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Friday, July 4, 2014

Evil: Myth or Truth?

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
3rd Sunday after Trinity 2014
July 6, 2014

 I Peter 5:8-9: “Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour, whom withstand stedfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world.”

Our Epistle selection for the day brings forth an interesting question… Is the idea of objective evil a myth, or is it truth? The answers will vary. Among those who deem themselves as secular intellectuals, yet whom are devoid of a lively faith, the answer one might receive is one of mild incredulity or even derision.  “What,” your associates might exclaim, “You believe in evil as an objective reality? You actually buy the idea that there’s some sort of sinister supernatural being as your spiritual enemy?  My, my, how quaint, how beautifully primitive and simplistic!”  On the other hand, among those of faith, the answer may be as St. Peter, that “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”

So, brethren, which is it? Do we, as 21st century Anglicans believe that the Devil really exists, that there really is a supernatural enemy named Satan? Or, is he just a myth, cooked up by monastic Medieval minds? 

That answer may hinge on your view of the validity and veracity of the Holy Bible.  If, for example, you believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, you probably have no problem accepting the concept that Satan exists.  If, on the other hand, you take a more relativistic view of the Bible, or you hold it to be mainly myth, especially that part about the resurrection, you will certainly scoff at the outlandish idea that there is a supernatural adversary in pursuit of your soul.

So, there we have it.  Again, perhaps our more “enlightened” friends will chuckle at the simplicity of our view, the life of faith. So be it. To my mind, faith makes life easier, cleaner, and certainly more comprehensible.  It does explain why things are as they are to a great degree, and it helps one to make better sense of nonsensical situations

Simply, our worldview is this: we have a loving God and Creator, who made all things and loves all things to an infinite degree.  This being has expressed himself to us as a tripartite Person consisting of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. His Creation is good.  Yet, for some hidden and mysterious reason, evil entered into our world through the machinations of a fallen angel, Lucifer.  Again, for some divine and mysterious reason, this same angel led a revolt in Heaven, as detailed in the book of Daniel. Here’s an important point: God Himself did not fight against this fallen angel, but delegated that task to the Archangel Michael, who then led an army of faithful angels to defeat, evict, and humiliate Lucifer.  His fate: to be sentenced to the nether regions of the Earth, and to remain in this temporal realm until God the Father sees fit to change his situation.

This story from God’s Holy Word underscores a mightily important point.  That point is that no matter how grievous evil is, and despite the titanic amount of suffering it causes, evil is in no way, shape, or form nearly as powerful as good. The Universe in general and the Earth in particular, are both inherently good, because they were made by God.
Here’s the catch, however.  The Earth still labors under her ancient curse, applied when our First Parents fell from grace. That is why we have briars, and thistles, insect pests, and things that bite and scratch us.  It’s why Nature is so brutal, and why we too must kill in order to eat. It’s also why life is basically so tough, at its core.

How does this help us to understand the nature of evil in this world? How does it help to combat the chief objection to Christianity for many; namely, why does a loving God allow so much suffering in His world?  How and why does He allow it to a happen? In short, how could He?

This priest knows that all of us here have either thought this thought, or been asked this question by enemies of Christianity. We certainly don’t have the answer, except to say this: God is a god of order, and His processes are inherently logical and orderly.  If, in the first instance when sin and evil entered his Creation, he pronounced a curse on it, so it is. If, as part of that curse, Man could follow the darker, more sinister side of existence, exemplified by Lucifer’s rebellion, so be it. Finally, and lamentably, if chaos, suffering, death, and horrible human behavior springs from this, sadly, so be it. In short, God does not cause suffering, death, or even damnation. Our inherent fallen human nature takes care of that….

Yet, it gets worse…if our own fallen natures weren’t bad enough; they are actually aided and abetted by that spiritual criminal and rebel, Lucifer, known in this world as Satan. This, as simplistic, Medieval, superstitious, or just plain silly as it sounds to our worldly friends, is the real spiritual truth here.  If one ignores it, it accrues to one’s own spiritual peril.

So, what of it? Are we just flotsam and jetsam on the spiritual sea? Are we humans just  spiritual “cannon fodder” on the battleground between good and evil? 

Far from it. Rather than being just passive objects of temptation, we are major actors in this drama.  We actually have the ability to affect our outcome, and even the nature of the world around us. We take up the shield of faith, we put on the breastplate of righteousness, and we don the helmet of salvation.  Most importantly, we seize the Sword of the Spirit.  Then, as St. Peter tells us, we are to resist Satan, steadfast in the faith.

How?  What power do we little Christians actually have at our fingertips?
We have the greatest power imaginable, the Name of Jesus.  When a Christian prayerfully invokes the name of Jesus with unshakeable faith, miraculous things happen. The sick are cured, the lame walk, the blind see, and the satanic forces are dispelled.  At the name of Jesus, they recoil in horror, fear, and loathing. They quit the battlefield, dispirited and weakened.  You see, the satanic forces know they are defeated.  They know, deep in their devilish beings, that they must lose, eventually. As Martin Luther once wrote about Satan, “for lo! His doom is sure. One little word shall fell him…”

That word, Jesus, is the one to whom we Christians owe eternal thanks and praise, not only for our salvation, but for the help we receive here and now. Thanks be to Christ, we can resist the spiritual foes that afflict us...  Then, when the spiritual heaviness is over and we once again begin to feel light in the Lord, we should look up and say, “Thanks are to God!”