Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Struggle against the Devil

I have some difficulty coming to grips with some philosophical concepts about the struggle over evil. I read the article at GOARC:
about our spiritual struggle against the Devil, and I must say I agree with the article 100%.

Furthermore I concur that I myself am constantly facing struggle against "the devil" - but my main question (stemming from my "concern" which I will address momentarily) is "what do I mean when I say 'the devil'?" I think that when I say I'm "struggling against the Devil" I mean that I am struggling against the things of evil, the demons, the temptations, the spiritual forces of darkness.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places," (Eph. 6:12).

It is not Lucifer himself that I'm struggling against but merely the forces of evil in this world that I can't even quite describe or understand.

Well, now let me state my concern, and you'll see what I mean by asking this question.

It is my own personal opinion and belief that it is a matter of pride (the sin of pride) for anyone to think so highly of himself that he claims that Satan (a.k.a. Lucifer, The Devil, Beelzibub, etc") is tempting him or struggling against him personally. Now, when I say "The Devil" there, I'm talking about a single individual, a fallen angel named Lucifer, and NOT speaking an a generic sense about "devils" or "demons."

There is a common heresy that is widely accepted in Protestant, Catholic, and (I fear) even Orthodox circles: namely, the heresy is to ascribe some of the same powers to "The Devil" that we ascribe to God. I think most people believe that The Devil is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent just like God. Well, people would only claim that the Devil is Omnipotent in as much as God allows him to be. But in terms of Omniscient (knowing everything) and Omnipresent (being everywhere) most people (and I fear, most Orthodox too) widely ascribe these attributes to the Devil. And this, I believe is heresy.

The Devil is only one single individual, and not Omnioptent like God. He can only be in one place at one time, whereas God can be in all places at all times. Look at the Holy Book of Job and you see that Satan "came from wandering the earth" and presented himself to God and made an accusation against Job.

And Omnisicent? Knowing everything? Again, I believe with my whole heart that it is heretical to believe that the Devil himself can hear and interact with all of your thoughts. I do not believe that the Devil knows everything that is inside your head, but he knows enough to nudge you in what he feels is the right direction. Now, I won't be so strong about Omniscience as I am about Omnipresence, but it occurs to me that the Devil doesn't know everything, and he certainly doesn't understand everything, because if he understood anything at all he would repent and crawl back to God in repentance and be accepted by Him once again as a beloved child.

No, he has his own stubborn ideas about things, and his own stubborn way about what he thinks is right and wrong. I expect he has justified his existence by feeling sorry for God, and by imagining that God has fallen into error, an error that he wishes to correct in his own mischievous ways.

Now back to my main point. I know that many Saints are famous for their struggles against the devil. But I do not take that to mean that the Saints believed that Lucifer himself was appearing to them and arguing with them, or trying to get them to do things, etc. There are plenty of fallen angels in the legions of the Devil's army, there are demons and spiritual forces and powers that we cannot understand or explain. So the devil and his hoard get around and stir up the evils in people's hearts and try to make some ground against perfect Truth of God by distortions and temptations.

This brings me back to my original point: what does it mean when a person is struggling against the devil? Well, I think it means he/she is struggling against the things of the devil.

Why do I even ask?

Well, there is this overly romanticised concept that many people have today, that they are personally struggling against Lucifer himself. They like to imagine themselves wielding the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God) in a battle that is similar to one of the great Star War's Light saber battles. But, personally, I do not thing it is a concept to be encouraged. I think the root of this concept is pride: we think so highly of ourselves that we rate a struggle with the Devil himself, when what actually you are most likely struggling against your own lurid thoughts that you formed of your own accord from the passing inspiration of one of Lucifer's lowest minions that happened to be flying past you several months ago.

If anyone is bragging to me that they are struggling against The Devil I am the first one to point out their pride. (Then of course, a savvy person will always point out to me my own pride at having said such a thing... And indeed, I expect they should!)

So much to say, however, that I find too many people in the Orthodox Church, people who are respected as Elders and Teachers of the Faith (yes, perhaps even clergy) constantly encouraging this romanticised concept of "struggle with the devil." By encouraging someone to "Struggle with the Devil" and not elaborating that this means to struggle to overcome your own passions, your own temptations, your own evil desires, your own arrogant presumption that you are a glorious enough Christian that the Devil himself would attend to tempting you - are we not teaching heresy?

Now, I have been asked to find supporting evidence for my notion in the lives of the Fathers. I do not know if I can, but I suspect there must be saints out there who recognized that they were but worms and that Lucifer himself didn't have time for the likes of them. I also suspect that most of the Saints who struggled actively against the devil, may have actually encountered the real Lucifer once or twice in their lives - but it is sheer presumption on our parts to think that we are arguing with and/or personally battling Lucifer every time we have an evil thought.

The problem is particularly acute with mentally ill people. Many of you, my friends, are aware that I have intimate familiarity with several people who have schizophrenia. Well, it is a common problem among people who suffer from this illness to think that the voices in their head are demons. I do not believe that to be the case. If the voices in their heads where demons, then they would be, technically speaking, demon possessed, and should be given an exorcism. Rather, the voices in their heads are exactly what the doctors are telling them that they are: thoughts and feelings, bits and pieces of things that because of their illnesses make themselves seem real to the person. Indeed, a very acute case of schizophrenia and the person completely loses touch with reality and begins to think that the universe in their heads is the real one rather than the one they can detect with their senses. In fact, it can get even worse, and they can actually sense things with their senses that are not there. I have known many suffering from this illness who have at times hallucinated: visual, tactile, olfactory, and auditory.

These things are hallucinations, and not demons. The mentally ill person may very well have a greater struggle in life with the devil (in the generic sense) because of the harsh difficulty of their lives and their illness, in EXACTLY the same way that a physically ill person has these same struggles and difficulties. But the person suffering from illnesses of the mind is NOT experiencing some sort of interaction with the Devil first hand any more than anybody else: no matter how real to them that it seems they are. Unfortunately, there is the propensity amongst Orthodox Christians suffering from illnesses of the mind to believe so, and even more unfortunately there is propensity among many of the clergy to re-enforce this concept by not being specific with such people about what their struggle with the Devil really entails.

The struggle with the devil is all about those reactionary feelings that we have, or the way that we judge and criticize others, or the lust and greed that we feel in our hearts for some particular object of desire, or for self gratification. That's what the struggle with the Devil is. If you are having arguments with demons in your head, that's all good and well, but you need to recognize that your spiritual struggle is the struggle against pride: against thinking so highly of yourself that Lucifer himself would be interested in you. The Devil (in the generic sense) is winning the struggle if you are distracted from your actual sins and made to believe you are fighting demons on a "much higher level."

Well... I think I've said enough.


No comments: