Wednesday, August 27, 2008
The Prince of Darkness Exposed
Since the beginning of time, mankind has grappled universally with theodicy, the question of why bad things happen to good people. To solve this dilemma, the philosophers of idolatry reasoned that there must be two gods, a good god and an evil god. This dualism held that the good god was the god of light, life and kindness and was thwarted by the evil god who ruled death and darkness. This dualism, evident in the Persian Zoroastrian faith, held that the god of good was locked in a cosmic struggle against his evil adversary. When Christianity spread and many pagans came into the faith, aspects of this dualism was absorbed. Christianity holds that G-d created mankind sinful and weak, in an evil world so corrupt and full of sin that man cannot be good in G-d's sight on his own. Man is not free to choose good over evil but rather needs the sacrifice of Jesus to atone for him. This doctrine holds that G-d is the author of righteousness and perfection and never created evil. Evil is the domain of Satan, who was created by G-d as a good angel yet rebelled against Him and fights Him constantly. Satan is the embodiment of evil, the Adversary and Prince of Darkness who rules the Underworld and the souls of those who do not gain salvation.
Such a theology is completely absent in Judaism. According to the Torah, a man cannot gain salvation through the sacrifice of another but rather through choosing virtue over vice, good over evil. Deuteronomy 30:15 states, "See, I [God] have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil." G-d created free will that man should be able to choose good over evil. G-d bids us to choose life, yet gave us the ability to sin and to do wrong. It is in this context that G-d created the evil inclination, or the yezter harah. Also known as HaSatan (Satan), the yetzer was created by G-d to tempt us and distract us from His service. Satan was created by G-d to serve a specific purpose, of leading people astray that they should overcome it and come closer to G-d, and is His loyal servant. Satan has no power independent of G-d and does not contradict or fight against Him.
In Isaiah 45:7, the prophet describes God's creation plan when he reports that,
I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I the Lord do all these things.
Good and evil, harsh and cruel are in the hands of G-d and G-d alone. The translators of the Christian New International Version (NIV) Bible recognized that this verse is contradictory to the Church's teachings and translated the Hebrew word 'rah' (evil) as disaster. This is meant to make the point less easily understood. It is not just hurricanes or disease that G-d creates, but sin and immorality were created by Him so that we should reject them and gain salvation. Satan can be compared to a court prosecutor. He has an unpleasant job but rather than being wicked himself, he wants the good of the court system.
Satan is one of many malachim mentionned in the Bible. The Hebrew word for angel, malach, means messenger, and that is precisely what Satan is. Never once in the entire Torah is there an example of an angel rebelling against G-d or refusing to carry out His commands, especially not Satan. That Satan is not an enemy of G-d is shown many times over in the Torah. When the snake (representing mankind's evil inclination) was punished by G-d, never once did it object to its sentence. Nowhere is this more evident than in the book of Job. In the first chapter of Job, Satan appears with other angels before God and argues that Job's righteousness would quickly disappear upon torment and loss. Satan then requests from God the chance to test Job's virtue. The Almighty grants this request, but He meticulously outlines for Satan what he may and may not do when putting Job to the test. Satan obediently follows G-d's commands. Job is immediately put to the test and, by the third chapter, begins to struggle. He questions his Maker as to why he was created and, in a moment of despair, wishes aloud that he had perished in his mother's womb. Still, by the end of this unparalleled biblical narrative, Job's virtue prevails over Satan's unyielding torment. Satan had to be given G-d's permission before beginning his persecution of Job.
To state that there exists some sort of Adversary, a god of evil, independent of HaShem is to flirt with idolatry and pagan ideas. There is no power besides G-d. This argument cuts to the heart of Christianity. Mankind need not be condemned to sin and punishment. Rather, G-d gave us the ability for personal triumph over evil. By keeping the Torah, man receives salvation from G-d. As our great sage Maimonides taught: "One should see the world, and see himself as a scale with an equal balance of good and evil. When he does one good deed the scale is tipped to the good - he and the world is saved. When he does one evil deed the scale is tipped to the bad - he and the world is destroyed." A person cannot rely on the sacrifice of others as it has no effect on his atonement. Only by rejecting evil in favour of G-d's path can a person achieve righteousness. Choose life.