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Letters on Spiritual Christianity——SATAN AND EVOLUTION

With Christ My Savior

Letters on Spiritual Christianity——SATAN AND EVOLUTION

My dear ——,

Your grounds of objection appear to be now changed. You say you do not understand my position with regard to Evolution, as I described it before, and referred to it in my last letter. If I admit Evolution, you ask how I can consistently deny that every nation and every individual, Israel and Christ included, “proceeded from material causes by necessary sequence according to fixed laws;” and in that case what becomes of such metaphors as “the regulating hand of God,” “God the Ruler of the Universe” and the like? It is a common saying, you tell me, among those of your companions who have a turn for science, that “Evolution has disposed of the old proofs of the existence of a God:” and you ask me how I meet this objection.

I meet it by asking you another question exactly like your own. I take a lump of clay and a potter’s wheel, and “from these material causes by necessary sequence according to fixed laws” I mould a vessel; is there no room in this process for “the regulating hand of man” and for “man the creator of the vessel”? In other words, may not these “fixed laws,” and that “necessity” of which you admit the existence, represent the perpetual pressure of the Creator’s hand, or will, upon the Universe?

By Evolution is meant that all results are evolved from immediate causes, which are evolved from distant causes, which are themselves evolved from more distant causes; and so on. In old times, men believed that God made the world by a number of isolated acts. Now, it is believed that He made a primordial something, say atoms, out of which there have been shaped series upon series of results by continuous motion in accordance with fixed laws of nature. But neither the isolated theory nor the continuous theory can dispense with a Creator in the centre. We speak of the “chain of creation;” and we know that in old days men recognized few links between us and the Creator. Now, we recognize many. But, because a chain has more links than we once supposed, are we excused for rejecting our old belief in the existence of a chain-maker? Whether things came to be as they are, by many creations, or by one creation and many evolutions, what difference does it make? In the one case, we believe in a Creator and Sustainer: in the other case, in a Creator and Evolver. In either case, do we not believe in a God?

What then do your young friends mean—for though they express themselves loosely, I think they do mean something and are not merely repeating a cant phrase—when they say that Evolution has “disposed of the old proofs of the existence of a God”? I think they mean that Evolution is inconsistent with the existence of such a God as the Christian religion proclaims, that is to say, a Father in heaven. The old theory of discontinuous creation (in its most exaggerated form) maintained that everything was created for a certain benevolent purpose—our hair to shelter our heads from the weather, our eyebrows and eyelashes to keep off the dust and the sun, our thumbs to give us that prehensile power which largely differentiates us from apes; in a word, paternal despotism was supposed to do everything for us with the best of intentions. The new theory says there is no sufficient evidence of such paternal benevolence. Our hair and our eyebrows and eyelashes and thumbs came to us in quite a different fashion. Life, ever since life existed, has been one vast scramble and conflict for the good things of this world: those beings that were best fitted for scrambling and fighting destroyed those that were unfit, and thus propagated the peculiarities of the conquerors and destroyed the peculiarities of the conquered. Thus the characteristics of body or brain best fitted for the purpose of life were developed, and the unfit were destroyed. Although therefore a purpose was achieved, it was not achieved as a purpose, but as a consequence. There is no room, say the supporters of Evolution, in such a theory as this for the hypothesis of an Almighty Father of mankind, or even of a very intelligent Maker. What should we think of a British workman who, in order to make one good brick, made a hundred bad ones, or of a cattle-breeder whose plan was to breed a thousand inferior beasts on inadequate pasture, in order ultimately to produce, out of their struggles for food, and as a result of the elimination of the unfittest, one pre-eminent pair?

When he expresses himself in this way, my sympathies go very far with the man of science, if only he could remember that he is protesting, not against Christ’s teaching about God, but against some other quite different theory. Though God is called “Almighty” in the New Testament, we must remember that it is always assumed that there is an opposing Evil, an Adversary or Satan, who will ultimately be subdued but is meantime working against the will of God. The origin of this Evil the followers of Christ do not profess to understand but we believe that it was not originated by God and that it is not obedient to Him. We cannot therefore, strictly speaking, say that God is the Almighty ruler of “the Universe as it is.” God is King de jure, but not at present de facto (metaphors again! but metaphors expressive of distinct realities). His kingdom is “to come:” He will be hereafter recognized as Almighty; He cannot be so recognized at present.

I know very well that I can give no logical or consistent account of this mysterious resistance to the Supreme God. But I am led to recognize it, first, by the facts of the visible world; secondly, by the plain teaching of Christ Himself. Surely the authority of Christ must count for something with Christians in their theorizing about the origin of evil. Would not even an agnostic admit that as, in poetry, I should be right in following the lead of a poet, so in matters of spiritual belief (if I am to have any spiritual belief at all) I am right in deferring to Christ? It is a marvel to me how some Christians who find the recognition of miracles inextricably involved in the life and even in the teaching of Christ, nevertheless fail to see, or at all events are most unwilling to confess, that the recognition of an evil one, or Satan, is an axiom that underlies all His doctrine. In the view of Jesus, it is Satan that causes some forms of disease and insanity; Satan is the author of temptation, the destroyer of the good seed, the sower of tares, the “evil one”—so at least the text of the Revisers tells us—from whom we must daily pray to be delivered. The same belief pervades the writings of St. Paul. Yet if you preach nowadays this plain teaching of our Lord, the heterodox shrug their shoulders and cry “Antediluvian!” while the orthodox think to dispose of the whole matter in a phrase, “Flat Manichæism!” But to the heterodox I might reply that Stuart Mill (no very antiquated or credulous philosopher) deliberately stated that it was more easy to believe in the existence of an Evil as well as a Good, than in the existence of one good and all-powerful God; and the orthodox must, upon reflection, admit that in this doctrine about Satan Christ’s own teaching is faithfully followed.

Of course if any one replies, “Christ was under an illusion in believing in the existence of Satan,” I have no means of logically confuting him. But I think there must be many who would say, with me: “If I am to have any theory in matters of this kind which are entirely beyond the sphere of demonstration, I would sooner accept the testimony of Christ than the speculations of all the philosophers that ever were or are. Christ was possibly, or even probably, ignorant (in His humanity) of a great mass of literary, historical, physiological, and other scientific facts unknown to the rest of the Jews. But we cannot suppose Him to be spiritually ignorant; least of all, so spiritually ignorant as to attribute to the Adversary what ought to have been attributed to God the Father in Heaven.”

It would be easy for you to shew that any theory of Satan is absurdly illogical; nobody can be convinced of that more firmly than I am already. Whether Satan was good at first and became evil without a cause; or was good at first and became evil from a certain cause (which presupposes another pre-existing Satan); or was evil from the beginning and created by God; or evil from the beginning and not created by God—in all or any of these hypotheses I see, as clearly as you see, insuperable difficulties. If you cross-examine me, I shall avow at once a logical collapse, after this fashion: “Were there then two First Causes?” I believe not. “Did the Evil spring up after the Good?” I believe so. “Did the first Good create the Evil?”[5] I believe not. “Did the Evil then spring 85up without a cause?” I cannot tell. “Did the Good, when He created the Goodness that issued in Evil, know that he, or it, contained the germ of evil, and would soon become wholly evil?” I do not believe this. “Whence then came the Evil, or the germ of the Evil?” I do not know. “Are you not then confessing that you believe, where you know nothing?” Yes, for if I knew, there would be no need to believe.

Here you have a sufficiently amusing exhibition of inconsistency and ignorance; but this seems to me of infinitely little concern where I am dealing not with matters that fall within the range of experience, but with spiritual and supernatural things that belong to the realm of faith, hope, and aspiration. I could just as easily turn inside out my cross examiner if he undertook to give me a scientific theory on the origin of the world. No doubt he might prefer having no theory about the origin of the world, and might recommend me to imitate him by having no theory about the origin of Evil, or about the nature of the Supreme Good. But my answer would be as follows: “I have a certain work to do in the world, and I cannot go on with my work without having some theories on these subjects. Most men feel with me that they must have some answer to these stupendous problems of existence. As the senses are intended to be our guide in matters of experience, so our faculty of faith seems to me intended to guide us in matters quite beyond experience.” There is another answer which I hardly like to give because it seems brutal; but I believe it to be true, and it is certainly capable of being expressed in the evolutionary dialect so as to commend itself to the scientific mind: “An agnostic nation will find itself sooner or later unsuited for its environment, and will either come to believe in some solution of these spiritual problems or stagnate and perish. And something 86of the same result will follow from agnosticism in the family and in the individual.”

From this doctrine of Christ then I am not to be dislodged by any philosophic analysis demonstrating that good and evil so run into one another that it is impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. “Is all pain evil? Is it an evil that a sword’s point pains you? Would it not be a greater evil that a sword should run you through unawares because it did not pain you? Is not the pain of hunger a useful monitor? Has not pain in a thousand cases its use as a preservative? Is not what you call ‘sin’ very often misplaced energy? If a child is restless and talkative and consequently disobedient, must you consequently bring in Satan to account for the little one’s peccadilloes? If a young man is over-sanguine, reckless, rash, occasionally intemperate, must all these faults be laid upon the back of an enemy of mankind? Is animal death from Satan, but vegetable death from God? And is the death of a sponge a half and half contribution from the joint Powers? And when I swallow an oyster, may I give thanks to God? but when a tiger devours a deer, or an eagle tears a hare, or a thrush swallows a worm, are they doing the work of the Adversary? Where are you to begin to trace this permeating Satanic agency? Go back to the primordial atom. Are we to say that the Devil impelled it in the selfish tangential straight line, and that God attracts it with an unselfish centripetal force, and that the result is the harmonious curve of actuality? If you give yourself up to such a degrading dualism as this, will you not be more often fearing Satan than loving God? Will you not be attributing to Satan one moment, what the next moment will compel you to attribute to God? Where will you draw the line?” To all this my answer is very simple: “I shall draw the line where the spiritual instinct within me draws it. Whatever I am 87forced to pronounce contrary to God’s intention I shall call evil and attribute to Satan.” Herein I may go wrong in details, and I may have to correct my judgments as I grow in knowledge; but I am confident that, on the whole, I shall be following the teaching of Christ. My spiritual convictions accord with the teaching of that ancient allegory in the book of Genesis, which tells us that Satan, not God, brought sin and death into the world. There was a Fall somewhere, in heaven perhaps as well as on earth—“war in heaven” of the Evil against the Good—a declension from the divine ideal, a lapse by which the whole Universe became imperfect. It has been the work of God, not to create death, but upon the basis of death to erect a hope and faith in a higher life; not to create sin, but out of sin, repentance, and forgiveness, to elicit a higher righteousness than would have been possible (so we speak) if sin had never existed. Similarly of disease, and pain, and the conflict in the animal world for life and death: good has resulted from them; yet I cannot think of them, I cannot even think of change and decay, as being, so to speak, “parts of God’s first intention.” Stoics, and Christians who imitate Stoics, may call these things “indifferent:” I cannot. And even if I could, what of the ferocity, and cruelty, and exultation in destruction, which are apparent in the animal world? “Death,” say the Stoics, “is the mere exit from life.” Is it? I was once present at a theatre in Rouen where the hero took a full quarter of an hour to die of poison, and the young Normans who sat round me expressed their strenuous disapprobation: “C’est trop long,” they murmured. I have made the same remonstrance in my heart of hearts, ever since I was a boy and saw a cat play with a mouse, and a patient stoat hunt down and catch at last a tired-out rabbit: “It is too long,” “It is too cruel.” “Did God ordain this?”—I asked: and I answered unhesitatingly 88“No.” These are but small phenomena in Nature’s chamber of horrors: but for me they have always been, and will always remain, horrible. I believe that God intends us to regard them with horror and perhaps to see in them some faint reflection of the wantonly destructive and torturing instinct in man.

Those are fine-sounding lines, those of Cleanthes:—

οἰδέ τι γίγνεται ἔργον ἐπὶ χθονὶ σου δίχα, δαῖμον,
πλὴν ὅποσα ῥέζουσι κακοὶ σφετέρῃσιν ἀνοίαις.[6]
I should like to agree with them; but I cannot. The picture of the cat and the mouse appears—fertile in suggestions. “This at least,” I say, “was not wrought by ‘evil men in their folly;’ and yet it did not come direct from God.” Isaiah pleases me better with his prediction, physiologically absurd, but spiritually most true: “The lion shall eat straw like a bullock.” That is just the confession that I need: it comes to me with all the force of a divine acknowledgment, as if God thereby said: “Death and conflict must be for a time, but they shall not be for ever: it was not my intention, it is not my will, that my creatures should thrive by destroying each other.”

Applying this theory to Evolution, I believe that Satan, not God, was the author of the wasteful and continuous conflict that has characterized it; but that God has utilized this conflict for the purposes of development and progress. This is what I had in my mind when I said that Evolution diminished the difficulties in the way of acknowledging the existence of a God. The problems of death, destruction, waste, conflict and sin, are not new; they are as old as Job, perhaps as old as the first-created man; but it is new to learn that good has resulted from those evils. In so far as Evolution has taught this, it has helped to strengthen, not to weaken, our faith. But then, if we are to use this language, we must learn to think, not of “Evolution by itself,” but of “Evolution with Satan.” “Evolution without Satan” would appal us by the seeming wastefulness and ubiquity of conflict and the indirectness of its benefits; but “Evolution with Satan” enables us to realize God as our refuge and strength amid the utmost storms and tempests of destruction.

If any one says that the belief in Satan is inexpedient, I am ready to give him a patient hearing; but I find it difficult to listen patiently to what people are pleased to call arguments against it. For example, “Duty can exist only in a world of conflict;” to which the reply is obvious, “But God might have made men for love and harmonious obedience, and not for duty and conflict.” This, of course, is a very presumptuous statement, such as Bishop Butler would have condemned; but it is a fitting reply to a still more presumptuous implied statement. God has revealed Himself as Righteousness and Goodness without internal conflict; He has also revealed His purpose to conform us to Himself; and the Bible speaks of Him as being opposed by an Adversary who caused men for a time to differ from the divine image; is it not then a very presumptuous thing to imply that “God could not have created men but for conflict and duty,” or, in other words, “God could not have made us better than we are, even had there been no Adversary opposing His will?” Again, we hear it said that, “An evil Spirit contending against a good Spirit must needs have produced two distinct worlds, and not the one progressive world of which we have experience:” to which the answer is equally obvious, “The orbit of every planet, or the path of any projectile, shows that two different forces may result in one continuous curve.”

The only consistent and systematic way of rejecting a belief in the existence of Satan is to reject the belief in the existence of sin. Then you can argue thus, “The notion of a Satan arises from the false and sharp antagonism which our human imaginations set up between ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ whereas what we call ‘evil’ is really nothing but an excess of tendencies good in themselves and only evil when carried to excess. The difference therefore between good and evil is only a question of degree.” That theory sounds plausible; but it ignores the essence of sin, which consists in a rebellion against Conscience. It is not excess, or defect, the more, or the less; it is the moral disorder, the subversion of human nature, which is so frightful to contemplate that we cannot believe it to have proceeded from God. But perhaps you reply, “That very disorder is merely the result of energy out of place or in excess.” Well, in the same way, when gas is escaping in a room in which there is a lighted candle, there is first a quiet and inoffensive escape of the gas, and secondly a violent and perhaps calamitous explosion; and you might argue similarly, “The difference was only one of degree; the explosion was merely the result of a useful element out of place and in excess.” But I should answer that no sober and sensible householder would justify himself in this way for allowing a lighted candle and escaping gas to come together; and so I cannot believe that God is willing that men should justify Him for tolerating theft, murder, and adultery, on the ground that these things are “only questions of degree.” I think we please Him better, and draw closer to Him, when we say, “An Enemy hath done this.” And besides, for our own sakes, if we are to resist sin with our utmost force, it seems to me we are far more likely to do so when we regard it as Christ and St. Paul regarded it than when we give it the name of “misplaced energy,” or “an 91excessive use of faculties, in themselves, good and necessary.”

To me it seems that if we are to have a genuine trust in God, it is almost necessary that we should believe in the existence of a Satan. I say “almost,” because there may be rare exceptions. A few pure saintly souls, of inextinguishable trust, may perhaps be able to face the awful phenomena of Evil and to say, “Though He hath done all this yet will we trust in Him; what may have moved Him to cause His creatures to struggle together, and to thrive, each on the destruction of its neighbour, we know not, and we are not careful to know; our hearts teach us that He is above us in goodness, and in wisdom, as in power; we know that we must trust Him; more than this we do not wish to know.” Such men are to be admired—but to be admired by most of us at a great distance. For the masses of men, and especially for those who know something of the depth of sin, it must be a great and almost a necessary help to say, “The Good that is done upon Earth, God doeth it Himself; the evil that is upon earth God doeth it not: an Enemy hath done this.”

One evil resulting from the rejection of Christ’s doctrine is that we consequently fail to understand much of His life and sufferings. If Christ was really manifested that He might destroy the works of the Devil, then much is clear that is otherwise incomprehensible. There was then no delusion nor insincerity in the parables of the Sower and the Tares. God did not first cast the good seed and then blow it away with His own breath. God did not sow wheat with the right hand and tares with the left. “An Enemy” had done the mischief. There was no fiction when Jesus spent those long hours by night on the mountain top in prayer. He needed help, and needed it sorely. He was fighting a real battle. It was not the mere anticipation of pains in the flesh, the piercing nails, the parching thirst, the long-protracted death, that made the bitterness of Christ’s passion. Even when He had regained composure, and in perfect calm was going forth to meet His death, we find Him declaring that Satan had asked for one of his Apostles “to sift him as wheat”, and implying that all His prayers were needed that the faith of the tempted disciple should not “fail.” But in Gethsemane the battle for the souls of men was still pending. There was an Enemy who was pulling down His heart, striving hard to make Him despair of sinful mankind, perhaps to despair of we know not what more beyond; forcing Him in the extremity of that sore conflict to cry that He was “exceeding sorrowful even unto death,” and afterwards, on the Cross, to utter those terrible words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” All this is full of profound meaning, if there was indeed an Enemy. But if there was no Enemy, what becomes of the conflict? What meaning is left to the Crucifixion, except as the record of mere physical sufferings, the like of which have been endured, before and after, by thousands of ordinary men and women?

This belief in the existence of Satan appears to me to be confirmed by daily present experience as well as by the life of Christ. It “works.” It enables us, as no other belief does, to go to the poor, the sick, the suffering, and the sinful, and to preach Christ’s Gospel of the fatherhood of God. All simple, straightforward people who are acquainted with the troubles of life must naturally crave this doctrine. If you ascribe to Providence the work of Satan, they will consciously or unconsciously identify Providence with the author of evil, and look to One above to rescue them from Providence. Instead of attempting to console people for all their evils by laying them on the Author of Goodness, we ought to lay them in part upon themselves, in part on the author of evil. 93“God, the Father in heaven, did not intend you to be thus miserable”—thus we can begin our message—“your sufferings come from an Enemy against whom He is contending. Do not for a moment suppose that you are to put up in this life with penury, disease, misery, and sin as if these things came from God. Very often they are the just punishments of your own faults, as when drunkenness brings disease; but as the sin, so also the punishment, was of Satan’s making, though God may use both for your good. You are to be patient under tribulation; you are to be made perfect through suffering; you are to regard the trials and troubles of life as being in some sense a useful chastisement proceeding from the fatherly hand of God. But never let your sense of the need of resignation lead you to attribute to the origination of God that which Christ teaches us to have been brought into the world by God’s adversary. Satan made these evils to lead men wrong; God uses them to lead men right. Death, for example, came from Satan, who would fain make us believe that our souls perish with our bodies, that friends are parted for ever by the grave, and that there is no righteousness hereafter to compensate for what is wrong here: but God uses death to make men sober, thoughtful, steadfast, courageous, and trustful. It remains with you to decide whether you will bear your evils so as to succumb to the temptations of Satan, or so as to prevail over them and utilize them to your own welfare and to the glory of God. On which side will you fight? We ask you to enlist on the side of righteousness.”

I feel sure that this theory of life would commend itself to the poor, that it would be morally advantageous to the rich, and that it would be politically useful to the State. There has been too prevalent a habit—among those believers especially who ignore Satan and attribute all things to God—of taking for granted that the social inequalities and miseries of the lower classes which have come down to us from feudal and non-Christian times, can never pass away. I remember once in my boyhood how, when I represented to a farmer that the condition of his labourers was not a happy one, he met me with a text of Scripture, “The poor shall never depart out of the land;” and that seemed to him to leave no more to be said. It is this provoking acquiescence of the comfortable classes in the miseries of the suffering classes, which irritates the latter into a disbelief of the religion that dictates so great a readiness to see in the miseries of others a divinely ordained institution.

The time will soon come (1885) when the very poor will demand a greater share in the happiness of life; and the question will arise whether they can be helped to obtain this by their own individual efforts or by the co-operation of those of their own class, or by the State, or by the Church. Caution must be shewn in trying experiments with nations; but as some experiments will assuredly have to be tried, it is most desirable in this crisis of our history that the Church at all events should faithfully follow Christ by regarding physical evil, not as a law of fate, but as a device of Satan. If, by descending a step or two lower in the scale of comfort, the comfortable classes could lift the very poor a step or two higher, the Church ought not to help the rich to shut their eyes to their obvious duty by giving them the excuses of such texts as “The poor shall never depart out of the land,” or, “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Poverty is often a good school: but penury is distinctly an evil; and the Church should regard it as an evil not coming from God, and should make war against it, and teach the poor not to acquiesce in it. The Gospel of Christ would be made more intelligible to the poorer classes than it has been made for many centuries past, if it could be preached as a war against physical as well as moral harm. Such a crusade would call out and enlist on the right side all the combative faculty in us; it would inspire in us a passionate allegiance towards Christ, as our Leader, desiring, asking, yes, and we may almost say, needing our help in a real conflict in which His honour as well as our happiness and highest interests are at stake; it would attract the co-operation of all faculties in the individual, of all classes in the country. In other words the theory would work; and so far as a religious theory works, so far have we evidence, present and intelligible to all, that it contains truth.

I have recently heard views similar to mine controverted by an able theologian, who contended that, although they professed to be illogical, they went beyond the bounds even of the illogicality permissible in this subject. But the controverter’s solution of the problem was this: “Evil is a part of God’s intention. We have to fight, with God, against something which we recognise to be His work.” Is not this a “hard saying”? Is it not harder than the saying of Christ, “An enemy hath done this”? I say nothing about its being illogical and absurd: but does it not raise up a new stumbling-block in the path of those who are striving to follow Christ?

It may be urged that the belief in Satan has been tested by the experience of centuries and has been found to be productive of superstition, insanity, and immorality; but these evils appear to me to have sprung, not from the belief in Satan, but from a superstitious, disorderly and materialistic form of Christianity, which has perverted Christ’s doctrine about the Adversary into a recognition of a licensed Trafficker in Souls. The same materialistic and immoral tendency has perverted Christ’s sacrifice into a bribe. But, just as we should not reject the spiritual doctrine of Christ’s Atonement, so neither should we 96reject the spiritual doctrine of an Evil in the world resisting the Good, although both doctrines alike have been grossly and harmfully misinterpreted.

Of course it is possible that in our notions of spiritual personality, and therefore in our personification of Satan, we may be under some partial illusion. The subject teems with difficulties; and I have not concealed from you my opinion that some passages in the Old Testament appear to support a view at variance with the tenour of the New. The real truth, while justifying our Lord’s language, may not accord with all our inferences as to its meaning; and I should myself admit that it would be most disastrous to attempt to personify the Adversary with the same vividness with which we personify the Father in heaven. Still,—in answer to the taunt of the agnostic or sceptic, “Is this, or that, the work of the God whom you describe as Love?”—I think we avail ourselves of our truest and most effective answer, when we resolve to separate certain aspects of Nature from the intention of God, and to say, with Christ, “An enemy hath done these things.”

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