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In God's Shadow

In logic, if God’s Universe is perfect there cannot be a Devil outside it, while, if the Devil exists, the perfection which he comes to spoil must have been incomplete already through the very fact of his existence.
-- Arnold Toynbee

As literary characters go, Satan is appealing for precisely the same reasons you wouldn't want him as your next-door neighbor.  He can be charming and mannerly, with a delightfully wicked sense of humor.  But there is a menacing air that becomes apparent only when you ask him to return the hedge trimmer he borrowed.   He will poison your dog and make off with your spouse. He will burn your house down without compunction.  You'll be lucky if he doesn't try to lay claim to your soul.  His one redeeming quality is that he is never boring -- in marked contrast to the Adolf Eichmanns of the world who fall under his sway in the name of bureaucratic efficiency.

You can see why writers have found Satan so irresistible.  In Paradise Lost, Milton presents him as an almost heroic figure, exiled from heaven for his refusal to knuckle under to God's tyranny.  As Mephistopheles in Christopher Marlowe's Faust, he even displays remorse at his fallen state, lamenting, "Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God,/And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,/ Am not tormented with ten thousand hells/ In being deprived of everlasting bliss?"  In his first appearance in the Bible under his own name, Satan goes a couple of rounds with old Jehovah in the prologue to the Book of Job and at least holds his own.  It's hard to identify a clear winner in this early encounter, since the one who goes down for the count is poor Job. 

The great unresolved issue with Satan boils down to the question of ultimate authorship.  If God is good and his creation likewise, where did Satan come from?  Novelists talk about characters who run away with the story, and theologians have voiced similar complaints about Satan.  At the Fourth Lateran Council, convened by Pope Innocent III in 1215, the Church decreed that "the Devil and the other demons were created by God good in their nature but themselves have made themselves evil."  Henceforth, human beings could still use the excuse that the devil made them do it, but the devil himself had no such recourse.  In God's world, evil had no provenance.

By disowning evil, Elaine Pagels argues, Christianity has effectively abandoned monotheism in favor of a cosmic dualism that pits God against Satan, with the earth as their battleground.  In the Old Testament, there is no question about evil's provenance: "I form the light, and create darkness; and create evil; I, the Lord, do all these things."  Even Job, who suffered mightily at Satan's instigation, knew full well who was really calling the shots.  He had no quarrel with God's right to do evil; his only complaint was that he had been victimized unfairly. 

For Carl Jung, the Book of Job marks a turning point in our understanding of God, because evil was allowed to step out of the shadows.  In some respects, he believed, Christianity took a step backward by incorporating only the most presentable aspects of God's nature into the Christ.  The darker elements were split off from the rest and projected onto Satan, who became the unacknowledged bastard son.  In Jungian terms, Satan is God's shadow, embodying all the unconscious attributes of his personality.

Satan may appear at times to be one of those renegade characters who threatens to run away with the story.  But there should be no doubt about who the author is.  Make no mistake: this story is entirely autobiographical, and the author has woven himself into all his characters.  Strip away the fictional alterations, and you discover that Satan is merely God in the most fiendish of disguises.          

Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan
Isaiah 45:7
C.G. Jung, Answer to Job

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