Hell, The Devil and Evil
Christianity has spent a great deal of energy, often to the detriment and demise of millions of human beings, with the ideals of Hell, the Devil and Evil. But where do they come from, and why? Is there a Hell, that place of eternal torment for bad people? Is there a Devil who rules over Hell? Where does Evil come from?
First of all, our modern image of Hell is a Middle Ages construct as a means for the early church to scare the crap out of people to keep them in line. They added the Devil, that red pajama wearing, horned and tailed image, to terrify simple minds and to put of face on evil. That leads us to the last point, evil. Where does evil come from? Evil comes from within humanity when they reject God’s love and God’s laws regarding love, and our relationships in community with others and with nature.
While Satan is mentioned in scripture, it is important to understand that Satan is not this great evil we associate with the Devil. Satan is God’s advocate, to test people’s devotion to God’s will. You see this in Genesis, in Job, and in the Gospels. In short, Satan might best be seen as God’s shyster lawyer. But is Satan Evil? No. Satan is neutral, doing God’s bidding. The Devil, on the other hand, is that Middle Ages invention, mostly attributed to Dante. The purpose of the Devil, and this image of a horrible place called Hell was to control the masses, to give them something to fear above all else, and a place where church authority could point to as where bad people who don’t adhere to the ultimate authority of the church go, especially on the say-so of the church itself.
The devil is not some being to fear on the outside, but the evil that resides within people who do evil. It is that force that rejects all that is good and works hard to serve only one master, themselves, to the detriment of everybody else.
Where this fails in biblical understanding is simple; God, according to Christ Jesus, is an all forgiving and all compassionate God. Why would such a God even conceive of a place like Dante’s hell, or a devil to rule it? But this also begs the question about evil, and what are the consequences for major sin. God didn’t create evil. People did.
If there is no hell, and no devil, what happens to those who live very evil lives after they die? Would God just forgive them of their deeds while living? Would we find souls such as Hitler’s and Nero’s and Caligula’s in Heaven today? Where they forgiven of the horrific sins against humanity and God that they have committed? It’s a good question, and also a question on where does evil come from.
There are consequences for our actions, but in the end, God does forgive, but in God’s own time, and to God, a second can be an eternity, and an eternity can be merely a second. But what would truly be hell to a spirit, a soul, but absence from God’s glory and love even if for a moment, or an eternity of moments, until their penance is done? To be deprived of God’s presence would truly be punishment until God forgave.
As for evil, it does not require some mythological devil to inspire or create evil. It is not something God created though. Evil, true evil, is created by human kind. Evil comes into a person, or group of people, when they reject God’s call to compassion and love, when they reject the commandments to love God above all else, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Evil comes from selfishness, greed, power for power’s sake, and a lack of compassion and mercy. Evil comes when people reject all that is good in the world, what is beautiful, and set about on a pathway to destroy what they can’t have, or even destroy what they do have all for the sake of personal wealthy and power. Evil comes when the plight of the less fortunate is ignored, or abused, when people are mistreated through ignorance and fear, and when hatred for the other is greater than compassion or love.
Evil is in the hearts of humankind when they reject God, but this becomes particularly evil when it is done by people who profess they are acting for God. When you have pastors and priests and ministers who become rich upon the labors of others, and in turn feed them the lies of hate for the sinner who is the other, and that enriching the minister will help in the fight against the other, or those who terrify their own congregations in fear with Fire and Brimstone damnation if they don’t give ’till it hurts, leaving the minister rich and the people poor, of those who do it for their own ego of power and control, you have the worse of evil. These people pervert the Word of God into words of hate, not love. These people twist impressionable or weak minds into believing anything they are told, including who to hate.
Evil is what leads people to war, killing and death. Evil is what leads to great wealth, and great poverty, side by side. Evil is what leads men in power to punish the less fortunate, just because they can, or because they don’t like the life style, religion, race or gender of somebody else. When you use power to take away rights, to deprive people of equality and justice, health and the chance for prosperity, that is evil.
We often ask, why did God allow Evil like this into the world? In a nutshell, God didn’t. People did. God gave humankind the power to think, to reason, and to have free will of our actions. Granted, there are consequences for our actions. Those consequences can be good or bad, depending. Good consequences can be uplifting another person who is suffering in some way, or helping others less fortunate in any number of ways, and in the process, feeling the warmth in your own heart for the action. But down the line, because of your own acts, recognized by others, that good turn may come your way in reward. But we don’t do good deeds to seek such rewards. We do good deeds just because they are good, and it fills our own hearts with goodness when others are benefited.
Bad consequences, on the other hand, have a tendency to materialize in a more palatable way, and often much sooner. Hitler’s actions against Europe and Russia, as well as his own people destroyed him. The hateful and evil actions of many of his people led to the destruction of their own country. Dictators who abuse power often find, in the end, themselves hated and destroyed. Somebody as simple as a neighbor who is impossible to live near, can find themselves outcast in their own neighborhood, shunned by all. Hateful actions and behaviors can isolate people from community, leaving them alone. A time might come when they need help for something serious, and help will not be there. There are always consequences.
But this does not come from some mythical devil, or demonic spirits as some charlatan religious leaders might tell their flock. This kind of evil comes from within. If you really want to know evil, just listen to people in power, at whatever level, who use their power for causing pain to others. The Bully, the Liar, the thief, the corporate executive who treats employees like slaves, the politician who uses their office to further their own fortunes and power while neglecting those who voted for them, all show what evil is within people.
The Bible is filled with examples of such evil, and the lessons to learn from it. Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed because they reject the sacred rights of hospitality, turning their backs on the stranger seeking safety. The parable of the Rich man and the Beggar, Lazarus, shows what happens to those who mistreat or neglect the poor, while hording their own wealth. The warning to nations in Matthew 25 speaks strongly of what becomes of those who deny God’s children for their own sake. Even the Beatitudes tell of how we are to treat others, and why. We are, in truth, our brother’s keeper, and they are ours.
So why is evil so attractive when the consequences can be so dire? Greed is a powerful force. It is like a drug. The more a person has, the more they need, and like a drug addiction, they will stop at nothing to have more, no matter who gets hurt along the way. They crave more money, more power, more things, and they will lie, cheat and steal to achieve it. For others, their greed is also short sighted. It is the immediate that matters, not the long term. They will destroy everything for the riches now, because they won’t be around to pay the price for what they have done. For others, evil becomes a means to an end, so satisfy pleasures of a hurtful nature that are outside convention. They lack empathy or compassion. It is all about themselves and the moment. And then there are those driven by the simple desire to inflict pain for its own sake, to commit violence on others because they derive an immediate sense of power born of fear.
But this is not God’s plan, nor God’s will. This is not what the Bible demands of us, nor what the Qu’ran asks, or the philosophies of a score of other faiths across the planet. At their core, all of the major religion’s writings speak of love, giving for others, compassion and respect. They call for harmony with nature and all life. But as humans, we have failed this in our own selfish nature.
There is still hope though, with those little moments combined with the goodness of individuals who shine above the rest, showing us the way. There are people who help light the light of reason and wisdom through the arts, in writing, film, music and paintings. They reach out to show humanity what its better nature can achieve, in spite of the struggles we all face. They give hope of a better world, a better humanity. All it takes for this to happen is for ourselves to want it to happen. We can reject greed, and power for power’s sake. We can seek to heal wounds rather than inflict them. We can treat others with deference and respect, kindness and mercy. We can give back the bounty we ourselves have received in life, to uplift others. Most of all, we can show our care for the planet, and all life upon it, with the desire to pass forward everything positive for future generations. We are not to have dominion over the earth, or each other.Â We are caretakers of the planet, and we are to be in harmony with all life upon it, especially each other. Star Trek had a wonderful quote from James T. Kirk many decades ago, when he told another planetary race that “Yes, he was a barbarian, but he chose not to be a barbarian that day.”
We have free will. He can choose to be evil, or we can choose to be good. We can walk in the light, or in the darkness. We can love and respect others, or we can fill our hearts with hate and fear, surrounding ourselves in ignorance. There is no devil other than our own darker and baser nature. But we are also angels with the capacity to make a paradise on earth as God calls of us, where all of humanity lives in a just piece. What will be chose? Heaven or Hell? It is up to us, and us alone.