“[Hitler] is a man who is obviously possessed, and has infected a whole nation…a god has taken possession of the Germans.” -Carl Jung
One of our mentors in college was a missionary family from Africa, and sometimes they would tell us stories about the different things that they had experienced while serving there.
Like this one time that they had gone to a village where the witch doctor was the most influential person there. My missionary friends basically told them that Jesus was more powerful than any “magic” the witch doctor could conjure up…because they were from the Western, modern world, and they knew that the witch doctor really had no magic at all.
But they were wrong.
At one point during this village, the witch doctor set down with our missionary friends and said, “See that chicken over there? Watch this.”
And then he pointed at the chicken several feet away.
And the chicken died.
The Mystery of Evil
One of the more interesting things about Western Christianity is that we don’t really talk about the world the way the Bible does. In the Bible, the world seems to be enchanted. Anything is possible, because it is God’s world and He’s still involved in it.
But the way we talk seems to reflect this idea that, sure God made the universe, but He’s not really present in it.
It is in a word, Deism.
And I get why we talk like this. We like the idea of control and certainty that comes from understanding the natural laws of the universe and how they will respond to us. It’s a good thing to know that gravity is what makes us fall and how to leverage the ways thing work to our advantage. But there is a danger to this certain approach to the world. We just might think that we know very, very much more than we actually do (because after all 96% of the universe is mystery).
And it also fails to fully explain the evil in the world. We can fool ourselves into thinking that if we just get enough medicine and education or the right laws in place (all of which are good, but insufficient, things) we can fix the problems of the human condition.
But the ancient world knew evil was a problem that ran deeper than that.
And deep down, so do we.
And sometimes we see evil that is so raw that we have to reach for words like Satanic or demonic. This is why Carl Jung, a secular psychologist, when he was trying to describe the evil he saw in Nazi Germany, reached for words like “Possessed” and “a god has taken over.”
Sure we live in a world of iPods and Xboxes, and in the words of Walter Wink, believing in “Principalities and Powers is as to believe in Dragons or a Flat World.”
But the stories that we have told ourselves to explain the world aren’t big enough to explain all the bad things that happen in it.
We think that we have everything figured out, and then a guy points at a chicken and kills it.
God at War
Is it possible that these Principalities and Powers are still around…we’ve just given them new names? Like Greed or addiction or self-desctrutive behavior?
For the longest time, Christians have talked about “Spiritual Warfare” and I get why we’re hesitant to talk too much about that anymore. You have one Crusade and suddenly a war metaphor is pretty delicate.
But just because we’ve misapplied the metaphor doesn’t change the story of Scriptures.
It seems like God is in a kind of cosmological battle between the forces that oppose His good creation project. God is at war.
This is at the heart of the way Jesus seemed to work in the Gospel’s. He went face to face with evil personified. Who the Bible called Satan and who we’ve been battling ever since. This is the story that the Bible is trying to tell about evil.
And if the people of God are unable to talk about it, than the rocks will cry out, or maybe the rock stars.
This is how Alice Cooper talks about it:
I was pretty much convinced all my life that there was just one God, and…You couldn’t believe in God without believing in the devil.The devil… is a real character that’s trying his hardest to tear your life apart. If you believe that this is just mythology, you’re a prime target, because you know that’s exactly what Satan wants: to be a myth. But he’s not a myth, of this I’m totally convinced of that. So here we are. We have God pulling us one way and the devil pulling us another, and we’re in the middle. We have to make a choice. And everyone, at some point in their life, has to make that choice. When people say, “How do you believe this? Why do you believe this? I just say nothing else speaks to my heart. This doesn’t speak to my intellect, it doesn’t speak to my logic-it speaks right to my heart and right to my soul, deeper than anything I’ve ever thought of. And I totally believe it.
There is evil in the world and pulsing in each one of us. And until we name the real war we will continue to think that evil is a war that is out there…in some Axis of Evil..or Syria…or Russia. Because in the words of Pope Francis, “The only war that we must all fight is the one against evil.”
And he’s right.
Just ask Alice Cooper. Or that chicken.