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Mailbag: The Devil Made Us Smarter?

By David Baggett 

A reader of the site asked for help responding to this:

“The devil gave humans critical thinking which God didn’t want us to have. God wanted us to not eat from the tree of knowledge so we could be thought-slaves for eternity, but the devil did us a favor and turned the tables there with a single conversation. The devil killed a grand total of 10 people in the Bible, while God killed somewhere around 2.3 million. He understands human nature but doesn’t judge you for being human. He accepts god’s unwanted children unconditionally.”

It appears these lines come from Martin Ristov, although I’m unfamiliar with the person. It appears to be motivated by a fair bit of anger at the biblical God, similar in invective and spirit to the New Atheists. The idea seems to be that, in a moral comparison between God and Satan, the devil wins. Satan is responsible for giving us critical thinking, liberates us from being thought-slaves, has done comparatively little damage (killing just ten folks in the Bible), doesn’t judge people for being human, and accepts those God rejects. God, in contrast, wanted us to be thought-slaves, killed millions, judges us for being human, and is conditional in his acceptance.

The comparison with the New Atheists is ironic in a sense, since the New Atheists claim not to believe in God, whereas this person doesn’t seem to deny God’s existence, but rather his love and character. Still, certain adamant secularists seem mad at God at the same time as denying His existence. C. S. Lewis is well known for admitting, post-conversion, that as an atheist he both denied God’s existence and was very angry with God.

I think much of what’s going on here is attributable to looking at theology from the outside. Christians are inclined to believe God is loving; in fact, love isn’t just what God expresses, it’s who He is. God has expressed His love most clearly through Christ, and the whole of salvation history culminates in Him. Jesus went to the cross while we were sinners in order to save us. God’s love is His most important attribute, and every part of biblical revelation should be understood through this guiding hermeneutic. If, instead, one reads the Bible through a different lens, a very different conclusion can be drawn; but to read it in such a way is to wrongly divide the word of truth. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil isn’t denied the first people, on this skewed and exegetically deficient reading, because of the importance of avoiding defining good and evil for oneself in whatever subjective way one wanst, but rather because God wants to keep us from knowledge. Rather than Jesus being the Logos and the foundation for all clear thinking, critical thinking gets cast as a gift from the benevolent hand of Satan. We are thus furnished with a stark example of what incommensurable paradigms look like, and how far afield eisegetical, prooftexting mishandlings of the biblical text get us.

A comparison and contrast between God and Satan also sounds much more dualistic than Christianity actually is. Unlike, say, Zoroastrianism and certain other theologies, Christianity doesn’t put God and Satan into equal and opposite positions. Satan is a creation of God. There’s only one God, one locus of value, one Creator of the world, one Sustainer of all that exists, one Being who exists a se. Much of what often gets rejected is not classical theism, but some diminished demi-god, like the finite and morally impoverished gods of the Greek pantheon. The idea that Satan is really the good guy after all shows that the person speaking has some rather big misunderstandings, either inadvertent or intentional. The force behind systemic evils and gross injustices and all manner of cruelty and corruption is actually the good and benevolent force? The one animating the actions of Roman soldiers nailing Jesus to the cross was the good guy? This strains credulity to the breaking point, and raises a serious question about conversational cooperation.

The one who willingly suffered for the salvation of the world, who took our sin upon himself, who was willing to endure the shame and punishment that we rightly deserved—and to do so out of His great love for us—drinking death and shame to its dregs that He might effect ultimate victory over evil and set the world to rights—He’s the bad guy? The one who offers to each of us the experience of ultimate goodness that can make all the temporal sufferings of this fleeting life pale into insignificance in light of the eternal glory to come—He’s the real devil? I suspect this is a paradigmatic instance of what was prophesied: that the day would come when good would be called evil, and evil good.

Image: By Antonio Tempesta (Italy, Florence, 1555-1630) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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