A few weeks ago I was driving to work and thinking theologically, as one does when one drives to work . . . naturally . . . what?
ANyway, I was just leaving the exit ramp off the highway when a question exploded into my brain:
Why does nobody ever teach that the wager at the beginning of Job could well symbolise what’s going on here in the world?
[Pause] Nothing? Okay, let me back up. (Not back up the exit ramp, though. That would be bad.)
Job, right? We’ve talked about him before. I used to find that book of the Bible frightfully difficult, and more recently I find it to be one of the ones I cling to most when stuff doesn’t make sense, which it often doesn’t. I think I’m glad God put a book in His Book about stuff not making sense. I’m glad He recognised that.
There’s a lot of debate in some Bible-geek circles about whether Job was a real guy and whether God and the Accuser (that’s what satan means, folks) really placed a bet on him, and there are good reasons for believing the story is literally true and good reasons for believing it isn’t, and frankly I don’t think it really matters with this particular story because most everybody can agree that, literal or not, it’s a universally applicable story about human suffering and about wrestling with what (or who) causes it.
That day in my car I was thinking about Satan, and the reason is because one of TheBro’s friends (whose theological views may well be made clear momentarily) posted the following on TheBro’s wall:
Apparently he posted it for the joke (theology==>==>Batman. ?), but this is a pretty familiar argument-not-intended-as-a-joke to me and it drives me absolutely bonkers. So I wrote to TheBro what I would have written on his wall to his friend if I hadn’t been afraid of starting a flamewar on TheBro’s facebook wall, and it was this:
Wow. So familiar. So many potential rants. In short–does it ever occur to anyone that maybe the fact that God made a forbidden tree that people could or could not eat from demonstrates that thought-slaves are precisely what He DIDN’T want? Does it further occur to anyone that a being who drives a wedge between humans and their Source is a) not protecting them and b) megalomaniacal enough to start some spin about himself to the effect that he’s the good guy and c) the one ACTUALLY in the market for thought-slaves?
So in the car I was thinking about this, and thinking about the usual futility of these arguments: God’s the good one. No, Satan’s the good one. No, God. No, Satan. It’s just kind of dumb. And I was thinking about how the Biblical accounts of Satan and God and their relationship to each other are sort of hazy and mysterious except that, when looking it all over, you really can sort of arrive at some pretty solid conclusions like:
- God is uncreated and Satan is a creature like everybody else.
- Satan was created good, but (as a free creature) he capitulated to his own envy/pride and then tried to get God to capitulate to him. Not being actual God, that didn’t work out so well. (I will admit for honesty’s sake that not everyone takes the passage I just linked to, to be about Satan. I suspect that what happened to him, however, is something like what is described here regardless, given the whole rest of the Bible.)
- Satan still “cleans up” well, so it’s easy for him to make us think he’s the hero/underdog/noble rebel if we really want to. Except he never is.
- Satan has a deep-seated vendetta against the rest of creation, and humanity in particular–presumably because we were made in God’s image and God made us to be His vice-regents on earth–demigods, as it were. (I think the humanist literary and cinematic fantasies nail this one–the vendetta–even if they can’t grasp a Saviour figure or an Ultimate Good or even are cognisant that their villains are satanic. See especially Islington in Neverwhere and Agent Smith in the first of the Matrix movies.)
- Failing to usurp the throne of God, Satan has usurped the throne of God’s favourites instead–and God let him, because we, by believing the lie that we could be more like God by turning away from him (so much for critical thinking), let him.
It was after delineating all of these points to myself that I started thinking about Job and then had that question firework into my head. I guess what I was really wondering was, why did God let Satan be (even a temporary) ruler of this world again? I mean, it’s traditional to say that Satan tried to usurp God’s place and then God kicked him out of Heaven and he landed on Earth, but is that really from the Bible or more from Paradise Lost? Except that either way it is in the Bible that Satan’s at least nominally in charge here, so . . . why is that?
I guess I started wondering if the reason (not why Satan got kicked out of the Royal Throneroom, but why he was allowed to scourge us here) was something like the reason he got to wreak havoc with Job’s life, too. If God said something like, “Hey, have you seen these fantastic new creatures I made? Don’t they look like Me? They’re going to represent Me in the rest of that gorgeous creation I made!”
And Satan said, “Yeah, well, beauty’s only skin deep, and I’ll bet they don’t want all that responsibility. Just let me at them and I’ll wager You they’ll abdicate to me without a fight.”
And God let him try it. Because He didn’t want thought-slaves. Or any kind of slaves, actually. Too bad our critical thinking isn’t a little more rigorous . . .