Wrestling with G-d: How Satan holds us back from Being Israel


I spent the past few weeks studying the nature of hell and satan. I have also been reading up on the wonderful philosopher and theologian Peter Rollins, specifically his book The Fidelity of Betrayal. I started to notice connections between the writings of Rollins, the articles of Richard Beck on Experimental Theology, and my own personal study of the history of  Satan. Perhaps Satan, or rather our belief in “him”,  is limiting our ability to truly connect with the Biblical narrative in the way our spiritual ancestors have for many years.

To understand this, we must first postulate the idea of Satan being a theodicy. Richard Beck writes at length about this on his blog (linked above). To summarize, there is a deep seeded polarity that comes out of being a monotheistic believer. For if we believe in an all-powerful G-d, who is ultimately in control, then we must believe that all good comes from G-d and all bad comes from G-d. We are stuck simultaneously praising G-d for the wonderful things he brings to us and cursing him over the bad things he does (allows to happen). This has been referred to as the monotheists lament. Beck then goes on to talk about the relationship of the Hebrews and the Persians and how perhaps the character of satan came out of the Hebrews interactions with Zoroastrianism. That it was combining the ditheism of Zoroastrianism with the idea of a one true G-d that satan, a lesser evil was born. We entered into a sort of soft-dualism. We can praise G-d for the good, and curse the devil for the bad.

There is this tension, just like the tension of the monotheist, that runs throughout the Bible. When you look at some of the old testament narratives you find a G-d that seems sometimes to be sporadic, vindictive, and jealous. There are times when G-d is questioned and he concedes, and yet others where he seems to put us humans in our place. He is loving here and then hateful there.  Over the years many have seen these seemingly opposed ideals and have used them to “disprove” the validity of the text. In response Christianity has set out to show that the Bible is a coherent and smooth flowing text. Using the fine arts of Biblical Study, Theology, and Theodicy, we have worked meticulously to show that the text does not contradict itself. But perhaps there is something we are missing if we continually try to show the text as flowing and coherent. Perhaps we miss the beauty in the chaos. The truth in the tension.

There is a story in the old testament about a man who wrestled all night with a stranger. In the end of his struggle he leaves with a blessing. His name becomes Israel for he “struggled with G-d and with men and have overcome.” How interesting it is that this is the name of G-d’s people. What it seems to show is that it is G-d’s will for us to struggle with him, that we are not to be content with an answer. It shows a wonderful way of viewing the bible. We need to be struggling over the text instead of trying to make it easy. For when we engage in the struggle, when we start to question and fight with the text, we are participating in a constantly changing perspective that will lead us to better understand that which we can not understand.

Now, I am not saying we do away with biblical study, or theodicy for that matter. I have my own ways of answering some of these questions, which include free will and not super-spiritualizing everything. I believe it was the earth shifting that caused the earthquake in Haiti, not G-d. I can admit that I have my fair share of Theodicy. But what I am saying, just as Rollins says is that perhaps we need to have a second naïvety, where we set aside these intellectual comforts and engage the text as it is: Dirty, Scary, and real. If we set aside Satan doing it, or us doing it, or the biblical writers adding it, or whatever you use to make sense of things and just let it not make sense, it is there that I believe that the bible becomes the Word of G-d. It is there that we start to see the text come to life. It is there, in wrestling with G-d and his word, that we start to move beyond belief, and we start to glimpse that which we cannot fully see.

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2 thoughts on “Wrestling with G-d: How Satan holds us back from Being Israel

  1. I like the idea of wrestling with God. It brings to light more of the relationship we’re supposed to have with “him.” Our friendship wouldn’t be very interesting if there were never any struggles. And not in a negative way; not necessarily fights, but fruitful arguments yielding results. Even in the Bible God was angry and ready to wipe the Earth again, and Moses told him to “repent of his anger” and be the God he promised “he” would be. I don’t really know how literal or even valid this is, but it still represents a struggle between man and God.

    After hearing these thoughts on Satan and hell a few times, the one thing keeps hitting me: that we are to blame someone for the good things and someone for the bad things. That someone can be too different people, a God and a lesser God, a God and a demon, or whatever… But there still is a value of good and a value of evil, and we’re to blame someone for these values. I’m still really big on the idea of there only being one value. There is good, and there is the absence of good. There is God, and the absence of God. “His” will, and being outside of that will. With this argument Satan, evil, and sin do not exist, but are representative qualities that define the absence of God, God’s will, and good.

    There is no darkness, only the absence of light. But humanity has to have everything in equilibrium. Like our wonderful Wiccan friend Abby was complaining about…She doesn’t see the balance in Christianity. Well, who said there has to be a balance. Fuck Newton’s law. We as humans have the need to keep everything in a perfect balance. If there is a force of good at work there is a force of evil at work. If little Timmy steals a cookie from the cookie jar, he sits in time-out for half an hour. Crime yields punishment…
    God gave his people the 10 Commandments. He did NOT, however, give his people the 10 Judgements for when they break the commandments.

    The issue I have with balance, is that there isn’t a balance for God. There are forces (humans) that try to balance out God with their own pride, their make-believe evil gods, and their concepts of a physical evil that ways on us like plaque. But there is no real balance for God. Even if Satan exists, he is not the balance of evil to God’s source of good. And whoever said God was good? CS Lewis? No, Asland is good, God is. God…just…is. God is God and there’s nothing we can do about it. We can try to define “him”, but him in a golden box, turn him into bread, give him a villain to further our concept of God as a superhero…We can continue building our own personal towers of Babel as high as we want to… but in the end God is God. Just, good, holy, pure, mighty…these are human words to describe a God who isn’t human. He didn’t tell Moses he was strong, mighty, perfect, holy, he had a throwing arm better than Brett Favre…NO….He said, I am who I am. Go spread the word…I am who I am.
    And that’s my issue with balance… it doesn’t work.

  2. As much as I have taken so much from the Taoistic perspective when it comes to the martial way, I must agree that true balance simply cannot be when it comes to good and evil – to suggest this would infer that evil is in fact every bit as powerful as good. No matter how much one may try to prove that balance is the way of the universe, there are overwhelming inconsistencies with this train of thought. If we were to go by our simple explanation that dark is simply the absence of light, then we see that all is revealed in the light, in the good. There is nothing to hide. The darkness hides and cowers, but it cannot go where the light is; it may only go where the light is not.

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