The Devil is in the Backstory

AngelThumbby Deana Chadwell  10/28/13
These days, when one horrifying news story after another whizzes past us like ninja stars, it’s easy to give in to the desire to curl up in a fetal position and despair. The IRS fiasco, Benghazi, Solyndra, the NSA (a whole cluster of scandals), the war on terror and its many manifestations, the mutation of our military, the Gosnell trial, gay marriage, the stumbling humiliation that Obamacare is becoming – the list seems infinite. Just when you think things can’t get any more shocking, another bombshell explodes. We appear to be in a war.

Decades ago I had a memorable conversation with a student, a brilliant, albeit naïve young man who waxed adamant that my assertion about the difficulties of life was erroneous. He’d grown up in a loving and affluent family, he had sailed through school with little effort and no storms, so he saw no reason why life wouldn’t continue to be “an amusement park,” — his words. For him each new event was merely another ride – just challenging enough to give a pleasant taste of adventure.[pullquote]We scurry through our days, driving down the same streets, going to our familiar jobs, smiling at mostly the same people and we think we know what we’re seeing, but we don’t. We see the veneer, the stage set, the play.[/pullquote]

I’m sure he’s noticed by now that this is no theme park – our world is falling apart. We are caught in the middle of a war – a war that is not political, not geographical, not just a world war, but a universal war. Understanding that is key to getting a grip on the 21st century. We scurry through our days, driving down the same streets, going to our familiar jobs, smiling at mostly the same people and we think we know what we’re seeing, but we don’t. We see the veneer, the stage set, the play. The real story is rarely told, rarely seriously talked about, and when it is mentioned it’s treated as folklore, fanciful mythology adorned by feathered wings and frightening proclamations. The real story, though, is the foundation for what we see happening today; it is the reason, the driving force, the animating principle that explains and illuminates the tangle that is life at this point in history.

I’d like you to tilt the hologram, squint at the optical illusion that appears to be modern American life and come see it a different way. Light will shine.

Warning: beyond this point this essay will become thoroughly biblical. Brace yourself.

Let’s start before the beginning. There once was a time before time when only God existed – the three members of the Trinity. Before man, God created angels – angelos (Greek), malach (Hebrew) or messengers. They may not have been messengers before the creation of man, but they certainly have fulfilled that mission since. We can, through thorough research determine quite a bit about them – the Scriptures are alight with their, oftentimes frightening, presence. Angels are huge, beautiful, filled with light. They can appear out of nowhere, and can take the form of other beings. (I have occasionally run across people who made me wonder – in all senses of that wonderful word.) Angels don’t die so they have no need to reproduce — they are all male; the fallen ones were once capable of cohabiting with humans (Genesis 6) and had tactical reasons for wanting to do that.

At some point on a timeline that stretches back before creation, the most intelligent, powerful, and beautiful of these magnificent creatures let his ego get away from him. His name is Lucifer, Son of the Morning. Isaiah (Chapter 14) tells us that, evidently overwhelmed with his own excellence, he announced, “I will be like the most High.” He figured that He could run things – who needs God? And a mutiny was born. One third of the angels – those who had been under his command, followed him into this great folly. The other two-thirds of the angels, those under Michael and Gabriel, evidently wanted nothing to do with that nonsense and stayed true to their creator.

Eventually these rebel-angels were tried and were sentenced to the Lake of Fire – eternal punishment. What for? For denying truth, for trying to be what they weren’t, for trying to improve on perfection, for pretending to be God.

Lucifer has appealed the ruling claiming that as an inferior being, a mere creature, he was just living out the nature God gave him and couldn’t possibly have acted any other way. He and his minions (Please don’t picture those goofy little Twinkie-looking cartoons – Hollywood has ruined yet another wonderful word.) have had to give up their bodies, and some of the worst have been incarcerated, but they are still very much alive – very much alive and getting desperate.

Enter man. We too are mere creatures, even more mere than the angels. We, too, were given free will. We were given a universe to live in, a most unusual planet to call home (see Guillermo Gonzales’ The Privileged Planet), and a garden to play in. Our free will bumped up against only one issue – the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of (or between) Good and Evil. Mankind was in control of this planet, of our garden. The first man got to name the animals, to live as he pleased. When he wanted a woman, God provided.

This arrangement was Phase 1 of the appeals trial. Man would fail. Lucifer lured Eve with the same temptation that got him – you will be like God (Genesis 3). Adam was lured by Eve, having to choose between the love of his life and God – God lost. So was Lucifer right? No.

Phase 2 of the trial: something very interesting happens here. Adam and Eve had realized shame and had tried to solve the problem themselves with fig leaves – a sorry attempt at fashion and an even sorrier attempt at righteousness. God reprimanded them, cursed them and the serpent (Lucifer’s host animal), but then He did a most gracious, and most meaningful thing; He killed some of the animals – the ones Adam knew by name, ones Adam had made friends with – and, out of the skins, He made the outcast couple clothing – and here’s the interesting part – they accepted the gift and left the Garden in their sacrificial outfits. Henceforth humans were taught that sacrifice would be the key – a sacrifice that God provided. This is the Phase 2 choice our free will is invited to engage in — what think we of God saving us – will we let Him take care of it, or will we, like Lucifer, insist we can do it better?

That’s what we’re living with now. Part of what’s happening here is that Satan (Please don’t picture a creepy dude in a red unitard; there’s not a shred of biblical evidence for that.) He is trying to prove that he can, in fact, run things as well as God can. If an idea, a policy, a theory leaves God, or His law, out of the picture then we can know where it comes from and that it will fail. Whenever we are faced with a choice to do things God’s way or to do things “man’s” way, we know we are giving evidence in this trial of all trials.

We know the angels watch us, and cheer when we choose God, when we choose Christ. Read the book of Job, interestingly the oldest book of the Bible, probably written during the second millennium B.C., at least 600 years before Moses. This is what God wanted us to understand first – the story of a man, Job, whom God allows Lucifer to test by taking from him all the blessings God had given him (It’s amusing that this list doesn’t include his wife.). Satan thinks Job will turn on God, and he almost did, but in the end he stood firm and God rewarded him mightily.

I love the throne room scene in Job: the angels all singing God’s praises, Satan slouching in and leaning against a pillar, no doubt a cigarette hanging off his handsome lip, lifting his chin and glaring at God from under his lowered lashes. God asks him where he’s been and he takes his time answering; tapping the ash off his cigarette, he replies, “Out and about.” Whew. What a jerk. This arrogance permeates our society today, after at least 4,000 years, and it’s getting worse – evil is just bubbling up out of the ground. We are neck-deep in the pre-creation angelic conflict and when things look conspiratorial, don’t think just human – think demonic.

Angels explain many of the conundrums of life. This trial, this heavenly struggle, sits at the base of it all, and this trial has an end. Eventually things will come to a head (and that “eventually” feels pretty close). God will remove his people and leave Lucifer on stage for his finale – the 7 years of the Tribulation. Then for a millennium there will be peace and contentment on the earth.

A good source for further study on the Angelic Conflict: Doctrine of Angelic Conflict
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Deana Chadwell blogs at ASingleWindow.com. • (1367 views)

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Deana Chadwell

About Deana Chadwell

I have spent my life teaching young people how to read and write and appreciate the wonder of words. I have worked with high school students and currently teach writing at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. I have spent more than forty years studying the Bible, theology, and apologetics and that finds its way into my writing whether I'm blogging about my experiences or my opinions. I have two and a half moldering novels, stacks of essays, hundreds of poems, some which have won state and national prizes. All that writing -- and more keeps popping up -- needs a home with a big plate glass window; it needs air; it needs a conversation. I am also an artist who works with cloth, yarn, beads, gourds, polymer clay, paint, and photography. And I make soap.
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17 Responses to The Devil is in the Backstory

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I don’t necessarily believe in angels and devils, but one of my favorite movies is “Constantine” with Keanu Reeves and Tilda Swindon in a quite remarkable role.

    The movie features a very fascinating matchup between competing factions of angels….as does the more sacrilegious (but still very entertaining) “Dogma.”

    • “Dogma” I’ve seen but not “Constantine.” I’ll have to check it out.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Deana, I generally agree with you that there is a story going on out there. And I certainly think it is more than possible that this story contains Cosmic elements. In many respects, given the nature of reality, it would be difficult for it not to. But I confess I find the stories harder to relate to than the movies, especially regarding angels and such.

        And speaking of religious-oriented movies, I remember very much enjoying the somewhat dark and suspenseful movie, “Stigmata.” Okay, it’s perhaps more of a horror film. But I found Gabriel Byrne to be charismatic and appealing as the priest from the Vatican who (copying from IMDB.com) is sent to Sao Paulo to investigate the appearance of the face of the Virgin Mary on the side of a building. I also thought Ed Harris was good in “The Third Miracle” which, if memory serves, is a decidedly “modern” and somewhat anti-Vatican film. Still, I did find it an interesting story of a priest whose job it is to investigate miracles.

        But what I really had in mind this morning is that I read the free sample portion of a Kindle book last night titled, “The Experience of God.” You’ll find a brief description in the Bookshelf section of this site. I may end up buying it because the opening section has a description of atheism that is the best I’ve ever read. I hope Mr. Kung is listening because he would enjoy reading that section as well which, as I said, you can get for free as a Kindle sample.

        It’s so good I may repost that atheist passage here and do an article of it. But I just thought this was the kind of book you might like as well. I can’t vouch for the rest of the book. I imagine the subject matter is going to be padded a lot to accommodate book length. But who knows? The author’s style is certainly intelligent and fairly concise.

        • It sounds like an interesting read — I’ll add it to my stack. I appreciate you thinking to pass that on.

          Re angels — most of the problem I think most people have with the idea of angels is the iconic concept — the Renaissance vision of the opulent, heavily feathered courtesans hovering benignly in the background — is nonsense. Grant you that gladly. I suspect the truth is closer to the UFO concept — check out Ezekial 1 as an example. Every time in scripture that angels turn up they have to calm people down “Be not afraid,” as if they know how scary they look. I don’t think one of Raphael’s angels would upset anyone. I’m not, however, implying that angels are ugly, just astonishing – they were attractive enough that the homosexual inhabitants of Sodom wanted to rape them. Decades ago I learned to take the Bible seriously and the world has looked entirely different ever since. I don’t mean that I take organized religion seriously — just the Bible.

          Thanks again for the book recommendation.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I can’t help thinking that the story of Sodom would make for a very interesting (if politically incorrect) movie. Of course, one will likely have to wait until hell freezes over (or angels sprout Raphael-like fluffy wings) before you get anything like that out of Hollywood.

            I can appreciate your outlook in the angels (and not the Angels, even though this is baseball season). One of the aspects of David Hart’s book is that Christians (according to him) began to take stuff way too literally. He claims (and I do not know) that in times past, most Christians understood much of the Bible as allegorical, of telling a spiritual truth rather than a literal one.

            That’s a whole nuther argument, of course. But one’s idea of an archangel may never be the same after seeing Tilda Swinton (the White Witch from the Narnia movie) androgynously play the archangel, Gabriel. That’s a movie I enjoy for whatever reason and own it on Blu Ray. Maybe I’ll cue that up today!

            • Timothy Lane says:

              The History Channel series on the Bible did have a section in Sodom, including Abraham’s bargaining with Yahweh, the inhabitants’ attempt to seduce or rape the angels, and the outcome.

            • Glenn Fairman Glenn Fairman says:

              My experience with David Bentley Hart is one of manifest respect. He does not deny the spiritual realm nor the cosmic battle around us.

            • Re Christians today taking scripture more literally: Yes — that was Augustine’s contribution and I can understand how he felt he must take much of it figuratively — he didn’t know what we know today. For instance, what we now know about quantum physics makes it believable that Christ walked through walls; with the advent of robots and nuclear war, the prognostications of both Old and New Testament prophets look not only possible, but likely.

              • Glenn Fairman Glenn Fairman says:

                Augustine was intent on answering the quandary: “Where is the Promise of His Coming.” The early fathers read the scriptures literally and figuratively, as the Holy Spirit directed them. But the Bible was not meant to be read allegorically— and by this peculiar methodology we have inherited evil cultic lies about God’s nature, anti-Semitism and Replacement Theology that are firmly rooted in a return to the early scourge of Gnosticism. Perhaps allegory fit into his apologetic for so many centuries of Christian anticipation or that Augustine despaired in taking God at his word and took refuge in his great intellect. He perhaps neglected to take into account the lovingkindness and Grace of God— and the fact that the Creator had a plan to redeem an ocean of sons and daughters who would call Him Father and whom He would Call His Children.

  2. Glenn Fairman Glenn Fairman says:

    As someone who has spent his career dealing with the technical aspects of biology and chemistry, I, as well as Deana, am more than familiar with the sarcastic eye-rolling that comes when we affirm the Christian cosmology to cosmopolitan minds that have impetuously given lip service to the fundamental questions of knowledge and metaphysics. Even the simplest of individuals who haven’t cracked open a book since high school feel free to gin up that all too smug and excruciating condescension that comes from swallowing without reflection that dull bigotry of the naturalistic worldview.

    But the question of how we account for the genesis of Good or Evil is a profound one. The Philosophical and ethical materialists hold that these moral designations themselves are arcane–that the eternal Archimedean point of the Good is just a chimera and that evil is a mere conventional reaction to man’s shifting rod of measurement. Indeed, all we need do to arrest evil is to apply Science’s therapeutic techniques to remake in men what does not pass muster in society’s turbulent standards of what is acceptable.

    The Bible says that these moral antipodes are the result of intelligent essences–of a spiritual war that is going on at this very moment for the eternal core that is within each man. Why should the proverbial angel or a devil on our shoulders harnessing us towards their respective ends be anymore farfetched than a chemical imbalance or a psychological predisposition to harming others? Can it be that the conceit of a Progressive modern science has narrowed our capacity for knowledge by propagandizing us to respect solely the empirical or the tangible? Does interpreting the universe in strictly materialistic terms render us insensible to the rich dimensions of nuance and distinction that are shackled by a voluntary extra-dimensional color-blindness?

    But there is more to reality afoot here. Unless one has a stone for a heart and blinders obscuring the eyes of their soul, who can doubt that the world that lies before us is not what it appears to be? The inquisitive men of Science who have barely pierced the quantum world know this. At the most minute levels things break down–they do not act correctly to us and the acknowledged immutable laws that we have come to respect. In this fantastic realm, the stimulation of one sub-particle affects others — seemingly unconnected and far distant. It is called non-locality and it whispers to us that what we have always believed to be our concrete physical reality is in truth only a thin veneer over an ineffable and wondrously interconnected living ocean of hyper-intelligent light. But words will fail us here.

    In the quantum world– things react differently if they find that you are observing them–a wave can become a particle. If we parse matter far enough down, it curiously disappears. What the relationship of Mind and Consciousness, which are themselves real but immaterial, are ultimately to matter-which quantum physicists now say appears in many ways to be quasi-illusory and derivative of Mind, we cannot yet say. But let us put aside those simplistic and naturalistic explanations that only the things that we can readily see, touch and measure, with human eyes, comprise the total theatre of ontological reality. Something very wonderful and puzzling is at work around you—things that will require the use of fallow and unfamiliar extra-human faculties if we are ever to transcend our gilded cage of brute matter and pluck the strings that reveal the cosmos’ true harmonics of Being: perfect chords that resonate and attend to the very Throne of God himself.

    • Yes — so good. See my reply to Brad above. Things are not what they seem. It’s too bad we’re all so attached to the virtual.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I discussed some of this in my article here “Some Reflections on the Bible”, and I’d be curious to know what you think of it.

      • That was a good read. The issue of inerrancy of scripture is tricky and yet a valid concern. It does leave Christians open to gotcha questions that are silly and unproductive. I once read a piece on the “error” in Genesis that mentions Cain as Adam’s first son and then later says Seth is Adam’s first son. This, of course, leaves out the whole Cain and Abel story which explains that change. But if we are to claim the Bible as the Word of God then it better make sense, every which way.

        As for Genesis, there are good reasons to go with either the 24-hour day or the figurative use of the term. The Hebrew sounds pretty literal, especially with the closing phrase, …”and it was evening and it was morning, the ___ day.” But I always wonder if we can say for sure what a day even was before the creation of our sun. Astrophysics isn’t my field (understatement of the century), but it seems that the rotation of a formless Earth wouldn’t have begun prior to that. S0….. It is interesting, however, how closely the sequence of events parallels what science is finding today. What with the recent discoveries in microbiology it won’t be too long before the wheels are thoroughly off of the Darwinian cart. We’ll see where that leads us. Thanks for such a good discussion of the creation issue.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Even the simplest of individuals who haven’t cracked open a book since high school feel free to gin up that all too smug and excruciating condescension that comes from swallowing without reflection that dull bigotry of the naturalistic worldview.

      Ditto, Glenn. I may have to stretch fair use and post an extended excerpt from “The Experience of God.” And I think Mr. Kung (who I know is away from his desk for a few days) will especially appreciate the author’s send-up of smug atheists. And if Voltaire were still around, he would appreciate it as well because he wrote an article on the subject some time back.

      As I had said to Ed (before he parted in a huff on the subject), I think pure reason alone puts God at at least 7 on a 10 scale of probability, thus atheism makes little sense (at “0” on the scale of atheism-to-theism). And agnosticism is a bit sketchy too, depending upon what one’s agnosticism is based. If it’s based upon reasonable doubt and shortage of the kind of concrete evidence to support the biblical idea of God, then I can sympathize because I am one of those.

      But if one’s agnosticism is simply based on dull bigotry and having learned no more than the dull thoughts of the Dawkinsian “naturalists,” then that’s another thing. Still, all are welcome here to discuss their perspective at least if they are willing to rise above the kind of tripe written in the various “God is Not Great” types of books. This site does not exist to give a forum to Leftist/socialist talking points. The author of “The Experience of God” gives those disingenuous atheists a good send-off. Very smartly so.

      Why should the proverbial angel or a devil on our shoulders harnessing us towards their respective ends be anymore farfetched than a chemical imbalance or a psychological predisposition to harming others?

      Yes, I see your point. And as Deana said, perhaps if we didn’t visualize these things (I know you were just using that as an example) in the cliched way that is typically done, we’d gain a better understanding. And I do think these kinds of truths are inherently obscure, fuzzy, gray-area, ethereal, and just hard to pin down and better not to be visualized as Raphael-like angels, red devils, etc. Hopefully the spiritual quest does not end contemplating a wooden carving of Baby Jesus in some crib (thus surely the admonition against building idols). I don’t know if it was G.K. Chesterton or someone else who said it, but the idea is something like “To know the real god, you have to first kill all the false ones.”

      Maybe I’m just too persnickety, but I have a hard time resting my heart and mind on what are to me the stand-in icons of God, in various forms and practices.

      As for science (and I think it was from this same book, and a belief I’ve often espoused myself, in general), it offers us no glimpse into the metaphysics of the universe other than to wonder at its wonder. The author of “The Experience of God” states that there have been four great scientific discoveries: Newtonian physics, Maxwell’s (?) electromagnetic fields, Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity, and quantum physics. And none of these do anything to tell us about right and wrong, what to love and what not to love, or give us any indication of our place in this universe.

      The author is also completely correct when he states that the atheist/secular types know almost nothing about religion and/or the philosophies (such as Thomism) involved. They thus are constantly resorting to crude caricatures that they stand up and knock down like so many manufactured straw men.

      The first thing one thus learns about this supposedly hifalutin secular “Progressive” culture is that these people generally are coming from a position of bad faith and/or ignorance. Some of you may agree or disagree sometimes with the way I handle Leftists who pop in here. But experience has shown that most of them do not argue in good faith and simply think that we are a bunch of morons who they can treat with contempt as they like, not unlike the Islamic idea of Taqiyya.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I was raised Episcopalian; my parents were both raised Southern Baptist, but I suspect my father converted after his experience at West Point and my mother probably went along with it. (I never asked about it.) Later, in high school, I became a deist, and from there eventually an agnostic, though in recent years I’ve gone back into deism. But I’ve always had a certain respect for religious believers, which after all includes so many people I know, and have paid serious attention to Biblical studies (we had a couple of books about Biblical history when I was a child, at least one of which I wish I still had).

      • Brad — I really appreciate a forum where God can be discussed in an even-handed and intellectually honest manner amongst people who come at the God issues from such differing points of view. Such discussion is so useful in honing our own beliefs and arriving at some kind of cultural equilibrium.

        I have had the great privilege of getting to sit under the tutelage of some of the best theologians and Bible scholars in the country. As a result, I see things differently than do many people I talk with. I am grateful for a place to express those thoughts sans the scorn that often greets me.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Deana, you’re far too generous. But you’re welcome, nonetheless. I’m not sure that I’ve always been intellectually honest regarding religion. But I have often been probing and frank.

          And I’ve been around the block enough to have a very good idea for what comprises the “secular” mindset, the type that typically is not honest regarding this subject. “Secular” is a word that hides a lot of garbage, ill-conceived notions, ignorance, and very often downright bigotry. I have no problem with a frank discussion about religion (or about anything). But that does not include the typically talking-point disingenuous tripe that is the Dawkins Atheist Diatribe.

          I have absolutely no respect for that point of view simply because it’s not honest and not because it might disagree with what I believe. But I’ve read parts of Hitchen’s “God is not Great” book and almost every word I read is exactly as David Bentley Hart says in the opening pages of “The Experience of God.” It’s just a bunch of ill-informed hash meant to appeal to a narrow anti-religious mindset of smug intellectuals and other halfwits (my specific characterization, not his). It does not honestly engage metaphysics or philosophy. And I agree with him that people who are atheists are impoverished.

          I’ve got a book on Thomism that I still haven’t finished (I bought it via the Kindle) because it’s just too complex. And this is supposed to be more of a layman explanation of Aquinas’ philosophy. (Aquinas by Edward Feser.) Granted, I think part of my problem with the philosophy is that it strays too close to invention rather than logic, but I could be wrong about that. (I’m betting most people are going to go with St. Thomas on this, all things being equal.)

          But the point is, people who criticize religion these days don’t know anything about it but the stereotypes that they banter amongst themselves in their circle-jerk vacuum chamber. And let’s all remember, these are supposedly the “tolerant” and “multicultural” people who are “sensitive” to all points of view. That’s, of course, a bunch of bull excrement. The Left is, if anything, a giant plastic ball of self-involved and self-indulgent conceits. And not just the Left, proper, has them. This “secular” stuff has run amok and many people have just never been exposed to real thought.

          So, all things being equal, I give the benefit of the doubt to the religion that was instrumental in forming the West. And these same idiots who judge harshly out of ignorance also judge favorably out of this same ignorance. If not for Christianity, the West arguably would have died long ago, snuffed out by the aggressive and regressive fascistic political-religious system of Islam. In fact, this is exactly what is happening in Europe right now. Sadly, that continent is being snuffed out as it imports Islam (which has an upward population growth) while the natives are as empty and un-fecund as their churches.

          What has atheism ever given us? Nothing. Not a thing. It’s, at best, a parlor-game belief bandied about by smug children who (perhaps thanks to Cultural Marxism, perhaps thanks to other dark impulses) enjoy knocking any kind of glory wherever they see it. That doesn’t mean that religion is beyond criticism and doesn’t do some goofy things. But considering the enormous and astonishing fact of existence is what a mature and probing mind does. To reject the very incomprehensible nature of being and to shuffle off into a shell of atheism, safe from having to think beyond cliches, is inherently a lesser position and I consider it a dishonest position or at least one born of mere cultural affectation — a fad, if you will. But it’s certainly not any sort of reasoned or rich philosophical position.

          Mere reason alone prompts me to give the smart-aleck nihilism-based “secular” types the heave ho. They generally have little to offer but their own contempt and ignorance. But hopefully a few of them will read our discussions and come to understand just how impoverished the “secular” religion of Leftism or “Progressivism” is.

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