The deal with the Devil

I once had a conversation about why an all-powerful, benevolent God would allow for the existence of the Devil – and it was interesting, so I thought I’d share.  Though that was years ago, the essence of that conversation remains with me.  So this post is not a properly quoted and cited paper, but a story blurred by years, my own imperfect memory, and my penchant for theatrics.  I beg your indulgence.

“Why does the Devil exist if God is so benevolent and powerful?

I saw a movie once called ‘Constantine’ that starred Keanu Reeves.  And I wouldn’t call it a great movie, but I enjoyed it.  But there’s a quote in that film that really got me thinking.

‘What if I told you that God and the Devil made a wager, a kind of standing bet for the souls of all mankind?’

Now, admittedly, this is a strange thing to find inspiring, but I’m not the type to ignore good advice – not even if it comes from an unusual source.  Because what if God and the Devil made a bet?  Why in the world would they do that?

As the story goes, the Devil fell from grace because he rebelled against God.  The story of why changes depending on your source, so I’ll decline to make any assertions there.  Ultimately, it does not matter.  The Devil fell, and opposed God.  And that is his nature.

But what of the nature of God?  If he is benevolent, why does he allow someone as wicked as the Devil to prey upon mankind?  This is even more confusing since God’s all-powerful nature should allow him to easily best the Devil.  Yet, he remains.

In the film, the characters assert or make the assumption that God and the Devil are engaged in a war, and that whomever gathers the most souls will win.  To that end, the Devil tempts people and God tries to save them.  Mankind is in the middle, both the victims of this war and the trophy.

But what if it is not that simple?

God is supposed to be benevolent – or all-good, to follow the ‘all-something’ descriptions of Him.  He is trying to save everyone.  That is why most people wonder why he does not simply smite the Devil and destroy him forever.  But to that line of thinking, I ask this question:

Whom is in greater need of saving than the Devil himself?

The Devil was once one of God’s most treasured angels.  But even though he fell, God’s own son tells the story of the prodigal son:  the story of a wayward son who returns home after selfish choices lead him to misfortune.  Yet that son is welcomed home with celebration, for his father is simply happy to see his son alive again.

Is the bet between God and the Devil not about who wins mankind, but an attempt by a father to bring his most wayward son back into the fold?

Because of that, it may seem like we are mere pawns in this game.  But I disagree.  We are not victims caught in the crossfire.  We are not the chips on the table.  We may be pieces on the board, but remember the pawn is far more powerful than it appears.  It can become any piece in time.  And so are we, in my opinion.

I think we are paladins, and we fight to save the world.  But the world is not merely buildings and roads.  It is not just trees and grass and flowers.  It is countries and cultures.  It is people.  And for every soul we save, we keep one more star in the sky from falling.

But is not the Morning Star the greatest star of them all?  But who mourns its fall?  Who would try to hang it back up in the sky, against all odds?  Who would forgive all grievances and welcome even the Devil back home?

A father would.  For the prodigal son – oh yes, a Father would.”

The story of a question

Today I want to tell you a story. It is the story of a question, and I have told it often to people in the past. It is the story I use to explain my thoughts and feelings on religion.

So here is my story of a question.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there is the Christian God. He exists, and is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present, and all-good. I make these assertions not only because of my math and science educational background, but because not everyone has the same beliefs.

So, given a God with these characteristics… Let’s say that you have the opportunity to ask one question of God, and this question will be answered with full and complete honesty. What question would you ask?

This is the part most people assume is a test, and they are right. But there are no right or wrong answers, merely answers that reveal things about each of us. I also ask for audience participation at this point, but since I’m telling this story online, I will forgo that today. Instead I will share some of the questions people have told me in the past.

I think my mother wanted to know why an benevolent and all-powerful God would allow for evil in the world. A good question; I’m curious as well.

A friend of mine who’d left seminary said he would ask for the meaning of his life. I’ve had others ask for the universal “meaning of life”, and that’s a good question as well – they both are.

I met a young woman in a coffeeshop who wanted to know why she’d suffered hardships recently. I understand that question as well.

An atheist friend of mine had a question that, while I don’t remember what she said, was so ridiculous it made me laugh. I remember her laughing off the opportunity, and it is her choice on how to spend the opportunity. As I said, there are no right or wrong questions. Our questions reveal who we are.

Which brings me to my question, which I have always prefaced by saying, “I will only tell you this if you let me explain WHY I’m asking it.”

My question is, and has always been: “Dear God (if there is a God), do you prefer beef or chicken cheesesteaks?”

That’s ridiculous, right? I recall my mother calling it “fucking stupid” when I first told her. I admit – it’s hard to see the value my choice.

So here is the story of why I would ask that question.

God knows everything; God can do anything. He is the president, CEO, and board of directors of Life and The Universe Inc. He has angels who serve him, people who worship him – and no friends.

Idolizing someone and putting them on a pedestal is not the same thing as being their friend. We may love celebrities, but we are not their friends. Our relationship with them is different than that. Then take God, the ultimate celebrity, and imagine the distance between him and the rest of us. Imagine the solitude of one who has spent the entirety of humanity’s existence watching over us, and trying to save us – most often from ourselves.

He may be the King of Kings, but I see him as the lonely king at the top of the mountain. He hears all supplicants, but does so alone. From the Christian creation story, he made partners for humanity, so we would not be alone. But whom did he create for himself?

Us? We are a mob of children who bombard him with our wishes and whims. Selfish or selfless, we ask and ask and ask some more.

Which brings me back to my question.

I do not care about the answer to my question. The point of the question is not to get an answer. I’m not requesting anything.

I am trying to make him smile, maybe even laugh.

With a seemingly lonesome existence as a caretaker, how many of us have turned to him to comfort him? How many of us have tried to make him laugh? How many of us have taken the gifts he’s given us and turned them into gifts for him?

So I want to use my gift to make him laugh. I would surprise him, though I assume he’s heard of my ambitions already (as I am not quiet about this story).

I ask him this question to treat him as a person. I ask him the same question I would ask a parent, a friend, a partner, or a child. I ask him the inconsequential question of what does he want for a meal. I narrow the field of answers to two choices – in part for comedic effect, in part to simplify the answer.

In doing so, I tend to one I perceive as untended. I care for one I see as forgotten – not God the Divinity, but the God who has walked beside us all our lives. I look after the one who looks after us, because it is important to be kind to others regardless of whether or not there’s anything in it for us.

Because that’s how we’re supposed to live, and treat each other. (In my opinion)

Interestingly, my question actually makes me something of a heretic. One of the characteristics of God is that he is not only all-knowing, but unknowable. And my question is about getting to know him, in a small but still very personable way.

I’m going against the grain, and walking a road that I don’t believe many stereotypical religious-types would walk. Perhaps they would, but I have yet to hear anyone ask a question for which they do not want an answer. In fact, I can see this silly question of mine being the sort of thing that overly zealous people would fight over.

Beef or chicken? It’s obviously beef! People in the past sacrificed cattle to God, so therefore God would want beef.

Are you crazy? It’s so obviously chicken! God’s middle-aged now: he’s had a child, and raised that child to adulthood. Now God’s gotta take care of his health and watch his weight. That means white meat – chicken is the only answer it could be!



*queue the religious wars*

Perhaps I’m a pessimist, but I can see that happening. It’s probably happened already, on different topics. Perhaps it’s even happening in our times right now.

Which is why this little heretic thinks God needs a laugh. Because, honestly…

Look at us. Look at any parent with small children. Look as us again – all seven-point-something-billion of us.

I think God NEEDS this laugh, and I think that laugh, that smile, is a good use of my question.