Sin by definition is irrational. More pointedly we could say sin is “disaffective,” that is in regard to sin’s relational nature as a rupturing of relationship between God and us. Ultimately, sin has no anatomy. We can identify what it does, but are unable to explain where it came from, per se. As such, attempting to answer theological questions based upon ostensible answers to sin’s “nature,” is always a fool’s-errand. Thomas Torrance avoids such foolishness, and instead explains the irrational nature of sin up against the order of God’s triune life, and how the latter provides for an ordered universe vis-à-vis Him. Torrance writes:
Second, by its very nature, moral or natural evil is essentially anarchic. It is an utterly irrational factor that has inexplicably entered into the created order. Whatever else evil is it involves the introduction of a radical discontinuity into the world that affects the relation of mankind to God, of man to himself, and of man to woman and woman to man, and of course of men and women to nature. It affects the entire relation of the universe to God, infecting its contingent nature or the relative independence given by God to the created order. As such evil defies human comprehension and any rational explanation. It is a virulent, demonic force radically antagonistic to all that is holy and orderly, right and good. St Paul spoke of it as the mystery of lawlessness (ἀνομία) of a strangely personal kind, in fact a malevolent will. It was in similar terms that Jesus referred to the Devil as the father of lies, the Satan with whom Jesus himself struggled in his temptation. And it is in similar terms that the Gospels tell us of the conflict of Jesus with the demonic powers of darkness that infested people’s lives in mind and body, but which he denounced as the enemy, rebuked and cast out of people’s lives, thereby showing that with his presence the Kingdom of God had been ushered in and deliverance from the power of darkness had been brought about. The sharp personal conflict of Jesus with evil reveals it to be more than the hypostatisation of a principle of contradiction between God and the world, and to be in fact an organised kingdom of evil and darkness with a kind of headquarters of its own, the power house of an utterly rebellious evil will or spirit which the Holy Scriptures call Satan. We are unable to understand how God continues to deal with the forces of darkness, but we believe that as he dealt miraculously with sickness and death, miraculously brought the turbulent winds and waves under his command, ‘Peace, be still;’ so we believe that he will bring his divine peace and power to bear marvellously and triumphantly upon the physical conditions of human existence in history, not to be sure in accordance with our conceptions, but in accordance with his transcendent wisdom.1
The description of sin by Torrance, and its incubator, evil, could not be more apropos for our current status in the world at large. What shouldn’t be lost is the point that TF rightly underscores: viz. “As such evil defies human comprehension and any rational explanation.” This is the all-important point in regard to not only the ‘noetic effects of the fall,’ but more significantly the possibility for humanity to identify their actual problem as they stand in this world order. Without the light of knowledge provided for by God in Christ, particularly in the Incarnation&Atonement, human depravity will continue to lead itself into its own self-possessed inborn sense of divinity. This is why theologies that are based in speculation and discursive reasoning about God, speculation that starts from an epistemological ingress-point abstract from a ground of God in Christ, are doomed to theories of God, and thus everything, that only end in the circle of self-projection.
Beyond that, and to one of the primary points of TFT’s treatment, evil is personal. Not in an abstract sense, but up against the personal God of Jesus Christ. That is to say, evil, and its adjunct, sin, has a “personal” origination insofar as that is embodied by a literal Satan and his literal demonic coven. The modern world, in post-Enlightenment form, has sought to demythologize the world of monsters, demons, and the angelic just the same. This is rooted, following TF’s point, in fallen humanity’s propensity to ignore the reality of the fall, and thus live into it by elevating themselves as the gods of the universe. As such, the unseen world, the invisible world is not manageable to them, thus the need to demythologize, or ‘disenchant’ the world of things they cannot seemingly master themselves. The irony of this “fool’s-errand,” is that such people, the people in the ‘Broadway,’ are in fact mastered by this unseen world to the point that the satanic ‘headquarters’ convinces unregenerate humanity that it does not exist. One result is that such people, the massa, do the bidding of Satan as he, indeed, is their father:
41 You people are doing the deeds of your father.” Then they said to Jesus, “We were not born as a result of immorality! We have only one Father, God himself.” 42 Jesus replied, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come from God and am now here. I have not come on my own initiative, but he sent me. 43 Why don’t you understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot accept my teaching. 44 You people are from your father the devil, and you want to do what your father desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I am telling you the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Who among you can prove me guilty of any sin? If I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 The one who belongs to God listens and responds to God’s words. You don’t listen and respond, because you don’t belong to God.” -John 8:41-47
The only remedy to this cosmic malady is for the person to repent and submit to the Word of God, rather than continuing to submit to the Serpent’s fake word.
1 Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 227.
One thought on “The Headquarters of Evil: The Satanic in Christian Dogmatic Explanation”
Indeed! This says much to shed light for me on Jesus’ statement, “The one who is not with me is against me, and the one who does not gather with me scatters.” [Matthew 12:30; Luke 11:23] (And also much to consider in that he says immediately following.)
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