Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Worst of All Evils (and other vagabonds)

"And the Lord said unto Satan, 'From whence comest thou?' Then Satan answered the Lord, 'From going to and fro on the earth, and walking up and down upon it.'" Job 1:7 (2:2)

"...your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." I Peter 5:8

It's pandemonium!
Scripture recognizes the Devil as a being of adversarial malevol- ence, the height of all evil, the highest of all rebellion against God. And yet he often is pictured as a mere vagabond, wandering about aimlessly. Now, there is a kind of hierarchy or order in the demonic world that is hinted at in Scripture (Eph. 6:12; c.f. Daniel 10:10-13), but there is also a sense of chaos and randomness. "Pandemonium," as Milton coined it (PL, 1:755-75)---their very order is chaos. They may reside in persons or places, yet they are quite willing to go anywhere else. Legion will reside in the man from Gadara as easily as a herd of pigs (Mark 5:1-13), and others will wander through "waste and empty places" for a time (Matt. 12:43). Even the Devil himself seems to be a creature of the wilderness (Matt. 4:1). It's as if all the "hierarchy" of hell is in power alone, with stronger spirits ruling over weaker ones, and yet all are equally aimless beings, left to stray about, seeking destruction.

A roaring lion.
I find it interesting that the image of absolute evil looks less like Hitler and more like Tommy Sells. In fact, the difference between a tyrant and a serial killer seems to stress the issue. Whereas a tyrant has organized all his energies and resources towards the realization of his delusions of grandeur, the serial killer is an individualized random act of violence, an irrational malevolence that can prey on anyone at anytime. You can see a tyrant coming, with his armies and pageantry and his flags unfurled; you cannot see the serial killer coming. You can predict the megalomaniac; you cannot predict the maniac, and the Devil is a maniac. That is the image from Scripture, and it is a terrifying one. Though he can and does commit large actions, he is quite comfortable with small ones as well. He will lay waste to kingdoms. He will also lay waste to Job, to any individual man or woman.

"How thou art fallen...."
And to what end? None that we see, for He can never defeat or even hurt God or His purposes. Then why bother at all? What reason is there? None except malice and hatred born of defeated pride. The Morning Star who challenged the Most High was brought down to hell (Is. 14:12-15). The King of Tyre corrupted his wisdom by reason of his brightness, and a fire from within devoured him (Ezek. 28:11-19). The Great Dragon made war in Heaven, and he was cast down to earth (Rev. 12:7-9). He brought himself high and God set him low; his pride was not simply wounded but decimated. What else is left for a being like that but "study of revenge, immortal hate" (PL, 1:107), to wander aimlessly and violently throughout the earth, seeking whom he may devour?

"I'm a dog chasing cars."
Tyranny is not the worst of evils, for it is larger than life, and it is the small things that truly affect us. We know this for a fact. In good or ill, it is the small, more intimate elements that affect us the most. Great, sweeping acts of charity done to whole people groups (or to abstracted "humanity") don't nearly affect us as much as one act of true kindness done to us in particular. Likewise, the tyrant always feels half a world away, even when his war is at your door. But the killer is the war at your door, and thus he garners far more fear. So it is as it should be: the smallest is the greatest. The least will either inherit or lay waste the earth. Goldfinger is a nuisance; Silva is a threat. Ra's al Ghul is a problem; the Joker is a terror. Hitler was a madman; Sells is madness itself, and there is a point where evil transcends (or perhaps descends) all malice and madness, falling into a darkness so deep it could only be called the Devil, the Strayer, the Great Violent Vagabond, wandering as a whirlwind, with his fury as a fire.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

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