Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Hell No!

The most well-known retort of the devil to God is the infamous non serviam (I will not serve). Hence it follows that all his fellow hell-dwellers scream (though no one hears) an incessant and eternal NO to God. To be damned is to be suffocated in an everlasting negation, not only of all that is good, but of all that simply is.

I’ve quoted the Christian novelist Charles Williams several times on this blog, because he has some very interesting insights into the supernatural world, both the bright side and the dark side. In War in Heaven, the villains are a few satanists: one a mere dabbler, another an experienced practitioner, and the other a soft-spoken fellow who is completely possessed. We can learn a few things about the nature of the devil from this novel, and hence why we ought to stay as far away from that horror as possible.

First, and this is nothing more than a point of traditional theology, it is asserted that evil is not a “thing” in itself, but an absence of good, as darkness is an absence of light. If evil were something that substantially exists, then we would have to assert that the all-good God created it, for He created all that exists. What of the devil, then? He was created as one of the (or the) most glorious and powerful of the angels. The name “Lucifer” means “light-bearer”. But as the saying goes, the corruption of the best is the worst. When the light-bearer forsook the Light through pride and disobedience, the absence of Light became total, and there was nothing but darkness left. Angels, with their superior intelligence, do not have the ignorance and other limitations humans do, which make us eligible for another chance, through repentance, after we sin. They know what they do, and therefore they are eternally confirmed in their choice for or against God. The fallen angels are not substantial evil, but absence of good to the fullest extent possible in an existing being. This “absence” is not passive or inert, however. It is manifested in every form of malice, blasphemy, and degradation known to man (and then some).

The devil incites moral evil in the hearts of men, but is himself beyond all that. He is even beyond hate, even though it is the air he breathes (into people). The devil simply is utter and total negation, absolute rejection of God, of all that God is and does. Satan tries to negate good with evil, truth with lies, love with hate, and, perhaps most insidiously, reality with illusion (this is the essence of temptation). He is “NO” personified and as such is the adversary of Christ, because “the Son of God, Jesus Christ…was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2Cor. 1:19-20). Christ is wholly Yes; the devil is wholly No. His only objective is to destroy—everything, totally (see John 10:10). And, as one of the satanists in the novel ominously says about his infernal master: “He is the last mystery, and all destruction is his own destroying of himself.” This total negation would not stop even if he could destroy the whole universe. If it were possible, he would ultimately annihilate himself, for he is compelled to utterly reject and negate all that is.

Why does he want to destroy not only what is good but all that simply is? This is the reason: being as such is good in itself, and here lies the intolerable, eternal conflict within the devil himself. The fact that he was created by God indicates the good of being. His insatiable lust for negation must destroy all good, and if the fact of his existence is a good (originally, at least), then he has to destroy himself as well. But he can't, because he was created to be immortal, and this is part of his hell. Goodness and light may be wholly and irrevocably absent from him, but he still exists. Satan is a black hole of evil, sucking itself into itself unto an eternally frustrated act of self-destruction in a maniacal, suicidal cosmic frenzy—and he’d like nothing better than to take you with him.

Why have I been going on about such dark things? Well, think about it. This applies to each of us. Every sin is a No to God. The more you say No to God, the more you are confirmed in rejection of what is holy, good, true, and beautiful. The more you reject God and disobey his commandments, the more you share in the total darkness, the total negation that is the activity of the evil demons. Do you want to share forever in that raging (but impotent) hatred that can never spend or satisfy itself on the object of its hate? Do you want to endure the torment of endless self-destruction that never quite attains annihilation?

There will be no surprises on Judgment Day. That Day simply will reveal what we are, what we have made of ourselves. If our habitual response to God has been No (without final repentance), then we will in the end be consumed with that horrible spirit of negation, and we will flee as far as possible from the Light, from the Love that is all Yes. The only place to go then is hell. Human life is a high-stakes adventure, and it is imperative that we say Yes to all that God is and has given for our salvation. The only thing we should say No to is the “negator” himself, to all the evil he incites in the world, and to all temptations to negate the will of God in our own lives.

Hell? No! I won’t go. I will be a Yes to God in Jesus Christ, through fidelity to his will, "for faith says Yes to every truth of God, seen or unseen" (von Balthasar). In gratitude for the Lord's merciful love, I will serve. How about you?