Lately I’ve been having a lot of conversations about the devil. Be it discussing spirituality, the Lucifer TV series, the tarot card, or how a satanic temple challenged a state law in the US in order to defend women’s rights, the devil has occupied a lot of my mind these past weeks.
The Devil and I have a love and hate relationship, just like with God.
The thing is, to me, there are two devils, and two Gods. Sometimes it is hard to tell which one is which.
As a Christian (of sorts?), my main point of reference talking about these things is the bible. One realization that changed my world, coming out of a conservative evangelical worldview, was that the bible is not a monolith of doctrine, univocal and in agreement. The bible is actually a debate, often enough a shouting argument. Different theologies, carrying their own ideologies and agendas, are part of each human narrative about our encounter with the divine, and this is true in any ancient religious text as much as it is today.
In bible and in culture, there is a classical Devil, standing against a classical God: God is the source of Order and Power, the absolute ruler of the universe, who tells the lightning where to strike and whom all creation obeys, lofty and exalted above everything, thrice holy, there is None like Him. But then comes Lucifer, who decides he can be as awesome as God, to get some of God’s glory and worship for himself. God gets mad at him, because glory is a cake that serves only one, so he punishes him and casts him into hell. Then the devil comes out, like a serpent, and decides to ruin God’s new innocent creation: humans. The serpent tells Adam and Eve that if they disobey they will become like God, so they commit the same sin as Lucifer did, and God gets mad at them too, casting them out of Paradise into a world full of suffering.
This God is absolutely above his creation, and the Devil’s sin is to try and be like God. To not know his place. To disrespect the hierarchy. To disobey, and to rebel. I actually really like this devil.
Yet there is an alternative voice in the Scriptures… the voice of the mystics.
The word Satan, from the Hebrew, means adversary. It can mean generally “enemy”, or in a certain context, a prosecutor. The ancient writers of the Hebrew bible envisioned the throne of God as a king’s court filled with divine beings (they were not as monotheistic as we like to think). The Satan (it is a title, not a name) would be the one with the job of a court prosecutor: he lists your crimes and asks for punishment. This is not the image of a rebel archangel waging war in heaven, but rather, one of God’s agents doing his job.
In the theology of the mystics, of which my favorite is St. John’s, God is not separate from creation. God is One with everything, pervading through creation, and “in him we live and have our being”. Jesus speaks as a mystic when he says “if you have seen me you have seen the Father”, and he clearly teaches his disciples that by loving one another they could become one with each other, just like Jesus is one with God, and in this way they would be one with Jesus too. He teaches that by loving each other we are one with God.
Later in that same gospel, Jesus says the words that have become most central in my personal theology: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). To be a friend, is to love. In the original Greek, the two words have the same root.
In this theology, God is one, and all things are one. Attaining that unity with each other and God, there is no longer male or female, slave or master, rich or poor. Rather than protecting the hierarchy, God abolishes it. Humans separate themselves from God, even kill him, but he loves them and restores that relationship through love. Evil is what comes between us, what brings enmity between one another, the greed and thirst for power from those “seated in the high places” who preserve a hierarchy of separation and domination rather than love, friendship, and good will.
On one hand there is love, or friendship.
On the other, there is enmity. Or as I like to call it, Satan.
Is our drive for order and hierarchy, ready to punish and remind everyone of their miserable place, an expression of God? Or is that the very root of evil?
Is the drive for equality, oneness, bridging and erasing our social boundaries and what comes between every person, the drive of Lucifer and Adam looking to become like God? Or is that the very reason behind Christ’s passion?
Religion and culture are political. These ideas have deep roots and a huge impact in our narratives about who we are and how we are supposed to live our lives. The way you think of God and the Devil will impact whether or not you submit to injustice or whether you rebel. Whether you value order more than mercy. Whether you excuse any action that comes from power, because of the divine right, or whether you choose to cry out in the wilderness instead.
The bible, when you look for the devil in the details, does not give you answers: it simply puts you in the middle of an intense debate. On one side God is pro-monarchy and government, and the devil is the rebel who needs to be put in place. On the other, God is against power, and wants all people to be equal, while the devil is precisely the man at the top, ready to shed blood to preserve his crown, fighting against a movement of people who share their property and refuse to shed blood.
Which side are you on?