Friday, February 27, 2009

Fixing the Fallen Angel?

For the 1st Sunday of Lent, the gospel of Mark (1:12-13) states: “At once the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”

Who or what is Satan? A fallen angel and the foe of God and humankind, God’s image on earth?

An Ilocano proverb goes: "Uray sa dino ñga disso ayan ti diablo" (The devil is everywhere). Does this relate with the teaching that, everywhere in the world, the Spirit of God is present? Is not the Creator Spirit always greater than the devil?

Perhaps the proverb would become more relevant if it were linked to the proposal of Tony Perez in his book, Pagsubok sa Ilang: Ikaapat na Mukha ni Satanas (Testing in the Desert: The Fourth Face of Satan), which won the 2005 National Book Award for Theology and Religion. Perez believes that it is meaningful in our times to describe the devil as the Shadow of every person and every society. Thus, one can say, in every place humanity lives and moves, the Shadow is present.

According to the 20th century depth psychologist, Carl Jung, the Shadow contains the repressed and hidden aspects of the personality, and it is potentially destructive when the tendencies that form it are not acknowledged, attended to, or given adequate expression. The psychologically healthy or mature person recognizes his or her Shadow. The immature person buries the Shadow deep within the unconscious or projects it onto another especially an individual or a group whom one loves to demonize or to consider evil, obnoxious, or annoying. One can be projecting his or her Shadow onto Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the pro-reproductive health legislators, the United States government, or the Muslims.

The work of Perez on Satan as Shadow has brought back a memory of a humorous incident. In 1980, I was studying philosophy at the Ecclesiastical Faculties of the University of Santo Tomas, and I witnessed a debate between a philosophy student and a theology student over the teaching of Jesus: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44).

The philosophy student asserted, “Is not Satan our enemy who persecutes humankind? Thus we should love Satan and pray for him.” The theology student was horrified at the unexpected twist of the argument, and he insisted that Satan is too obnoxious to be loved. The debate ended with no clear resolution, and I thought the incident would be buried in oblivion.

After I have guided Tony Perez in his research, I can say that Satan as Shadow may be loved, valued, or accepted, but not worshiped. Following Jungian thinking, Perez recommends: seek the Shadow in you. Recognize and understand the Shadow; do not neglect or hate it, even though you cannot escape the pain and fear in seeking, confronting, and interacting with it especially in times of crisis.

If we acknowledge Satan as Shadow, what will happen to the image of Satan as the powerful head of the fallen angels who hate God and human beings, who on earth reflect the radiant face of God? How important to Christian faith is the belief that Satan is a fallen angel?

There is no story in the Old Testament about the “fall” of Satan or his banishment from heaven. As for the New Testament, there is a short letter in which one reads: “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to Tartarus, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).

According to some biblical experts, the sin in question was the intercourse of the “sons of God with the daughters of men” in Genesis 6:1-4. Other experts say that the “sons of God” in this story were not angels but powerful men who had sexual relations with any of the women they chose even if the women themselves did not want it, and thus God became sad or mad.

There is no clear description in the Bible about the nature of angels. Do they have bodies? Do they have sex or gender? Can they change their minds? Can they die or be annihilated?

Great teachers of the Church like Sts. John of Damascus (8th century) and Thomas Aquinas (13th century) have asserted that angels cannot change their minds. This is the case with pure spirits, based on some Greek philosophical notions appropriated by ancient Christian teachers. In their view, if upon creation some angels have decided to turn their backs on God, they cannot repent afterwards. This is what happened to the fallen angels, and thus, even though Satan cannot defeat God, he will always hate and oppose the true sons and daughters of God on earth.

How important for Christian faith is the belief that the fallen angels cannot inwardly and truly return to God? Behind such belief is a serious teaching: a human being who dies with sin ruling over his or her heart (or dies in mortal sin) cannot return to God. In other words, anybody who leaves this world with his back turned away from God can nevermore turn toward God. This is what is called hell, a symbol of the ultimate punishment without end.

Hell has no end. No second chance is possible for anybody who dies under the rule of sin. No repentance or conversion can happen with the fallen angels. These beliefs are interlocked and, for some teachers, are necessary in order to affirm the justice of God and the fear of God. Murderers, rapists, adulterers, perjurers, thieves, corrupt officials, and oppressors will multiply when the fear of God diminishes further. The victims of wrongdoing will also increase in number.

What is more effective against the wrongdoer or the person attracted to wrongdoing: fear of the punishment of God in the next life, fear of God’s punishment in this life, or fear of punishment from upright persons?

There are Christians who cannot agree with the teaching on the possibility of eternal damnation. I remember the late Sr. Christine Tan, RGS, who declared in a television interview with Boy Abunda that she did not believe in hell as an eternal state. Some Christians cannot stomach the idea of hell. They cannot accept that the Creator can endure a state of unending punishment for creatures who are no longer allowed to repent of their sins. They cannot believe that, when God’s inner radiance will be fully visible at the end of time, everything will be transformed except for hell.

In the complex discussion about hell and the fallen angels, what is the meaning of the face of Satan as Shadow? If we accept that it is beneficial and proper for the Ego to reconcile with the Shadow, perhaps we shall be happy to discover that, in the history of Christianity, some holy persons have dared to pray for demons for the sake of the great reconciliation of the Creator with the whole of creation. According to Raimon Panikkar, a Roman Catholic priest and an interreligious expert, the heart of the contemplative or mystic burns “for every creature, for people, birds, animals, demons, and everything and everybody in creation.” In this season of Lent, perhaps we can ask ourselves: Do we want, or are we afraid, to have such a heart?

No comments:

Post a Comment