Monday, July 21, 2008

Has Satan Left the United Methodist Church?

The headline of the last issue of The United Methodist Reporter was "Does Satan Really Exist?" I began to read the article to see where this was going to fall. I know that there are plenty of modern, scientifically minded people who cannot integrate a spiritual being who embodies evil into their worldview. Satan has become a literary figure, a metaphor, a symbol, or a fantasy figure to individuals who believe that evil arises out of human motivation. Satan, as an actual being at the heart of evil, has been reserved for those who are not as sophisticated or who have not had the appropriate education into human motivation.

I think Satan left the building because of Enlightenment, modernist rational thinking patterns and that evil is a manifestation of social problems or mental/emotional dissociative disorders. Basically when science began to rule the roost, Satan no longer had a nest to hatch in.

I'm not one to lay too much power or authority into Satan's account. Satan is not equal to God (or Jesus for that matter). According to tradition, Satan is an angel cast out of heaven. Scripture calls Satan by different names. But they all come down to this basic idea: Satan uses deception, lies, and manipulation to destroy lives. Satan does not make people do things. Satan presents options that are appealing to a person. The individual then chooses to pursue that option toward destruction.

Two cases in scripture illustrate:

Garden - Eve is manipulated to justify her choice to disobey God and eat the fruit. Satan did not make her eat the fruit. She chose to eat it after hearing Satan's reasoning.

Wilderness - Jesus is "tempted" by Satan in three areas. Satan presents a scenario to which Jesus must choose how to respond. Satan did not make the stone into bread and try to feed Jesus. Satan did not push Jesus off the peak. Satan only showed Jesus what was possible and left it to Jesus to choose.

So Satan's modus operandi is to deceive people into the place where they self-destruct. But scripture also lays the blame for the results of that destruction at Satan's feet by calling him the destroyer.

But have we moved to a place where we can prove that the existence of evil is a manifestation of human social problems? No, I don't think we have. Science cannot prove anything that lies in the spiritual realm. God, miracles, angels, heaven, Satan, demons, hell cannot in anyway be proven or disproven through scientific methods.

And to say that Satan is only a metaphor for the corporate manifestation of human evil is to get very close to the argument (which some of the same people would make) that Jesus was just a human and that his divine nature is the metaphor of the corporate experience of his goodness. Or, Jesus wasn't really God. He just made a really great impression on people and still does.

I believe in the person and divinity of Jesus Christ. That allows me a lot of room to accept that there could be a spiritual being who is at odds with God's purposes in the world. I believe that human beings are given free will to choose to obey and follow God's purposes or reject those purposes to pursue other agendas. And I believe that humans are agents to accomplish the greatest good in the world or agent to bring about despicable acts of evil. And if God can ask us to choose to do good, then it is completely realistic that another being who opposes God's will can ask us to choose to do evil.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Moving Beyond What You Are SupposedTo Do

Our household is filled with Disney fandom. So when a new movie comes out, especially an animated film, we are pretty quick to go see it. Wall-E came out this last week. And if you haven't been touched by the Disney propaganda machine, then I will provide a brief plot summary. Wall-E is apparently the last working robot left on Earth to clean up the mess that consumerist Earthlings (Stuff-ans) have made while the Stuff-ans have launched themselves into space aboard a trans-galactic luxury liner. Wall-E scrounges around the urban landscape compacting the leftovers of human civilzation. He encounters the humans when he hitchhikes aboard a probe ship and causes havok among the "civilized" robots and humans.

There were a lot of themes followed in this movie. Environmentalism and consumerism were the most obvious with their most catastrophic ends being protrayed. But for me, the real movement of the movie came through in the idea of becoming more than what your "directives" are.

For Wall-E, his directive is to go around scooping up trash, compacting it into cubes, and then stacking it. But Wall-E goes beyond his directive. He doesn't just compact the trash. He sorts through what he finds and salvages things he likes as well as things he needs or can make use of. He makes friends with an indestructable cockroach (which I might point you to a recent episode of Mythbusters where they test that theory) and develops a hankering for Hello Dolly!, the musical. And Wall-E even goes so far as to begin constructing monoliths of the compacted cubes of trash with design and engineering.

When Wall-E begins to encounter others, he begins to nurture the idea of becoming more than the directives say. It starts with Mo, a quirky, albeit anal-retentive, floor scrubber. Mo, like the other robots aboard the luxury liner, follow the lines between their point of origin and their destination. Until Wall-E forces Mo to move beyond the established line. It happens in many different interactions Wall-E has with robot and human alike.

Ultimately we should ask ourselves, are we doing what we are suppsed to do? Or are we pushing the boundaries to discover what we are truly able to do? Being in a new appointment means discovering what I am "supposed" to do. Every church has expectations and desires of their pastor. I am now in the learning phase of that. But I am also pushing the limits of what I am able to do. Slowly. Cautiously. Without a desire to destroy the relationship that is building.

But I have found this to be true: if we do only what we are "supposed" to do, we will become bored, burned out, and possibly bitter. But if we can push the limits and discover what we are really able to do, then we can grow and develop. 19 years ago, I never thought I would be able to play guitar and lead worship with it. Now it is common. But I had to push myself to discover that.

Try something new. Discover a hidden talent. Develop a new hobby. Push yourself to do what you are truly able to do. God gave you that gift for a reason. Take it out and put it to use.