Of Angels and Snakes

Dragonsby Deana Chadwell1/29/16
They’re really the same; at least that’s what the progressive mindset would have you think: it’s all in the eye of the beholder; maybe you have a bias against snakes, but most are good and needed in the natural balance of things. Right? And angels – those aren’t even real. When, however, we stop speaking in metaphors we find we are talking about good and evil, the oldest dichotomy on the books.

But, really, says the progressive, one man’s good is another man’s evil and it’s all determined by the culture one is born into, and nothing is absolutely good, nothing truly evil. This is a handy, microwave solution to the age-old clash – just stir them together, nuke for two minutes, and maybe we won’t notice the nasty aftertaste. Well, I notice it and so do millions of others and we’re tired of the whole thoughtless, noisome mess. Let’s try to disentangle the current slop and see if we can lay out the differences with some clarity.

Of course, I speak here not of opulent Renaissance angels, but of messengers from God, for Good is all that is God – love, light, energy, kindness, strength, courage, production, creativity, honesty, justice, fidelity, life itself. Good is an absolute.

Evil is not. Evil is the lack of all these good things, the disrespect, and the vain attempt at doing them better than God can (Genesis 3, Isaiah 14). Hitler thought he had a way to improve the world by purging it of the Jews. Stalin tried to institute equality instead of justice. Mohammed decided to organize his own religion, even if he had to do so by force. All of them were trying to best God.

You see, evil has no existence of its own. It can only mimic. Without evil Good would still be Good, but sans Goodness, sans God, evil cannot exist. All those things that today make evil look dangerous – power, cunning, audacity, arrogance, perfidy – are just twisted distortions of Good – of energy, intelligence, courage, confidence, honesty; evil is nothing, in and of itself – it, like a fungus, has to appropriate Goodness from elsewhere. Life is Good, so pure evil, would have no life, no energy, no existence.

Good has always been; evil is the new guy on the block. Those of us who love antiques understand that “new” isn’t better; it’s just more recent, and if the original was the best, the new will be a step backward. Evil is the recalcitrant Lucifer talking back to God (who made him) in the first chapter of Job. Evil is the snake snarled around the tree in the Garden promising Eve more than the perfection she already possessed. I’m not saying that all progress is bad because that would be untrue, but when the new can only be obtained by throwing out the Good –liberty, justice, prosperity, even life itself – then we must, if we are wise, rethink the “improvement.” History is littered with the dead bodies of “new” ideas and the horrors that came with them. Roe vs. Wade was one such “advance,” as was Obamacare, and Common Core.

Which brings up another attribute of Goodness – it always works. Those economies that follow the tried and true concepts of free enterprise inevitably prosper. Those who try, yet again, a top-down socialist approach always end up in financial ruin. When we make policy using as our guide the biblical understanding of the nature of man (flawed) then the systems work because they are designed with those flaws in mind. But when we base decisions on the Pollyanna assumption that mankind is basically good, we end up in helpless messes – welfare that has produced a huge, helpless class, both unwilling and unable to become productive members of society. Goodness, however, builds hospitals, schools, orphanages so that people can overcome evil and make something of themselves, so that they, and their lives, may be better.

Good, better, best – that ascendance works, but we must recall that humans are flawed and therefore incapable, on their own, of best-ness. But the human brain can grasp, or perhaps vaguely remember what absolute Good looks like. Adam and Eve knew that in the Garden. Those who knew Jesus during His ministry had a first hand contact with absolute Good. And those who have immersed themselves in the Word of God have consumed and assimilated a fair amount of Good just by osmosis.

Evil, on the other hand, cannot be perfected. No matter how hard ISIS tries, no matter what atrocities it develops, evil will never reach an absolute flawlessness because evil is a flaw.

But where did Good and evil come from? Good came first – another evidence of its pre-eminence. Good is eternal, has always existed and will always exist. Evil had a definite beginning; it will have a definite end, will soon be a thing of the past; it’s been around long enough.

Evil, being a reaction against good, began in the distant past when God’s most beautiful free-will agent – the angel Lucifer – decided that he was the equal of the three members of the Trinity (Isaiah 14). “I will be like the Most High,” he declared. He wanted to run things, to do heaven his way. He has always tried fake goodness, tried to come up with his own version of good, but it never works – socialism, Darwinism, Planned Parenthood, aggressive religion. If you pay attention you can feel his frustration.

We have to remember that neither Good nor evil are human constructs. I hear that excuse from those still slogging through the progressive Slough of Despond. Humans are Godly constructs, not the other way around.

I also hear a lot about culture defining Good and evil. Good is not culturally determined. A culture can embrace evil and call it good, but it cannot invent its own good – because you can’t improve on perfect.  ISIS, the Nazis, Stalin, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch trials are all evidence of societies trying to redefine good and evil to fit their own peculiar ends. But, after WWII the Nuremberg Trials attempted to bring the Nazis to justice; if good and evil were culturally determined, then on what authority did they do that? Wasn’t Auschwitz OK if the Germans thought it was OK? No. The nations of this world knew that the Good that created the heavens and the Earth did not approve, and they acted accordingly.

If a culture is not the arbiter of morality, what is its purpose? A culture is an attempt to make survival more likely, more enjoyable, more fruitful; that society which saturates itself with evil self-destructs. If Muslim Syria had been a society permeated with Good, would millions of Syrians be flooding Europe now? And note the unrest that has accompanied this movement – is that Good? Europe is learning that it has allowed the snakes to invade and to bring with them, not their women and children, but all the evil their culture has devised.

This contest between Good and evil is not a nail-biter. Evil appears to be gaining strength right now, but what we are seeing is the desperation, the death throes of an arrogant serpent. He’s trying to hide behind good right now, but it’s not hard to recognize his efforts as counterfeit. We know how it will end; Good has a manual, a timetable, a due-date, solid and immovable. We’ve read the book and now we’re just watching the movie. We won’t always know what’s going on – won’t always have the best seats, but we can know how the Good will win, all we have to do is “watch the deliverance of the Lord,” (2nd Chronicles 20:17)..

Deana Chadwell blogs at ASingleWindow.com and is a writing and speech professor at Pacific Bible College in Southern Oregon.
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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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19 Responses to Of Angels and Snakes

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Note that J. R. R. Tolkien (a Catholic, who in fact led C. S. Lewis from skepticism to religion) had the orcs and trolls invented by the evil (probably Melkart aka Morgoth rather than Sauron) as mockeries respectively of elves and trolls. As Frodo puts it at one point to Sam, evil can only mock, not make.

    Note also that many academics are unhappy (much as the professor was in Rope) to learn that their students, having been taught moral relativism, can’t bring themselves to condemn the Holocaust. After all, the Nazis no doubt had their reasons — and if you read Dr. Gilbert’s interviews with Julius Streicher at Nuremberg, you will find that indeed they did. Mad reasons, but reasons all the same.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Good came first – another evidence of its pre-eminence. Good is eternal, has always existed and will always exist. Evil had a definite beginning; it will have a definite end, will soon be a thing of the past; it’s been around long enough.

    The question of why God allowed evil into the universe has mystified men for millennia. Is evil a necessary result of free-will? Is there another theological explanation?

    • It’s the possible result of free will, but if God gave men and angels a piece of His sovereignty, then He gave us a piece of His responsibility as well. We ‘ve been given the car, the keys and the instructions for operating the car. If we wreck it, it’s our fault, not the fault of the car-giver. That would still seem awfully austere if it weren’t for the fact that then God came along and provided the jaws of life to get us out of the wreck.

      • Rosalys says:

        “That would still seem awfully austere if it weren’t for the fact that then God came along and provided the jaws of life to get us out of the wreck.”

        Beautiful analogy!

      • Tom Riehl Tom Riehl says:

        Can a mere analogy be profound in its utility? Life as a car? Apparently, yes! Well done, Deana.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Very nice phrasing there,. I think we’ve had this discussion here before, and I pointed out Anthony Boucher’s story”We Print the Truth” in which the question comes up t the end. A priest (and Boucher was a Catholic) points out that we love our children even when they misbehave, whereas we do not love the chessman who always does our bidding because it has no choice. To provide true free will is to accept that some will inevitably abuse it.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        but if God gave men and angels a piece of His sovereignty, then He gave us a piece of His responsibility as well

        An interesting and poetic thought. I do not believe I have ever heard this problem approached in such terms.

        I will have to chew on this for a while.

  3. Rosalys says:

    I love this article. We who are called by His Name must always remember that “greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” Amen!

  4. Tom Riehl Tom Riehl says:

    I’m not given to hyperbole in general, but this essay by Deana is one of the best I’ve ever read on this site, which is saying something, indeed!

    Thanks for so simply and clearly explaining free will and evil, and for identifying evil’s present-day symptoms. I’ve always maintained that the causes of the blemishes on the Body are various manifestations of Satan, representing no power but that of subtraction. (In our current society, that explicitly includes Obama and his ilk.)

    I now feel more capable of answering questions about these root concepts.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Last night I was reading the free Kindle sample of Michael Denton’s Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis. Denton is clearly a friend of our cause, in general terms.

    But I was appalled at how convoluted his writing was. And his lack of insight. Okay, I get it. There are those who think life is mostly constrained by the laws of physics (structuralism) and those (all neo-Darwinists) who see all life as being the way that it is because of function (functionalism or adaptationalism).

    And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how someone who is writing a book to enlighten us couldn’t first start off with the rather obvious observation that you’d have to have both — and that the existence of either in no way proves or disproves anyone’s theory.

    For instance, given the laws of physics, how could you ever build a house that didn’t take gravity into account? There’s nothing specifically adaptive, per se, about the steel girders of a skyscraper (with that structure, you could build a bakery or a bank, but there is no inherent “bankness” or “bakeryness” to the steel girders). But they are necessary if you’re going to build anything. Something must carry the weight. For a smaller building it may be something else. And, of course, there is more than one way to carry the weight.

    But once the skeletal structures are built, than the building can be “adapted” to be a bakery or a bank. *Of course* for a building to fulfill some useful function, it will be “adaptive” (as in adapting to a given need) and it will have built-in “structuralism” because anyone who has tried to build anything knows that one is indeed constrained by the laws of physics. How could it be otherwise? And given these two things, how does this shed any light on Darwinism or Intelligent Design, for that matter?

    Well, perhaps I should buy the book and read on. But I wasn’t impressed by the free sample. Get to the point, Michael. It seems few people do. And the whole structuralism vs. functionalism dichotomy — despite who wins — in no way addresses the point of where all the biological information came from in the first place.

    One of the hallmarks of structuralism (that things just had to be a certain way because of the laws of nature…which effect what biology can do) is the five-fingered “hand” which shows up in many animals that do not appear to be closely related. So, is there something about the laws of physics and biology that tend to make “five fingers and five toes” the norm, much like a snowflake is always going to have six sides? Or are the five fingers specifically functional in some way the neither four or six would be?

    Who can say? But clearly toes and fingers have a function and whether four or six, it would likely work nearly as well. But when building something useful, one must choose. So one of the ways out of this conundrum is to posit common design. Five fingers and toes clearly work. And designers tend to re-use components that work. And given the enormously complex task of building life from scratch given the constraints of the laws of physics (even if one designed those laws), it seems likely that a good designer isn’t going to reinvent the wheel. Homology very much could be a result of common design and not common descent as Darwinists believe (although there could be some of both, particularly on the level of micro-evolution).

    Anyway, this is neither here nor there. But I do get frustrated sometimes when reading stuff that purports to enlighten when it does little more than obscure. So it’s nice reading Deana’s article which makes clear points. She may be right or wrong. I don’t know that I agree that good came first and evil is merely a cheap-knock off. But it is one distinct possibility that is clearly stated.

    • Brad — I’ve been reading Michael Behe’s book “The Edge of Evolution” and it’s really clear — a minor slog, but that’s due to the dearth of science classes in my education. Anyway, you might like it.

      Thanks everyone for the kind remarks about this piece. It felt like I’d bit off a lot more than I could masticate properly in such a short piece. It helps to have intelligent readers. Merci.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I believe the book has been discussed here before, quite a while back. I certainly join in your recommendation, although there is at least one flaw in his reasoning. (He fails to consider that making major changes, by his logic, would have easier 500 million years ago than it is today. Since this is an inherent flaw in Darwinism, it’s one of the reasons I refer to Darwin as the Copernicus of biology.)

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Brad — I’ve been reading Michael Behe’s book “The Edge of Evolution” and it’s really clear

        I have that book up on the Bookshelf with a few comments underneath. It is indeed clear…until the end where Behe, perhaps necessarily, runs into the muddle. And that muddle is, assuming intelligent design, what is shaped by natural selection and what is more or less hard-wired.

        One of the disappointments is missing the obvious: a designer, given the contingent world that life would necessarily have to live in, would create life so that it could adapt. In fact, I think that is the elephant in the living room that both sides have not adequately addressed.

        Try that with Microsoft Word or Excel. Typically, if just one bit out of millions is out of place, the whole thing will come crashing down or your information will be hopelessly garbled. Life seems to be a very complex program that has the amazing ability to adapt and change. It not only is error tolerant but can, in certain circumstances, take advantage of those errors. You could not have “natural selection” without the extremely sophisticated mechanisms built-in. That is the dirty little secret that Darwinists will not admit to.

        This has been the thing that has finally knocked me between the eyes. The idea that random point mutations could create such a sophisticated program is ludicrous. The amazing thing about life is its built-in flexibility. And, of course, there is a whole bunch of stuff hard-wired. There would have to be. The DNA molecule is one of those things. It is common to all life (that we know of).

        I enjoyed Behe’s book but I don’t think he clarified the ambiguities. Still, I expect he will do so in his next installment as we learn more about the extremely sophisticated program we call “life.”

  6. David Ray says:

    This article is so good that Hillary would’ve stopped reading after word ten and called Craig Livingstone.
    One never knows if Deana’s name isn’t on one of those 900+ FBI files. (Chuck Colson had to have scratched his head when he heard about that)

    • That’s too funny, David. And here I am just an aging English professor in a dinky college on the edge of nowhere. Guess I better get some dark glasses and a fedora. 🙂

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Well, I doubt your name was on any of those 900 files. But I would assume the NSA has a dossier on you now, just as they no doubt have dossiers on me, Brad, and the other major bloggers. After all, they had to be going after someone with all that eavesdropping, and it clearly wasn’t Muslim terrorists.

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I was watching a few episodes of the Amazon series, Hand of God, this weekend on Amazon Prime. It stars Ron Perlman as a corrupt judge whose son has attempted suicide and is in a coma. Perlman turns to a local charlatan preacher and begins to hear God telling him (through his comatose son) to find justice for his son. His son had to helplessly watch someone rape his wife for an hour and was driven over the edge by this.

    This series is both sacrilegious and somewhat supportive of religion. Yes, it mocks it all the way through, yet the central character (Perlman) has gained clues to the identity of the rapist (and his conspirators…still digging away at the whole story) that he couldn’t have gotten through mere hallucinations.

    This is a somewhat degenerate show, so don’t take this as an endorsement. But the acting is good. The soap opera stories develop. And most of all, you wonder what it would actually be like if we lived in a universe where people could be connected to God – that things actually made sense in some overall way, even if we don’t understand it.

    Andre Royo is superb as the matter-of-fact corrupt black mayor of a fictional California town. He and Judge Pernell Harris (Perlman) are the powers-that-be and the deal-makers for large urban projects that net them millions in assorted kick-backs. This series is sort of a gritty version of “Touched by an Angel.” Or murdered by an angel, in the case of Pernell Harris’ righthand man. Pernell believes himself to be another Solomon and KD (played by Garret Dillahunt) is his devoted Benaiah. (In my opinion, Dillahunt puts to shame the clown who played second fiddle to Bryan Cranston in “Breaking Bad.”)

    In this series there are angels and snakes, but mostly snakes. And our culture is full of snakes right now. I honestly don’t know if the paradigm so clearly and eloquently laid out by Deana is the way reality is, where Good came first and evil is but a cheap knock-off. And yet that’s surely where hope comes in, because we’d better hope that God is not a Marxist, the kind of “social justice” warrior we see ruining our world.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Strange events do happen. In the latest Smithsonian, Richard Dreyfuss notes that he used to be a typical Hollywood druggie. Then one might, driving off under drug-induced intoxication, he had a serious accident in which his car flipped over. He was held into the car, and saved, by his seat belt — which he hadn’t put it (he never did in those days). So who attached it and saved his life? There was no one else in the car — unless maybe a guardian angel was there.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Ya never know. (Spoiler alert if you want to be surprised, but no big deal either way.) In the case of “Hand of God,” his comatose son tells him to “follow the stream.” Soon after, Ron Perlman, as the judge, was at a banquet accepting a special award when a waiter dropped a tray of drinks. The judge yells out from the podium “Don’t anyone move.” He gets down on the floor and follows the leading edge of the spilled liquid…which leads him to the police officer who raped his daughter-in-law. As it turns out, this tributary of the spilled liquids could only be seen by Perlman.

        I had one incident similar to the seat belt thing about ten years ago. I was returning home from my brother’s house after a good meal and a good time. I was feeling in good spirits. Suddenly I had a strong premonition to “Drive very carefully” and was overcome by a bit of anxiety. Two intersections later, while stopped at a stoplight, the light turned green for me, but from the left, and coming rapidly down a rather steep hill, came a car that blew through the intersection and the red light. I usually look both ways, despite whatever the light says, but had I simply begun to inch my car out into the intersection when the light turned green, I might well have been t-boned fatally. Makes you wonder.

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