Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Those Damnably Inconvenient Corpses – Part III

In the book of Job, Satan is depicted as an accuser who insists that Job only loves God because God has blessed him. He desires to prove his point by harming Job, first destroying all that he has including his children and then, when Job’s response fails to fulfill Satan’s expectations, by afflicting him with noisome boils all over his body. It is a cruel stroke. Not only does Satan deprive Job of his health but also of his community.

Job contains an excellent snapshot of Satan: always looking for evil in God’s creation, looking for evil in us, desiring to harm us in any way he can, out to separate us from ourselves, from community, from God. The ancients Israelites accurately depicted Satan then and he hasn’t changed.

He was calm. Concerned for me. Concerned for marmar. He waved us back but his focus was on them. I have no auditory memory of his last words but I understood their meaning then as I do now: ‘You needn’t do this thing.’ They had choice. They behaved as if there were no possibilities. Like Adam and Eve, they had suppressed God’s voice until there was no memory of that which would have caused them to laugh at themselves in disbelief or bawl because they contemplated committing such horrors. So they followed even when they were led away from being human.

If we have enough courage to examine suffering closely, we will find “hatred for God and his kingdom.” (1) We will find Satan – not as a curiosity, nor as a convenient name for evil, nor as a metaphor for the process of maturation in which we separate from our parents and become autonomous, but as an actual being. Paul’s principalities and powers and “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (2) are not just bad feelings and inclinations. We are involved in something more than a psychological exercise. We are involved in a real fight with real casualties.

We don’t want to believe in the existence of Satan. He’s something out of a past we think best left behind, a past full of unimaginable ignorance. We are convinced ignorance saw demonic possession where there was only illness, saw the devil in normal behaviour, saw the wiles of Satan instead of the backwardness of society. Today we are wise. We have explained the devil away. And though we have learned much through science and through psychology and medicine, if we are honest, we know we have not been able to rid ourselves of Satan. We hear his voice insisting we can do quite well without God. Satan’s power is not the brilliant spectacle depicted in horror films or in science fiction and fantasy. He is a being with a seductive voice who lured our first parents into disobeying God and today is still “prowl[ing] around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour.” (3) We are his prey. We are the casualties.

Since our first parents listened to him, we have been prone to give credence to that voice sounding in our hearts and, through the voice of a stranger, the voice of a loved one, in our ears. His promise to us is the same as it was to them. We are to be like God knowing good and evil. Satan seeks to frighten us, mislead us, entice us into joining his rebellion not for our good, and certainly not so that we can be free from the shackles of ignorance and superstition. In a hideous parody of God’s ultimate plan for us, we are to be free to hate and destroy, to enslave others, to be enslaved, to be so familiar with evil that we hate good – we are to be free to be like Satan.

We play into Satan hands by convincing ourselves that he is merely a figment of our imaginations. In truth, we have been born into a war zone where we are “obliged to wrestle constantly if [we] are to cling to what is good.” (4) But if we will not even admit his existence, his battle is won. We are like the dwarves in the C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle sitting impotently in the darkness. We can only fight him if we will acknowledge his existence and seek help. At times I wonder what might have happened if our first parents had told the serpent they’d get back to him after their stroll with God. (5) How might the story have been different for all of creation? We cannot know but we do know that through heeding Satan’s enticement to disobey, they lost humanity’s original holiness and justice and now, against Satan, the strongest of us is less powerful than a newborn fighting an adult. Alone we can never hope to withstand him.

The scandal of Christianity is that God has not treated us at all as we did him. Though we chose to rebel, God has chosen to enter the war and fight for us not as supreme commander transmitting orders from a safe, distant place but as one of us, subject to the same battles that beset each of us each day. He enters into the fray against the forces that seek to destroy us and is betrayed and executed as an enemy of the people; he is the supreme casualty. The story should end there and if you or I were the author, it would. But where we would end, God makes a new beginning. Though war rages, the outcome is sure, God will win. He has neutralized the enemy’s best weapon: fear of death. And by becoming man, “by taking [our] manhood into God,” (6) he has made it possible for us to participate in his victory if we will turn away from that insidious voice, if we reject Satan’s ‘freedom’ and instead be set free to be fully human, to grow into God’s image and likeness, to love him so much that even the wiles of the devil can only make us more like him.

I sat on the floor in the church between the coffins – one for grandpére, one for Ti. The adults cried but I did not understand why. Lying there crumpled against the wall, he had not been unhappy, had not been in pain. He had been concerned for me, for marmar, for them. I could recall his face. And even now, he was more calm, more still, more full of peace, more my grandpére.

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1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶ 395
2. Ephesians 6:12
3. 1 Peter 5:8
4. Gaudium et Spes
5. Genesis 3:8
6. The Athanasian Creed

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Drusilla,

This is beautiful, the whole series. Have you read Aquinas' Literal Commentary on Job? There are some striking similarities between your analysis and his. It's well worth a read.

Adam said...

What a wonderful meditation on pain and suffering. I wonder how I can ever complain about the little things in my life when I read such wondrous works as this. God bless you, Dru.

Drusilla said...

Anonymous - Thanks for the suggestion. I've not read Aquinas' Literal Commentary on Job but I'll seek it out.