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.
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.
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.
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?