התקדמותו של צליין or reflections on a pilgrimage 1
Jerusalem is a home to Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other religions. The “Holy City” has been an incubator of religious thought and practice for thousands of years. Along with this title comes a less attractive designation: Similar to Newton’s Third Law, Evil is generally most active in the wake of Holiness. So just as Jerusalem may be a home of the holy, so may it be said to be a bed of evil. Odd perspective?
I place Calvin Miller in a high place among writers. In his book, the Singer Trilogy, he tells the story of the Bible in poetic fashion, and when he comes to the crucifixion in Jerusalem, he depicts Satan dancing and rejoicing at the agony of Christ, the Singer:
You give me joy and music you will never hear, Singer. Groan for me. Scream the fire that fills your soul. Spew the venom of your grudge upon the city. Never have I known the triumph of my hate until now.
He suggests that as we walked the Via Dolorosa and considered Christ’s walk along the same steps, Satan too walked the path, laughing and jeering with the crowds. Where we saw the flagstones that caught the blood of Christ as He stood before Pilate, we may have been standing in the same corner that Satan occupied as he coached the priests who accused Him.
Mr. Miller seems to understand the spiritual battle that was undoubtedly happening, and he would likely recognize the battles that happened in other places we visited in the last weeks.
I think Satan may have perceived a similar “victory” when Moses stood on the Mountain overlooking the Jordan and Jericho and heard that he would not enter. (Deut. 32:49) Again, after Jericho, when God decided not to drive out the people before Israel because of their disobedience. (Judges 2) Again, when Israel rejected God’s judges over them and asked for Saul to be King, Satan likely claimed victory as Bin Laden did in 2001. (1 Sam. 8:19)
I walked through Nazareth, where the Deceiver may have tried to persuade Joseph to dismiss Mary. I stood on a precipice near Nazareth, where the crowds were prompted by the devil to throw Jesus off, but He walked calmly away. (Luke 4:28) I sat on the hillside where Christ fed the multitudes, and where the apostles surely wondered who He really was.
Evil exists, and it has certainly been present in the Holy Land through the ages, but we still call it the Holy Land, as opposed to the opposite. I suppose that’s because the Holy side has been more successful, given Christ’s resurrection. Sometimes the evil is hard to distinguish from the good, though.
Today, if someone gave a command to “kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” of a town, the leader giving the command as well as any who obeyed the command would be condemned as evil. Killing even the infants? Pure evil. But these were our God’s words in 1 Samuel 15.
Our God gives similar commands in Deuteronomy chapters 7 and 20. In the cities of the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, “you shall save alive nothing that breathes.” Deut. 20:16. Well this is frustrating now. Are we, even as Christians, willing to define a singular action as good if it comes from God, but evil if the source is anything else? If God kills children – in Sodom, let’s say, with fire and brimstone – we are to accept this as right, but if anyone else does likewise – evil.
Let’s lower the bar a little though, so as not to be so Old Testament dramatic. Take the Pool of Bethesda. I stood there just recently and pondered this. When Jesus approached the pool it was occupied by a “multitude of invalids.” Jesus found one of them who had been afflicted 38 years, and blessed him with healing.
According to John 5:13, the place was so crowded that Jesus left the place without being noticed. So what does my human sense of justice and right and wrong and good and evil do with these facts? Are we to help only those we desire to help and ignore the rest? Speaking of this, just before Jesus walked away from the men who would have thrown Him off the mountain as mentioned above, He pointed out that Elijah was sent to help one individual widow in one particular town during a famine that swept Israel for three years. (Luke 4:25) That story is what enraged the people to take Christ to the precipice. Because they considered such arbitrary discrimination in salvation to be borderline evil, if not actual evil. But it was God. . .
The same God that let my dad die, and let others live. The same God that allows some children to be molested while others live happy lives. The same God that bargained with Satan regarding the circumstances of Job of Uz, and specifically allowed Satan to kill Job’s innocent children. Was their death painful? Did they suffer? Does it matter?
So how then do we define “evil?” I would like to say “I know it when I see it,” like Justice Stewart did when he was defining obscenity in 1964 for the U.S. Supreme Court, but I’m afraid I cannot make such a bold claim. Honestly, I come closer to the sentiment of Roger Waters of Pink Floyd:
So, so you think you can tell Heaven from hell Blue skies from pain Can you tell a green field From a cold steel rail? A smile from a veil? Do you think you can tell?
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Is. 55:8-9
Theodicy is difficult. I don’t understand why God permits evil, and often, absent His direct revelation on point, I can’t tell God’s work from the Devil’s. I wish I could claim otherwise. But I believe He is the Creator. I accept Him as my Father. And I trust His actions to be good – as He defines that word, and regardless of how I define that word. However senseless that seems. All my blog entries before this one are the premises for this conclusion.