Thursday, June 30, 2011

Does Satan Really Exist?

Many religions, new and old, believe there are two supernatural forces battling one another: good and evil. I've heard Christians talk about the existence of evil as if it were a conscious, external power that can attack and even take over our lives if we aren't vigilant. I've been told this 'enemy' can wreak havoc by feeding us lies, or worse.

I'm not sold on this dogma. I'll try to explain why.

If God is love (and I think He is) then we do God's will by being loving. But true love is always a free-will choice which means there has to be another option. Therefore, evil (which I'll simply define as not God's will) is a necessary alternative to love. So God created not only love but nonlove as well; He simply cannot create the option to love without the option not to love.

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)

I see evil as the absence of love. However, just because I don't believe evil is a powerful, omniscient, conscious being capable of personal attacks doesn't mean I dismiss the existence of evil beings (those who set out with the singular purpose of opposing love) altogether.  I think they probably exist in human form and could exist in other forms as well. I can't be certain I've ever encountered one though. In general I think people oppose love because they are wounded, fearful and ignorant -not because they hate the very spirit of goodness.

As for God, I understand Him to be an omniscient, omnipresent, life-giving, creative energy that birthed each one of us into existence. And as the sons and daughters of God we possess a spark of divine light, or God-consciousness, that serves as a moral compass to guide and instruct.

"I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people." (Jeremiah 31:33)

Now, finally, here's what I do believe about the battle between good and evil:

We grow spiritually by overcoming temptations and aligning ourselves with the will of God. I don't believe these temptations need to be personified into a supernatural entity: we are the enemy! The 'devil' is alive and well in each one of us as our lower, self-serving, God-ignoring selves. The great spiritual battle isn't taking place in the heavens above; it is God's Kingdom Within that is being attacked by our animalistic natures. I think collectively we have projected our evil natures onto this supernatural being to reduce our anxiety and blame something else for our shortcomings. Convenient, but not entirely healthy or helpful. We can't control that which exists apart from us, but we do have authority over ourselves. Through the practices of restraint, discipline, surrender and sacrifice we can crucify our beastly natures and allow God's love to flow in and through us. We must feed the good (God's will) and starve the bad (self-will) by nourishing ourselves with prayer and communion. As our God-consciousness strengthens and our self-consciousness weakens our whole nature changes and we come to identify more with God and less with self.

I don't know how biblical all that is, but it's what I believe. I've spent a little time trying to make a case for Satan (as most Christians define him) from the Old Testament but I don't find the arguments convincing. As for Jesus' teachings about Satan, I think they are open to interpretation as well. But, truthfully, I haven't spent a great deal of time studying the text. Perhaps some of you, my readers, can enlighten me on the subject.

Speaking of Jesus, where does he fit into this battle between good and evil?

Now that is a good question. I suppose, more and more, I am doubting the substitutionary atonement theory. I trust that Jesus was the physical manifestation of divine love and his life had a divine purpose but I'm not convinced his death in any way purchased my salvation. But that's a whole other discussion isn't it!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Atheism: It Kind of Makes Sense

Why are we (Christians) so willing to let God off the hook when terrible things happen but give Him the credit when things go well? We see bad things happening to godly people all the time and even hear it described as God's will. (Yet, if it were anyone else who desired to see tragedy and suffering befall the innocent or defenseless we'd consider them sadistic psychopaths.)

The atheists are right. It doesn't add up.

One 'simple' but inadequate explanation: God gave us (humankind) free-will and we (Adam and Eve) chose to turn away from Him (sin) so now we live in a fallen (imperfect) world (because that one sin was actually a gateway sin that opened the door for an evil disease to infect all life) and He (being the gentleman He is) doesn't force His will on us so we are left to decide for ourselves if we want the cure. 

The cure consists of accepting/following Jesus, the only son of God, who was sent for us to kill as a perfect sacrifice so that the evil curse would be broken. There is a catch however, the curse is only broken for those who worship (the raised-from-the-dead but now invisible) Jesus and acknowledge what his death on the cross represented (a substitute death penalty because we all deserve to die).

But wait, even if we accept the cure we won't be immune to future infections. At least not in this world. Presently the cure can help, but it doesn't take full effect until the World to Come. Someday, probably long after we're dead, God is going to restore His Kingdom and everyone who accepted Jesus' cure will be healed of their sin-infestation forever.

So you see, God has a perfect plan to fix this big mess which is all our own fault to begin with. Get it? And yet I have to ask, if God really has the power to transform this war-torn world into a Kingdom of Paradise then what is He waiting for?

I guess the (typical) Christian response to Epicurus' questions is that God is both willing and able to prevent evil; just not yet and He won't do it for everybody.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Transfiguration

When he took the three disciples
to the mountainside to pray,
his countenance was modified, his clothing was aflame.
Two men appeared: Moses and Elijah came;
they were at his side.
The prophecy, the legislation spoke of whenever he would die.

Then there came a word
of what he should accomplish on the day.
Then Peter spoke, to make of them a tabernacle place.
A cloud appeared in glory as an accolade.
They fell on the ground.
A voice arrived, the voice of God,
the face of God, covered in a cloud.

What he said to them,
the voice of God: the most beloved son.
Consider what he says to you, consider what's to come.
The prophecy was put to death,
was put to death, and so will the Son.
And keep your word, disguise the vision till the time has come.

Lost in the cloud, a voice: Have no fear! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Turn your ear!
Lost in the cloud, a voice: Lamb of God! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Son of God!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Hardest People to Love

Jesus told us that the most important commandment, after loving God, is to love our neighbours as ourselves. I have lived in apartment buildings most of my life so I know firsthand that sharing space with strangers who have different values can be frustrating to say the least. I've been neighbours with people who party loudly, drink and fight, let their kids run wild, use the halls as a place to store soiled diapers, leave their laundry in the washing machines for days, dump old appliances and furniture in the yard for others to deal with, are ignorant and abusive, smoke in the hallways, get too close for comfort and sell drugs.

Then there are the leeches. These folks, often sweet but socially inept, are overly friendly and invade your life by knocking on your door just to chat or ask favours. They've known you for five minutes and suddenly you are their best friend. You find yourself sneaking in and out of your own home hoping they won't see you coming or going. They assume that living in the same building means they should know about your personal life and don't hesitate to share their own. These situations are probably the most frustrating for me because I have a hard time establishing and maintaining boundaries. I am always nice but deep down I want them to leave me alone. These people are hard for me to tolerate let alone love.

And this love commandment gets even harder. You see, I have a sneaking suspicion that Jesus didn't limit his definition of neighbour to the family next door. It's (usually) pretty easy to love our own clan, and even to love anonymous strangers who we see struggling, but when someone is close enough for us to see their faults and invade our space but not close enough to be in our personal circle, it gets mighty difficult to feel the love. These neighbours are our coworkers, classmates and church family. We might not see eye to eye, share values or even like each other's personality, but we need to spend a lot of time together.

Can I love the coworker who is always bossing me around and treating me like a child--the one who has worked with me for four months but still can't remember my name? Not easily.

Can I love the clerk who never returned my calls when my daughter needed medical treatment, who misplaced paperwork, didn't put us on the waiting list and was unapologetic if not annoyed by our inquires after waiting weeks for an appointment? Probably not.

Can I love the woman at church who often offers constructive criticism of my initiatives with the toddler ministry even though she has not stepped up to offer any help herself? Barely.

Can I love those who are arrogant, dumb, oblivious, weak, snobby, ignorant, judgmental, bossy, phony, two-faced, mean, lazy, weird, overly dramatic, painfully chipper or emotional vampires? Sometimes.

I know I am not perfect--some days I am painfully aware of this fact--but I still seem to have a major problem accepting others in their imperfection. An old friend recently told me something I shared with him years ago that stuck with him. Apparently I said, "people are at where they're at," which basically means we need to accept people as they are. Sounds like I was pretty wise back then. These days I am acutely aware of just how little I am able to love. I consider myself active, conscientious and generous but am I truly loving?

Perhaps loving acceptance comes easily to some but for me it takes conscious practice. I need to recognize the voice of the enemy--my ego--who is eager to tell me I am being offended, threatened or rejected. This voice separates me from others and feeds on my fear. But there is also a quiet voice within that unites and heals rather than wounding and isolating. It is this spirit, call it the Holy Spirit if you will, or God Within, that connects me with all that I lack. Infinite love, boundless joy, forgiveness and serenity. There is no fear when I tap into the Divine Source and drink from the Eternal Cup. Oh, but that gentle voice is so often drowned out by the loud and angry ego. One must remember to listen if she wishes to hear.

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,but have not love, it profits me nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)