeting with a prayer.
I talked directly about their official label as an STG (Security Threat Group). I invited them to look at how Jesus and his disciples were also considered an STG.
Editor's Note: Clarion will be posting Michael Hardin's 20-episode series (excerpted from What the Facebook? vol. 1) on The Satan as a weekly release, each Thursday. CLICK HERE for the full pdf or kindle document.
I mentioned Jeffrey B. Gibson’s book The Temptations of Jesus in Early Christianity yesterday and I am half-tempted (pun intended) to turn this post into a lengthy book review. It is a fantastic resource for anyone who will be teaching and preaching on this topic.
When it comes to the character of the satan, Dr Gibson says the exact same thing I have been asserting in my posts, namely that Jesus was tested to use violence, that that was the content of Jesus’ testing. This dovetails quite brilliantly with Rene Girard’s insights in I See Satan Falling Like Lightning where the ‘satan’ is a metonym for the violent structuring of the victimage mechanism.
Dr Gibson says,
“The figure whom Mark designates as the perpetrator of Jesus’ wilderness temptation, whether called Satan or one of a host of other names, was not an ‘unknown quantity’. On the contrary, in Mark’s time and in the thought world in which Mark and his audience took part, Satan’s identity and the activities characteristic of him were both closely circumscribed and widely known. He was regarded primarily as the Accuser, or more specifically, the Evil Adversary, and this in two ways. First, as one who stood in opposition to God, seeking to frustrate God’s work by leading his elect astray and destroying the relationship between God and men. Second, as one whose primary activity was the proving of the faith and steadfastness, not of men in general, but of the pious.”
The question before us has always been the ‘nature’ of the satanic. I have been suggesting in these posts that we need to demythologize the devil. In other words, we need to see that the satan is not a person (as we are used to conceiving of persons) but rather a human originated principle of structuring community based upon the use of deadly violence (scapegoating). The devil is a ‘murderer.’
In the accounts of the testing of Jesus, Jesus is accosted by the satanic principle to use violence as the promised deliverer of Israel, to use power to throw out the Roman oppressors and restore Israel’s former fortune and glory. The accounts of Jesus’ testing all revolve around this theme (whether after the baptism, at Caesarea Philippi or in Gethsemane, and one may add, in the demand for a ‘sign’). If, as Girard asserts, violence is the way we humans form and maintain social relationships, then the ministry of Jesus is all about deconstructing our relationship to violence and victimization.
In the testing of Jesus, God took a huge risk. If Jesus failed in his test(s), then humanity would have been forever doomed to a cycle of retributive violence and constant apocalypse. Jesus, time and again, refused the path of the militant warrior, calling out instead for reconciliation, forgiveness and peace. This alone was God’s way, the way of his mission and message.
In his tests, Jesus confronted the possibility of his own dark side, the possibility of using violence as a solution to social crises. It was this possibility that he rejected time and again. As a metonym for scapegoating violence, Jesus overcoming of the satan has huge implications for Christians today in how they treat those whom society would use to reconstitute itself: immigrants, the LGBT community, persons of other faiths, the homeless, the poor, people of color, etc. Inasmuch as we do to the “least” of these we do to Jesus. This, and this alone, is the criterion by which we determine our relation to Jesus. Will we resist the satanic in our own thoughts and actions? Will we stand with the victims of our cultures? Will we, like Jesus, say no to power that is coercive or manipulative? Will we like Jesus renounce violence?
Imagine if all Christians everywhere were to do this. Imagine if all Christians everywhere took the side of the poor, the downtrodden, the alienated. Then we might just see the deceptions of the satan crumble before our very eyes and the reign of God brought to earth.
The word ‘flawed’ has been bandied about this political season in the U.S., most notably as a few Christians of significant influence cobble together bizarre arguments for how Americans might in good moral conscience support Donald Trump. Most prominently, Jerry Falwell drew a comparison between Trump and Israel’s King David, and more recently, radio host Sean Hannity. Their arguments suggest that both Trump and David are ‘flawed’ leaders who either rule over, or might rule over, a great nation. King David was God’s ‘flawed’ man, and on analogy, Trump might be as well. While Trump is no saint, to expect a saint is unreasonable and even contrary to the pattern we see in Scripture.
The gains with a leader like Trump are inestimable, we’re told. Though lacking a moral compass himself, he’ll at least outsource morality to justices who will ensure that morality prevails.
Let’s set aside for a moment the obviously ‘stacked deck’ nature of this appeal to David, as opposed to, say, King Manasseh, or King Ahab, Samson, Pharaoh, or King Herod. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Trump is a kind of David redivivus—a man after God’s own heart, flawed indeed, but chosen to lead the nation during a time of serious threats on the outside (Philistines/ISIL) and from within (disunity/moral chaos). And let’s look, as Ben Carson recently encouraged us to do, at the ‘bigger picture.’
Most appeals to David’s ‘flawed’ character have in mind his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11), where David saw her bathing from his rooftop and took her for himself. At this point David faced his first obstacle … her husband Uriah the Hittite. That first ‘obstacle’ to the object of David’s longing was a foreigner, and an expendable one at that. To finalize the deal, he had Uriah murdered.
Nonetheless, David eventually confesses his sin and repents, an act which the story clearly presents as commendable (2 Sam 12).
But let’s not stop there. Let’s concede something outrageous, that Trump’s apology was sincere and heartfelt, analogous to David’s repentance. Does the King David analogy then allow us to imagine the possibility of a brighter, greater, and more godly future? To answer this, we need to focus on the aftermath of David’s sin and repentance, and not solely at the simple fact that God uses a flawed leader.
Stephen Imbach was the founder and director of Soulstream, a dispersed contemplative community that also trains spiritual directors.
A well-crafted wine teaches us that the world is bursting with the grandeur of God. Savoring a glass of wine reveals something of the abundant generosity of God. God could have just provided us with water, but for the joy and pleasure of his people and to reveal his extensive, loving generosity he gave us wine. Christ’s first miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana was not just a happen-stance, but expresses Christ’s desire for us as community to joyfully celebrate the grandeur of God and the abundant gifts of his creation. Sharing wine in community allows us to lift our hearts toward God and to one another.
Historically, the church has been ambivalent toward our God given capacity to smell, feel and taste; setting these senses apart from spirituality. The vintner can be a tremendous aide in the recovery of our God- given senses, turning them toward a life of contemplation. Of course there will always be those who abuse the gifts of God, but a well-crafted wine encourages us to expand our senses into becoming prayer. As we enjoy the pleasure of drinking a glass of wine we are offering our delight to the God who gave us such an unnecessary, excessive gift. Enjoying God’s delightful gift of wine is truly a rich experience of worshipping our Creator.
It would be incredible to see Western Christianity embrace, without reservation, the joy of delighting in God’s gift of wine as a sincere, honest way of enhancing our relationship with God and each other.
"For a century now, we have been singing war songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow, we should have been singing love songs to them all along."
I woke up in the middle of the night last night to watch the second presidential debate between Trump and Clinton. It was not a debate, but then neither was the first one. I learned to debate in high school and was eventually captain of our debate team but I have to say last evening was nothing short of an illuminating fiasco.
The main casualty of the debate last night was truth. The truth was buried in half-truths, lies, deception, misdirection and all manner of innuendo. We discovered that Hilary is the devil, thank you Donald for projecting your own dark side onto her. We learned that substantive issues about real life were given the shove off the cliff. We watched as two alleged adults, vying for what is arguably the most powerful political office in the world, acted more like children on a playground. We watched the debates and Aleppo burned. We got angry at either Trump or Hilary (depending on whom you prefer) but we saw no anger for the children lying among the ashes of war and violence. In short, we learned nothing.
It is this capacity for giving imaginative body to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity that seems to me one of the most remarkable things about your work. - Evelyn Underhill letter to C.S. Lewis (January 13 1941)
Many with a minimal literary background will have read articles or books by C.S. Lewis. The Lewis of popular consumption is certainly not the more nuanced and layered Lewis. The more popular books by Lewis were, mostly, published in the 1940s-1950s to his death in 1963. There have been many letters, books, articles by Lewis published since his death. But, the C.S. Lewis of the 1930s was still in the budding phase with a few blossoms that hinted further fruit.
The rather abstract and initial autobiography of Lewis’ journey to Christian faith, The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism, left the publishing press in 1933. It is certainly not one of Lewis’ better books, but there are hints in it of finer things to come. The emergence of Lewis, the Oxford don and Medieval literary scholar, was clearly established when The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition left the publishing tarmac in 1936. Who would have guessed by the mid-1930s that Lewis was about to launch as a significant writer of international breadth and depth, and that his first real work of imaginative fiction would appeal to Evelyn Underhill?
Editor's Note: Clarion is posting Michael Hardin's 20-episode series (excerpted from What the Facebook? vol. 1) on The Satan as a weekly release, each Thursday. CLICK HERE for the full pdf or kindle document.
In my last post on the satan I said I was going to follow up with some thoughts on Jesus’ temptations in the Gospels. Imagine my surprise then to find I had a “follower” who had written his PhD on this very subject, Dr. Jeffrey B. Gibson. By chance or by the grace of God I had found his book The Temptations of Jesus in Early Christianity last year on my trip to Australia and had read it while traveling down under. (Whew!). So, this past several days I have revisited that book along with an article by Dr. Gibson and much to my delight found that indeed we are tracking along the same path. For this reason, these next few posts are going to lean heavily on his work and I am going to quote him more extensively than I have others in my previous posts. Although I am certain he may not agree with all I write I thank him for his magisterial work on this topic and urge anyone interested in delving more deeply into this topic to read his book.
When one compares the gospel accounts of Jesus’ testing in the wilderness following the baptism, it is easy to see that Matthew and Luke have ‘expanded’ narratives and Mark’s gospel contains a brief account. On this basis some have argued that Mark’s account does not offer much detail. Gibson has challenged this reading noting that the use of the words ‘the Spirit’, ‘desert’, ‘testing’ all would trigger immediate inter-textual echoes (or references to Old Testament stories of Israel’s testing in the wilderness).
Today I want to focus on the content of that testing in Jesus’ life by noting three important things.
First, the episode of Jesus’ testing found in Mark 1:12-13 (“At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him”) is not the only test of Jesus. Mark bookends his gospel with another test of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-53). While this text does not explicitly state the nature of the test, it becomes clear that the test involves Jesus’ fidelity to his call and mission to renounce violence. This is clearer in Luke 22:38 where Jesus says in reply to the disciples bringing swords, “Enough of that!” or Matthew 26:52-53 where Jesus says “Put the sword back into its place. All those who use the sword will die by the sword. 53 Or do you think that I’m not able to ask my Father and he will send to me more than twelve battle groups of angels right away? 54 But if I did that, how would the scriptures be fulfilled that say this must happen?” Mark’s gospel is thus bracketed at the beginning and end of Jesus’ ministry with the same test: would Jesus renounce the use of violence, force and coercive power or would he succumb to them?
Second, Gibson points out that the word that is sometimes translated “to tempt” has less to do with Jesus’ struggle with greed, avarice, lust etc, and more to do with the central focus of his mission: how to reveal that God is nonviolent. He says “When the participle – indeed, any form of ‘pierazo’ – was used, as in Mk. 1:13a, with reference to a person, its connotation was even more specific: being probed and proved, often through hardship and adversity, in order to determine the extent of one’s worthiness to be entrusted with, or the degree of one’s loyalty or devotion to, a given commission and its constraints.
So “central” was this connotation to this usage of the participle and its root, that the statement that someone was “being tested” could not be made without communicating the idea that person was undergoing an experience in which his character or fidelity was being ‘put to the proof’.” The great test for Jesus had to do with the possibility that he might succumb to the use of violence as a justifiable means to accomplish his Abba’s will.
Third, if this is not clear from Gethsemane, it is clear by another passage where Jesus is tested; at Caesarea Philippi in Mark 8:27-38. Here again Jesus is tested, this time by his main man, Peter, to renounce his idyllic hippie, tree-hugging vision and get with the revolutionary program. Jesus calls Peter a “scandalon” which is the worst relation one could possibly be in relation to Jesus. Peter would have Jesus take up the mantle of the Davidic Warrior Messiah, act like Phineas with zeal for God’s holy will and start a holy war like the Maccabees. Jesus renounces Peter’s violent ideology. So Mark 1, Mark 8 and Mark 14 are the three great tests of Jesus in the gospels. Tomorrow we shall look at The Tester.
The origins of the Anabaptist Tradition is an ongoing and contested one--from a monogenesis of pacifism and peace to a varied and complex polygenesis, the history of 16th century Anabaptist research remains lively and animated, both in the beginnings and contemporary applications of such an interpretation. Then, there is, of course, the haunting demon of the Munster Rebellion of 1534-1535 that lingers and will not disappear.
The appeal of Abraham Friesen’s book, Menno Simons: Dutch Reformer Between Luther, Erasmus and the Holy Spirit, is the way he ably and nimbly navigates the important areas of Menno scholarship. It is impossible, of course, to disconnect Menno Simons from his historic context, hence Part I of the tome (“The Reformation, An Era of Recovery and Conflict: Revolutions, Spiritual and Material”) reveals, on a broad and convincing cavass the reality within which Simons lived, moved and had his being. The more pressing and not to be denied or ignored context is covered in much more depth and detail in Part II (“The Movement: Munster as Background and Context”). Friesen devotes almost 100 pages (about ¼ of the book) to the Munster Rebellion from which Menno Simons articulated and lived forth an alternate faith journey and, in many ways, birthed the Mennonites.
I got to thinking critically about this question roughly ten days ago in Yosemite National Park.
Me and two of my close friends had woken up at dawn to catch the sunrise up at Taft Point. Once we had arrived, we realized that we nearly had the entire view to ourselves. After spending some time taking photographs, we settled down and decided to brew some coffee and nourish ourselves in the serenity of our surroundings. I can confidently confirm that a cup of coffee (even though filtered through a paper towel) tastes absolutely divine when you are simultaneously admiring El Capitan–the iconic, granite face of Yosemite Valley–standing authoritatively in the distance.
To top off this incredible morning, the three of us decided to have a short devotion before heading back to camp to rejuvenate for our busy afternoon plans. With me, I had brought a book that I am currently reading by theologian Bradley Jersak, entitled A More Christlike God. I began reading aloud from his chapter “The Cross As Divine Consent.” Although I only read about a third of the chapter aloud that morning, the three of us managed to engage in a deep dialogue about the theological ideas proposed in the book.
Many readers have never before heard that there is no such thing as moral progress – so I am not surprised that I have been asked to write in more depth on the topic. I will start by focusing on the question of sin itself. If we rightly understand the nature of sin and its true character, the notion of moral progress will be seen more clearly. I will begin by clarifying the difference between the notion of morality and the theological understanding of sin. They are two very different worlds.
Morality (as I use the word) is a broad term that generally describes the adherence (or lack of adherence) to a set of standards or norms for behavior. In that understanding, everybody practices some form of morality. An atheist may not believe in God, but will still have an internalized sense of right or wrong as well as a set of expectations for himself and others. There has never been a universally agreed set of moral standards. Different people, different cultures have a variety of moral understandings and ways of discussing what it means to be “moral.”
I have observed and written that most people will not progress morally. This is to say that we do not generally get better at observing whatever standards and practices we consider to be morally correct. On the whole, we are about as morally correct as we ever will be.
This differs fundamentally with what is called “sin” in theological terms. The failure to adhere to certain moral standards may have certain aspects of “sin” beneath it, but moral failings are not the same thing as sin. In the same manner, moral correctness is not at all the same thing as “righteousness.” A person could have been morally correct throughout the whole of their lifetime (theoretically) and still be mired in sin. Understanding sin will make this clear.
As the daughter of a church pastor, I’d grown up attending church every week and I even attended my denomination’s university. My Sabbath and Holy Day-centered denomination changed radically when I was a young adult, and one of the things that gave me was the freedom to explore mainstream denominations. (It also gave me a large and healthy dose of skepticism when it came to any church claiming to have all the answers.)
But my last experience, the one that ended abruptly five years ago with a succession of unfriendly, corrective e-mails and Facebook de-friendings, was a bad one. My beliefs were evolving at the time — growing and expanding — but the poor people with whom I shared a Sunday School class were not ready for that. (Bless them – now that my feelings are no longer raw, I do understand.)
Editor's Note: In the aftermath of deconstruction/reconstruction re: eternal destiny, especially among Western Evangelicals and Progressives, there remains the need to reimagine the parousia (2nd coming) and final judgement. If the last days will NOT look like B-movie footage of the 'Left Behind' apocalyptic fantasy series, and if SOMETHING does remain ahead (contra the full preterists), what is that 'something' and how shall we imagine it?
Historically, believers did not primarily imagine the end by literalizing the Book of Revelation. Mainly, they knew this was playing with heretical fire, and had sad examples, just as we do. Rather, they looked to the Transfiguration of Christ on Mt. Tabor as a sort of preview or first fruits of the glorification of the cosmos. And they settled on a very focused eschatology: "He shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead ... We look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come" (Nicene Creed).
We could stop there, though some church fathers and mothers, such as St Macrina and St Gregory of Nyssa (On the Soul and the Resurrection) did try, by analogy, to explore these mysteries in ways that would inspire practical hope and holiness in their contemporaries. In a post-dispensational world that finds the so-called 'rapture,' the 'great tribulation,' and the 'millennium' to be fruitless, some have found NT Wright (Surprised by Hope) very helpful. But for those who still ask, "What of the Second Coming? What of the Divine Judgment?" Fr. Aiden Kimel's engagement with Fr. Sergei Bulgakov's Bride of the Lamb is a welcome contribution, reminiscent of Gregory and Macrina, and revisited through CS Lewis (The Great Divorce) and more recently through Jerry Walls. Here, then, are four of the relevant offerings. These ideas are dense, but those unwilling to 'do dense' should kindly avoid altogether any eschatology beyond the Creed. - Brad Jersak
Fr Sergius Bulgakov’s presentation of the Last Things is a masterpiece of dogmatic and mystical theology. Here is no mere reiteration of opinions from the past. Bulgakov is convinced that the Church has only begun to reflect deeply on the eschatological mysteries. With the exception of the resurrection of Christ and his return in glory, both mentioned in the Nicene Creed, “the Church has not established a single universally obligatory dogmatic definition in the domain of eschatology” (The Bride of the Lamb, p. 379). Most of the Church’s eschatological beliefs have yet to be subjected to the free and substantive biblical and theological reflection that must always precede dogmatic definition. CLICK HERE to continue.
The Great Assize: I am brought into the courtroom of the Divine Judge. The prosecutor presents a movie of my life, with infallible commentary. The entirety of my life is presented in exquisite and shameful detail. Nothing is hidden. All of my actions and inactions, with underlying motivations, are revealed. And to make things worse, the movie shows the consequences of my decisions upon the lives of others, rippling down through the centuries. Finally, the prosecution rests its case. No defense is offered, can be offered. With dread I await the verdict.
What’s wrong with this scenario?
In the view of Sergius Bulgakov, it fails to grasp the inner connections between creation, incarnation, parousia, glorification, and universal resurrection. When the Incarnate Son returns in glory, the dead will be raised and all will be glorified. Every resurrected person will partake of immortality, irrespective of merit. Resurrection is wholly a gift of God, bestowed in the paschal victory of Jesus Christ. Bulgakov quotes the Apostle Paul: “Christ shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil 3:21). He then comments: “This applies, we repeat, to all humanity without any exception, for the Lord became the New Adam, assumed humanity in its entirety: ‘As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly’ (1 Cor. 15:49). The image of the heavenly will shine upon all resurrected bodies, clothed in glory” (The Bride of the Lamb, p. 450). CLICK HERE to continue.
When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left...
Last Judgment—given Sergius Bulgakov’s apocatastatic conviction that it will be a glorifying and converting event, reconciling every human to God through Jesus Christ, how does he interpret the Matthean warning of our Lord that the righteous and wicked will be eternally separated at the end of the ages? Surely this parable refutes the universalist hope. Bulgakov rejoins: we must interpret the parable theologically within the entirety of divine revelation and attend to the symbolic nature of apocalyptic language. But most importantly, we must remember that the One who told the parable is the Savior of humanity, for whose sins he “tasted the agony of Gethsemane and the death on Golgotha” (Bride of the Lamb, p. 485). Our exegesis of Scripture, in other words, must be guided by the gospel of divine love and mercy, revealed in the death and resurrection of the incarnate Son of God and the intercessory ministry of the exalted Theotokos. “God-Love judges with love the sins against love,” the Russian priest declares (p. 459). CLICK HERE to continue.
“A human being cannot fail to love the Christ who is revealed in him, and he cannot fail to love himself revealed in Christ” (The Bride of the Lamb, p. 459). This striking statement represents, perhaps, the most provocative claim in the eschatology of Sergius Bulgakov. Upon it rests his confident hope in apokatastasis. In one form or another, we find this claim sprinkled throughout the concluding chapters of Bride of the Lamb. To be glorified by Christ is to see him, and to see him is to love him, for in him we discover our authentic selfhood and the fulfillment of our deepest yearnings.
Yet this profound insight does not lead Bulgakov to conclude that at the parousia all will be instantaneously and magically converted to God. He knows both the Bible and the human heart too well. For some, perhaps many, the return of Christ Jesus in glory will ignite a gehennic conflagration in the depth of their souls. Imprisoned in their egoism and malice, they will hate the Son and with all their might will attempt to extinguish the love born in their hearts. And so they will burn. They will know the torment of hell, a torment of love, guilt, and self-condemnation. Guiding Bulgakov’s reflections here are the homilies of St Isaac the Syrian, which he knew in Russian translation. CLICK HERE to continue
Editor's Note: Clarion is posting Michael Hardin's 20-episode series (excerpted from What the Facebook? vol. 1) on The Satan as a weekly release, each Thursday. CLICK HERE for the full pdf or kindle document.
Before we begin our study of the Temptation of Jesus, let’s take care of a few housekeeping details. First, one’s view of Scripture is going to determine how one approaches, interprets and understands Scripture. As I have followed the comments on these musings about ‘the satan’ this has particularly come home time and again, particularly when it comes to asking about the ‘personhood of the satan.” Back in April when I was discussing the perspective of the inerrancy/infallibility tradition I pointed out that this defending the inspiration and authority of the Bible is the starting point for many Protestants. I also pointed out that this view is also a hermeneutic, that is, it does not simply establish the [so-called] nature of the text but functions, in a liminal way, to say what can or cannot be said about any given text. That is, it limits interpretive possibilities.
So, at the risk of being redundant let me again say that I do not accept the standard Protestant paradigm of the inspiration and authority of Scripture (I have worked all of this out in several essays on my website). I mention this because it seems to me that the perceived need to retain the notion of the satan as a person has two distinct warrants from some of my responders. On the one hand there are those who feel as though if the Bible speaks of satan as a person (which begs the question as to what constitutes personhood) then we too should accept that the devil is a personal being. On the other hand there are those who have experienced what they can only describe as real encounters with a force that ‘appears’ evil and manifests itself in rather strange or unusual ways.
In this series I am not interested in showing how the way we view scripture influences the way we read it; I have done that already. Nor do I wish to discredit those who have experienced ‘evil.’ I will say this though: we all interpret our experience, there is no such thing as ‘raw’ experience, it is all filtered through a lens. Our interpretations are bounded and informed by the particular grids we have learned throughout out lives. A person in tribal Africa will have a different interpretation of the demonic than a New York psychiatrist, yet both could be right. It all depends upon the frame of reference of the person.
Finally, let me say this: I am seeking to mine the biblical text for anthropological data, for what it tells us about the human condition. I have made the intellectual choice to no longer accept the metaphysical structuring of reality found from Plato to Hegel (and some points beyond). For me, the main problem of Christianity does not lay in theology first; it is primarily our anthropology that has created all of our conundrums. Because we have the problem wrong (the human condition), we have misread the solution (our view of God and God’s redemptive work). One of the merits of the work of Rene Girard has been to help us get our anthropology back on track with a theory of how we came to be in the situation we are in where we structure our relationships on sacred violence. By showing the connections between mediated desires, rivalry and scapegoating, Girard proffers a way out of the anthropological mess we have created and the problem of viewing ourselves as ‘free moral agents’, a term which plagues our discussions.
When we return to this topic we will take a look at Jesus’ temptations. I was recently asked if the temptation story in the Gospels is a hallucination or a fiction. I do not think it was either but I also think that the way this question is posed indicates that if one questions the notion of a personal devil then one must either take the story to be a fiction or a hallucination. That is not an optimal way of rendering the text. So as we turn to the Gospels to discuss these questions please remember that 1) our view of scripture limits the way we read the biblical texts and 2) that our understanding of what constitutes ‘personhood’ limits the way we will understand Jesus’ relation to the satan in the text.
I have noticed that the greatest difficulty people seem to be having with these posts on the satan concerns the depersonalization of the satan. For some reason people feel the need to hang onto a personal devil. If, as I have argued, that Genesis 3-4 belong together as a process describing the descent of humanity into the madness of sacrificial religion and if Paul is making this connection between Adam and Cain in Romans 7 the big question is, is there any other biblical text that makes this connection explicit? Yes there is. It comes from the Fourth Gospel where Jesus says “From the start he was a murderer, and he has never stood by the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he is speaking in character; because he is a liar- indeed, the inventor of the lie!” (John 8:44 CJB). Even though the satan (or the serpent) does not make an appearance in Genesis 4, Jesus connects what occurs there with what has happened in Genesis 3.
Paul in Romans 7 has done the same thing by turning the conversation over to the problem of Adamic humanity. We saw that he does this without reference to the satan, especially the ‘personal devil’ of the Henochic myth. That is, both Paul and the writer of the Fourth Gospel anthropologize the satan; the satanic is a human phenomenon. We have been following this cue for the last several posts. To demythologize the devil is one of the most difficult things Christians must do for one big reason.
Most Christians have a view of the person as an autonomous individual. I have argued that Rene Girard’s notion of persons as ‘interdividual’ is an essential move from modernity to a postmodern understanding of humanity. This is not a recent shift in the human sciences but one that has been occurring for almost a hundred years in others disciplines like psychology, philosophy and literary theory. It has been confirmed by the hard science of neurophysiology. Thus, those who would see evil as coming from a ‘free moral agent’, as stemming from choice, fail to recognize the deeply embedded situation we humans are in when it comes to the problem of mediated desire (or object oriented desire).
Confirmation of this can be found in the Passion Narrative of Luke 23. Most of us would tend to think that Caiaphas, the religious authorities and Pilate ‘made the choice’ to execute Jesus. If there is any text in which deception and murder occurs it is here in the trial and execution of Jesus. Yet, Jesus says from the cross that “they don’t know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:32, admittedly a textual variant). Girard observes that this is the first literary allusion to the non-conscious. Jesus does not ascribe intent to his persecutors. Nor does he invoke their decision to execute him to the following of a Henochic devil. His saying underscores that “they” do not know what they are doing. He sees the deception and murder as stemming from “them” and them alone. Genesis 4 and all the other murders and victimizations found in the Jewish Bible are reenacted here center stage in the Passion story for all to see. Not once, in any Passion Narrative is the concept of a personal satan invoked (John 13:27 is altogether a different question and at any rate not part of the Passion narrative).
James explores this connection between desire, sin and death in his epistle: “No one who is tested should say, “God is tempting me!” This is because God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does he tempt anyone. 14 Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them. 15 Once those cravings conceive, they give birth to sin; and when sin grows up, it gives birth to death. (Jam 1:13-14 CEB) Notice here that James does not invoke a personal devil or some version of the Enoch myth. Rather evil arises purely from within the human.
Those who insist on a personal devil need to make several critical changes in their thinking: first in their anthropology, their definition of person, second, in the way they had previously related evil to conscious choice, third, to an understanding of evil grounded in mimetic desire and fourth to see the connection between the deception of evil and its flowering in violence, death and scapegoating. Until they do, they will not ever be able to explain evil; they will simply be stuck on the merry go round of theodicy, trying to justify a god who would make a devil in the first place.
Since 1980, the economy has continued to grow impressively, but most of the benefits have migrated to the top. Bill Moyers asks why.
Monday 12 September 2016 17.50 BST
The article linked with excerpts below is incredibly compelling, in the direction of what is ultimately paramount in living our lives: love of neighbour. Bill Moyers comments on this ultimacy thus: When we claim this as the truth of our lives – when we live as if it’s so – we are threading ourselves into the long train of history and the fabric of civilization; we are becoming “we, the people”. One can add in Christian terms: one is living towards the Kingdom.
Friday 9 September 2016
Martin Farrer and agencies
WN: The grand irony is ever there: the US and the Western world accuse North Korea of "maniacal recklessness" (indeed, absolutely accurately), and we read in the article linked below that "the United States blacklisted Kim [Jong-un, leader of North Korea] on 6 July for human rights abuses.": a kind of ultimate instance of the pot calling the kettle black, and of course further instance of monstrous hypocrisy.
For the US, leader of the Western "free" world, is the only power (then or since) that in 1945 detonated not one, but two atomic bombs, on civilian populations with consequent deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents who just happened to live in the targeted cities, targets with negligible military or infrastructure value to Japan's war effort against the US; and possibly done to experiment on real live victims (like the Nazis on the Jews in death camps), and to send a clear message to the Soviet Union of who is "boss", first shot of the Cold War. (And of course, and as ever, with rare exceptions: with no apology.)