Editor's Note: Clarion is be posting Michael Hardin's 20-episode series (excerpted from What the Facebook? vol. 1) on The Satan as a weekly release, each Thursday. CLICK HERE for the full pdf or kindle document.
(6) Personhood and the satan
I am really appreciative of all the comments I have received on my recent series on the satan. Many posters are really struggling with me on the demystification of the devil. So far the biggest issue seems to be that how the concept of ‘person’ is understood.
We have been mired for so long, first in the metaphysics of Plato who divided the person into three discrete categories of body, soul and spirit and then in the Renaissance influenced and Enlightenment notion of the person as an autonomous free moral agent that it is difficult to be set free from these definitions. The shift from a ‘faculty’ approach to the human to a relational one is one that has been a hundred years in the making and still continues now with research on the human brain, the emotional states of cognition and the role of mirror neurons that enable us to live and learn by imitation.
The older philosophical debates about mind, will, choice, emotions and rationality have all been challenged by these recent shifts and discoveries. One important thing to keep in mind is that the church (the people in the pews) are about one hundred years behind what is being taught in the seminaries and the universities. A hundred years from now most of what I am suggesting will be ‘normal’ in the church, but for now my goal is bring the average person into the present and to be liberated from now useless ways of conceiving humanity. Our old ways have led only to violence, war, exclusion, scapegoating and other forms of making the ‘other’ out to be the enemy. We have too long lived with theologies that draw lines where there ought not to be lines.
Theology has always been an evolving science. Change is essential. I am sometimes asked if I believe in progressive revelation. My answer is no, but I do believe in progressive understanding; I think that as a species we are finally getting the message about God’s love in Jesus, how the character of God has been reframed by Jesus away from our tendency to make God in our own image as a Janus-faced (or two-faced) God. This is harder than it seems for many if not most of Christianity has emotionally invested itself in a god that is just like them, angry, belligerent, sacrificial and demanding tit-for-tat justice. The message of the gospel as I understand it is that God is wholly other (Barth) than we are and that God is only love. God’s character is revealed completely in the ministry of Jesus as one of compassion, mercy, inclusion and forgiveness.
Even if we quibble about the satan as a ‘person’ the fact remains, the satan is defeated. Jesus has cast down the satan as a principle by renouncing violence and retribution in his own life and ministry. Yes, evil is very real, yes it sometimes manifests itself in ways that seem incredulous, nevertheless, there are ways of understanding these manifestations in a rational way that does not require us to posit some supernatural metaphysical entity. I think we are best served when we are willing to rethink everything, that is when we are willing to change our ways of thinking about anything and everything (this is what metanoeo ‘to repent’ means). We need not fear change. Jesus doesn’t change (Heb 13:8) but we are constantly in need of transformation and this is the beautiful work of the Holy Spirit in us.
So, as we continue our discussions in the coming weeks on evil, the satan and how Jesus has overcome these blights on our history and species (and indeed creation itself), let us rejoice! For we all know that this ‘old lion who seeks to devour us’ has no teeth and can only use fear to stop us in our tracks and keep us from making our way down the road that is Jesus.