Monday, May 4, 2009

Who, What, Why is Satan?

I recently spoke with a friend who had left the traditional Christian movement, partly because she could no longer believe in a literal Satan. She said she had no problem with an all loving, all powerful, good God, but couldn't handle Satan. She said that she now believes 'Satan' is just a symbol of her own poor decisions. She went on to explain that because humans have free will, we are able to choose things that can harm us. Case settled. Or is it?

Imagine that a friend calls and to tell you that her four year old boy was recently bitten by a rattlesnake and is in the hospital clinging to life. You ask how it happened, and your friend says, "He went out into the back yard to play this morning, I heard a frightful cry and ran out to find him holding his leg as a three foot long Diamondback rattler crawled away." You reply, "How awful!" Your friend then says, "Yes it is awful, but he chose to play in the yard, so ultimately it is a case of free will." Pondering the cavalier explanation, you then ask, "But you have a fence out there, I wonder how the snake got into the yard?" The friend then says, "Well, we keep a snake in the yard to eat the insects."

To some, this little parable seems ludicrous - no good parent would keep a poisonous serpent in a yard where the children played. Yet we humans are in a similar situation when we say that we have free will in a world filled with potential tragedies, and believe in a loving, all powerful, good God. If a loving parent would not intentionally place a venomous snake in his child's play area, why would a loving God place so many potential horrors in the human world?

I will tell you right now that I do not know 'the' answer. No one does, and many have addressed this issue over the centuries, dating back to the biblical book of Job and other ancient and modern works of philosophy and literature. But I will tell you that the 'free will, Satan is a symbol of bad choices' theory provides me no answer at all. Honestly, I prefer the traditional Christian answer, yet I find neither satisfying.

The provisional answer to date, for me, is that we live in a world of soul-making. Before the world began, before the Big Bang started our cosmos, before humans were created, hatched, spawned, crawled from the Primordial ooze or however we got here, there were Eternal Patterns or Blueprints for this reality we call our existence. Those patterns may be called energies, persons, forces, vital essences or any number of names we assign them; no name or image is adequate, but they were in existence before this Cosmos burst into existence and will be there after the universe contracts back into a final Black Hole.

All mythologies and religious theologies, all art and literature, all music and ritual, and everyone of your personal beliefs or theories about everything, always ultimately lead back to them. Every one of our explanations is provisional and satisfying for only as long as we don't try to think back too far. Because when we do trace any of these theories back, we are left with the inexplicable 'Eternal Patterns,' or what Carl Jung called 'the little people.' Most of us would rather stop with the current provisional explanation, seriously believing or pretending that we have actually solved the mystery rather than struggle with the implications of not knowing.

Whether you call Satan a real Person or a 'symbol of free will,' you are still left with the problem of explaining why a Good God put him or it in the back yard. What we are left with is the basic phenomena of reality - we know there is something Good, and we are capable of choosing, being victimized by and doing some unimaginably horrific things on this planet. In fact, the whole universe continues to roil about in darkness - crashing, smashing and colliding as it did from the initial violent mega-atomic blast called the Big Bang.

So we can either ignore the actual phenomena and hide in our provisional explanations, or admit that we are children, playing in a wonderful yard, with a rattle snake in the back yard, placed there by someone we call a loving parent. Those are the facts of existence.

My provisional 'explanation' is what I call Spiritual Isometrics. <-----Feel free to click and read what keeps me from giving up when the snake has sunk its fangs into my leg in the middle of a perfectly good day of play.

1 comment:

Marcus Lang said...

Michael, I believe that William James would applaud your resistance to the temptation of (as he wrote) "prematurely closing accounts with reality". Your explanation of the problem of evil feels respectful in its "provisionalism," as does your metaphor of spiritual isometrics. Both ring true for me and so of course I believe you might be onto something!