The Devil is in the Backstory

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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.

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 cigarettes 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: