October 25, 2006

Where Temptations Lie

Posted in culture, mythology, psychology of religion, scripture at 5:54 pm by Jerry

Do you believe in the existence of a Devil?

If you do, then when you read bible passages like when Adam & Eve were in the Garden of Eden or when Jesus’ was tempted in the wilderness, what kind of Devil do you see? Do you see a Devil as an actual spirit that has a life of its own, or do you see a personification of common evils in nature and the human mind? And if you don’t see a literal Devil, then how do you see Jesus? Do you see him as a divine psychotherapist who fought off the same kind of evil in his mind Adam & Eve failed to do for themselves?

The two passages I’ve mentioned above interest me for many reasons. I’d like to highlight a particular commonality between them:

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” Genesis 3 (NASB)

13And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him. Mark 1 (NASB)

I find it interesting that animals or “beasts” are mentioned in the context of temptation. It reminds me of animism. Animism is supposedly to have first been a morally neutral attribution of “spirits” to all of nature’s forms. Eventually, some spirits were given negative attributes, and others, positive. Have you seen in many of the paintings of spirits, demons, and angels, that they all have animal parts? What am I getting at? Well, all this makes we wonder what ideas, exactly, do these pictorial metaphors involve? Animals are known for their instinctive natures. So much so, they seem to be “wild” or out-of-control.

Turning back to the Garden of Eden – how should we interpret the two evils (bad tree & snake) in this paradise? Are they external or internal? If external, other than being an actual tree that passes on knowledge through the consumption of fruit, what else could it be? Does it represent a book God wrote and just happened to drop into the middle of humanity’s home? Or does the tree represent knowledge already within humanity, lying dormant? But if the tree is a metaphor of the evil within us, then why would God create us with dormant evil in us? And why would God bring attention to it by warning us not to take from it? Is this some kind of divine set-up for disaster?

Turning back to Jesus in the wilderness – I use to understand Jesus’ “temptation” as a testing, you know, to see if there was anything in him that was attracted to evil. My reason was, “It’s to show Jesus for who he really is.” But that’s assuming demons are external enemies of the spirit. The alternative would be that Jesus’ temptation was within him. And if this alternative is true, then both passages I’ve referred to demonstrate an interesting psychological drama: both portray a volitional destructiveness (personified as Satan or other demons) within us, already tainted, directing us to a greater destruction of ourselves.

Are these biblical passages unhealthy to learn from? Is this use of metaphor a bane to the health of one’s mind? Or has it been a boon, providing an external vision of the abstract struggle within? If the demonic is fiction, does it have to be understood as a lie? Could it be a mythological mirror laid out for us to use in our battle against internal evils?

Adam and Eve, mere children, were made aware of the existence of evil by being told not to make themselves self-aware of evil. Still, they became self-aware of evil, and they couldn’t overcome it. And Jesus, a divine adult, struggled to face evil crafted specifically for him, including being murdered on a cross (another form of the tree of knowledge of good and evil). Are these passages a portrayal of humanity’s moral struggle to face the evils we should overcome and accept evils that will eventually overcome us? I’m curious.

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