Cosmology is part of the depicting of Evil in the Bible.  There is a kind of “cosmic war” being felt in the first century when the New Testament was composed.  Pagels puts it this way.  The subject of cosmic war serves primarily to interpret human relationship—especially all-too-human conflict—in supernatural form.

Unraveling of the ropes of the universe in upper left hand corner by Hildegard of Bingen. Found in Matthew Fox’s Illuminations book.

Satan in the Jewish tradition is not a power that assails from without but from within the community—“not the distant enemy but the intimate enemy—one’s trusted colleague, close associate, brother—one who turns unexpectedly jealous and hostile.” The tearing apart of community is integral to Evil.  Hildegard of Bingen painted this rupture as an unraveling of the ropes that keep the universe together. 

The worldview of the Essene movement placed the cosmic battle between angels and demons at “the very center of their cosmology and politics,” according to Pagels.

John’s Gospel also sees the struggle of Jesus as a supernatural battle between forces of good and evil, and the setting is a cosmological one. “By the end of the gospel, Jesus’ epiphany will have accomplished in human society what God accomplished cosmologically in creation: the separation of light from darkness—that is of the ‘sons of light’ from the offspring of darkness and the devil.”

In the Book of Revelations, the Roman Empire is equated with Satan. Christians were being persecuted at the time the book was written for refusing to pay homage to that empire. Early Christian theologians like Justin and Origen saw the Christian community as an alternative to the “satanic” powers of the Roman Empire, which, in fact, had executed Origen’s father when he was seventeen years old and left Origen’s mother destitute with seven children. “Persecuted Christians like Origen forged a radical tradition that undermined religious sanction for the state, claiming it instead for the religious conscience,” Pagels notes.  

To be continued

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 363f.

Banner Image: Climbing through despair. Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

What follows from the teaching that the adversary works from within the community itself?  Does this parallel the oath that presidents and other national workers take, to defend the constitution from “enemies foreign and domestic”?  How are we doing on that score? 

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10 thoughts on “Cosmology and Evil in the Bible”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today, rather than answer our Queries for Contemplation in a direct manner, I would like to respond to a number of the comments you made. The first one is: “The tearing apart of community is integral to Evil.” Those words are sheer genius!–and we see this at work on a global level in the Ukraine, in our own country–in countless mass shootings across our country–but it does its work in families as well, and even couples (where, as Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered, I will be in their midst”). The next comment I would like to respond to is: “Jesus’ epiphany will have accomplished in human society, what God accomplished cosmologically in creation: the separation of light from darkness, and thus the children of light” from the “children of darkness”–whose father is “that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan.” That indeed is an amazing parallel ! I will have to say here however, the obvious dualism between dark and light does not seem in sync with what much of what spiritual people envision as the truth of reality–Oneness. But in this world we have to live with duality, because we live in a world that works in a dualistic manner… though I too know inside that Ultimately All is One… Besides showing how both Jesus and God separated light from darkness, you show how in the book of Revelations the early Christians equated Rome with Satan. Then you introduce this question into the mix: “Does this parallel the oath that presidents and other national workers take, to defend the constitution from ‘enemies foreign and domestic’?” Yes, while the early Christians saw Rome as Satan, they pledged to die rather then betray their faith. You ask, “How are we doing on that score?” Of course it depends on whose asking, but I think when it comes to the Supreme Court, who are supposed to be the ones who know the constitution the best, they sure seem to be working with strong biases, in terms of how they are interpreting the constitution!

  2. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    I’ve often wondered, why and how the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil came to be in paradise, the garden of Eden in the first place? Was it created by the one angel, Lucifer, whom alienated himself from the community of the Oneness of light… through the darkness of ego, pride, envy, jealousy and greed… hence spiritually manifesting this immortality of evil… creating a tare within the cosmic frabic of the unity and oneness of goodness and the light of this… hence misdirecting the use of the co-creative powers he shared a part in… which manifested into the spiritual immortality of the duality of good and evil, light and darkness… both in the as above, the spiritual realm and the so below, the material realm? Was this mysterious Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then seperated and alienated from the many other trees in the garden of Eden… left there to exist, to be used by God to teach both the angels and humanity how to be consciously aware, responsible and accountable for the co-creative abilities given them? Why was the Tree of Life guarded by angels with flaming swords, rather than the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

    There must be some deeper meaning and purpose within all of this… which seems to eclipse our capacity of comprehension… something lost… that since then, both the angels and humans continously long, hunger and thirst to find and reclaim. Is it our innocence? Is it our wholeness, our oneness? Is it the epiphany of our interconnected, interreliable and interdependent belonging of existence? Is it the integration of all that which has been fragmented within our souls? Is it the Divine essence that is present in its presence, already there within our souls… dormant and eclipsed by the follies of this one act that unfolded within the spiritual realm, so long ago, that continues to influence and impact both the as above and the so below, from one generation to the next? Is the souls journey the unfolding, evolving and emerging of… the transformational process of continuously and consciously awakening… of learning to kindle the light of the Divine Spirit, incarnate within… that we may grow, develop and mature, in becoming and being responsible and accountable with the co-creative abilities given us? Is our part, in the Dark Night of the Soul, in these darkest moments of this cosmic war… to not wait passively for the insights, revelations and answers to that which seems incomprehensible… but rather is our part simply to kindle, to protect, preserve and try our best, daily again and again to let the inner light of the Divine, incarnate within our souls, within our humanity to go forth… in the midst all the darkness. Will not this leaning into being and living in the tension of the paradoxal questions themselves lead to perhaps discovering that which we long, hunger and thirst to find and reclaim… that which we once perceived to be lost… already there, simply waiting to be found from within?

    The Cosmic battle, scripture says, belongs to the Lord… that it has already been won.. accomplished… the victory of the redemption and salvation of what was once lost, is now finished! Yet, the working out of this, the manifestation of this reality is still unfolding, evolving and emerging… within space and time… within the hearts, minds and souls of humanity. The image that arises is that of when we look up at the stars… it takes years for this light to reach the vision of our seeing… that which already exists.

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      Jeanette, thank you for your profound spiritual thoughts and questions. You might find interesting, Jonette Crowley’s book, “Soul Body Fusion: The Missing Piece for Healing and Beyond,” who has a quantum spiritual perspective and healing for some of these deeper Cosmic questions and concerns… Love & blessings!

    2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, You ask: “Why was the Tree of Life guarded by angels with flaming swords, rather than the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?” Most theologians believe this was because the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was meant to be a test of their obedience to God, and access to the Tree of Life was only available upon obedience which according to the story, they were not. I do like how you end your comment with hope, and a rationale for why it takes time to manifest!

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    I’ve heard multiple interpretations of those verses, Jeanette, and they likewise seem cryptic and confusing. While Matthew and others are best equipped to answer same, my personal way of understanding them is simplified and practical. And that is, for whatever reason(s), human souls are naturally (constitutionally) inclined to center on self as Source, and therefore tend to err in the direction of being unduly self-referenced to the exclusion of others, the big picture (God), and all notions of inclusivity and love that go with them. This necessitates learning to think and see less exclusively along dualistic or binary lines (ie., good and evil, spirit and flesh, etc.), and more inclusively in the direction of unitive consciousness. All personal development, psycho-social and spiritual, involves a progressive de-centering of our self-referencing, grasping, appetitive Adam I identity, and replacing it with the more mature and loving one of our Adam II identity (Christ). [Note: self can also err in the direction of being too other centered, to the exclusion of healthy self-care; both are manifestations of unhealthy self, but in opposite directions]. In spiritual development, by degrees, Spirit-centric identity comes to replace a more limited (fleshly myopic) understanding of self, other, nature and God. Say, the way burning firewood, enveloped by fire, is gradually absorbed or transformed by the fire into itself. As in Genesis, the unredeemed Adam I identity usually gets things wrong, while the regenerated Adam II identity, in Christ, always gets them right. For me, it enough to know that the Genesis 3 account reminds us that something went terribly awry early on that henceforth needed serious remedial doses of law, grace, a loving Savior, and spiritual practices to restore. As such, I’ve left the interpretive hair-splitting of Gen. 3 to the theologians. Seems the devil, quite literally here, is in the details.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Joe, You say that, “For me, it enough to know that the Genesis 3 account reminds us that something went terribly awry early on that henceforth needed serious remedial doses of law, grace, a loving Savior…” I’m not saying that what you said is wrong, but I have a problem with “that something went terribly awry”–in the sense that the only thing that may have went awry is the choice of the first humans. Genesis tries to say that the reason why there are “thorns and thistle” and lions that don’t lie down with lambs is because of human sin. In truth, the world just evolved the way it did. There is nothing wrong with the earth other than that we don’t like some aspects of it. And really when you think about it, from an evolutionary perspective the humans didn’t “fall,” rather humans were evolving, improving. No, the whole Genesis story was a Jewish Myth that explained to the those who heard the story them why the world seemed the way it did–with sickness, death, pain, and all the other things that those people believed were “fallen.”

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    There is what’s probably a congenital intuitiveness that acknowledges that for Evil to succeed, Good must be divided. We see this as a primary tenet of power-grabbing: Divide and conquer. The oath of office in the US most definitely recognizes it. The Founders, having debated for long months the content of the Constitution, were fully aware that serious opposition opinions existed among even themselves as well as the broader citizenry, and they allowed for that with the inclusion of “domestic [enemies]” as requisite for defense.
    A party of domestic enemies exists today in those who demand the de facto anarchy of individual “freedom” — in CERTAIN instances (i.e., women collectively do NOT have the same individual freedoms that male persons do and racism is built into the culture) — but since this minority controls the execution of laws in the country, the majority is essentially removed from consideration and a successful division has been accomplished.
    Evil is nothing at all if not the sanctioned murder of school children in the name of the individual “freedom” to murder at will for sport. And this unconscionable state has been achieved with the artful division of society by a minority through economic inequity and the myth of corporate “personhood.”

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    We have met the enemy, and it is us. Domestic terrorism is becoming overwhelming, both in overt and covert acts of violence. Mass shootings illustrate the former, and all laws at local and “Supreme” Court that continue to divide and favor the privileged few are more subtle but much longer lasting. Attacks on voting rights, on women’s rights, on the LBGQT+ community and individuals, on the rights to assemble peacefully, etc., have been codified in states and criminalization of these rights is proceeding along the lines that more openly despotic governments managed to accomplish decades ago. If this country fails, as it appears to be doing, it is because of violence and danger from within, not from without, in my opinion.

  6. Avatar

    Re-mythologizing the cosmos with angels and demons helps in understanding the evil we face and gives us some relief. The Book of Revelation looks to God destroying Rome. John the Baptist thought the same. My hope is that a new creation is within us.

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