Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The power of the self-damned to hurt God - the greatest temptation of evil?

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There is a strong tradition in mainstream Christian theology, deriving ultimately from Platonic philosophy, that because of the perfection of God and the absolute happiness of the blessed in Heaven - therefore God and the blessed look upon the existence of Hell and the sufferings of the damned as 'a good thing' - and their joy is not in the slightest degree impaired by the continued existence of unrepentant evil, pain and misery.

I regard this idea as pernicious nonsense - and a gross under-estimation of the temptations of evil - despite that the view is articulated by some of my very favourite, most loved and most revered theological mentors such as CS Lewis and Thomas Traherne.

It is truly monstrous to suppose that Heavenly perfection is unimpaired by the existence of evil, and that indeed Heaven-dwellers contemplate the misery of those who reject God with satisfaction - and the fault lies in giving priority to an abstract, absolutist, 'mathematical' concept of perfection derived from Platonic philosophy and cramming Christianity into this philosophical strait-jacket.

Philosophy really has no place to be thus usurping revealed Christian theology, and philosophy should firmly be shown the door when it leads to such an horrific reductio ad absurdum.

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Another factor leading to this absurd conclusion is that classical theologians want the Satan and the damned to have no power over God - their view of God is so absolute and infinite that it is inconceivable to them that any individual created being could have the power to disturb divine equanimity - and from this they infer that, in effect, God doesn't care about the damned (because if He was to care, then that would impair His perfection).

However, this is precisely to miss the temptation of evil - in which the deepest motivation is precisely to harm God, to cause God pain and sorrow.

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This is a common attitude here on earth: people inflict suffering upon themselves in order to harm other people.

At the most extreme, some suicides are motivated primarily by this form of hatred - a man kills himself in order to try and ruin the life of his girlfriend - "That will show her how much she has hurt me!".

And in general, many a person will 'cut off his nose to spite his face' - or take a 'dog in the manger' attitude.

That is, the dog lies in the manger where he is uncomfortable and cannot eat the hay - but does it because it stops the cows from eating. The dog makes himself miserable from pleasure at contemplating the irritation of the cows.

(Getting pleasure at the anger, distress and hurt of other people is called 'winding people up' in Britain, and is a favourite pastime of teenagers and comedians - and generally approved-of in the mass media, especially when the victims are regarded as undeserving of sympathy). 

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I suspect, indeed, that although this seems like a petty and rather trivial kind of motivation and behaviour, that it may be one of the very gravest of all sins.

Be that as it may - it must be acknowledged that it works. The dog in the manger really is annoying to the cows; and the hatred-motivated suicide really often does cause misery to survivors, perhaps lifelong misery.

And when Satan (brightest of angels) rejected God's gift of happiness and descended into a pit of pride, hatred and eternal suffering - he really did cause God sorrow - and perhaps that sorrow is eternal.

To acknowledge the reality of God's sorrow is the only way we can comprehend God as infinitely loving; and this is much more important for us (as Christians) to understand than the scope of God's power.

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And this power to hurt God is given to even the humbles, weakest and apparently most insignificant of Men - this power which is intoxicating to Pride: the power to use our own, self-inflicted suffering to 'get back' at God, to wound Him, to 'show Him what He has done to me...'.

It is the power of the hate-filled suicide, and it is a real power, and a very real temptation: the temptation to destroy oneself for the pleasure (and it is a real pleasure) of defying and hurting the creator of the universe, our Heavenly Father.

Even such puny creatures as ourselves can do this thing - it is within our ability - and it will give an everlasting satisfaction which (for some people) more than compensates for everlasting misery.

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(This attitude is perfectly explicit in such anti-heroes as Milton's Satan, Mozart/ Da Ponte's Don Giovanni, or the later philosophy of Nietzsche: an exultation in pride accompanied by an open-eyed embracing of the consequent misery: the assertion that it is 'worth it' to live miserably in despite of, in defiance of, God: the arrogance of one who will 'pay the price' to 'be himself' and not what God wants him to be.) 

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Damnation really is a choice, and there really is something to be said for it in terms of this dread-full, pride-full defiance. This is what must be renounced in order to be saved - and it should not be too surprising (even though a matter of endless sorrow) that some Men and Angels do choose evil, with all that entails.

It seems like a terrible bargain in every way - and it is - but sometimes, for some people, pride is stronger that anything else - even at the cost of permanent misery.

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