It wasn’t until late in life that I came to believe in Satan as a ‘being’ and not a metaphor, symbol, some imperceivable dark matter or caricature of evil. Though I had recited for years the baptismal promise to “renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? (BCP 301), I had trouble wrapping my mind about evil embodied in an fallen angel – a real, live being. And even more confusion when asked to think that this fallen angel ruled earth, was after our human hearts and ambitions – basically thinking that this dark matter had any agency in the world, today.
But I got a grip on the reality of Satan when someone simply pointed out that Jesus had no such confusion. Jesus knew Satan to be real, to have an agenda, to be feared and to be defeated. Much of Jesus’ ministry while here was spent renouncing Satan – not the idea of Satan – the idea of evil – but Satan, the fallen angel who opposed God.
That turn-around – lens switch, if you will – opened up all sorts of doors for understanding God and God’s will and actions in the world, that I hadn’t been able to before. A clarity – a focus on one little thing – that Jesus believed Satan to be real and not some head game.
Kind of an odd start for a reflection on today’s gospel, Matthew 18. But, at the second verse I was paused at a reference Jesus makes to heaven and the angels (I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven) and I thought about how easy it seems for many to ‘believe’ in angels – know they real – but discard the cast of characters and even the set from which they all come and exist.
Jesus links heaven and angels. He didn’t believe in the idea of angels or the idea of heaven, where his Father lived and from whence he came, anymore than he believed in Satan as an idea.
Believing in angels, and not all the rest – well – though not a bad thing, perhaps a limiting, one-sided, blind-sided even, convenient, comforting and pleasing sort of belief. If we pick and choose what to believe – or not – out of scripture, out of the life of Jesus Christ – then how do we even begin to comprehend what God has revealed for us, individually, corporately and for the world and apply in our lives? How do we hold ourselves accountable for things done and left undone? Is it enough to just ‘believe’ in something – in an idea? To believe in angels, to believe in God the Creator, to believe in Jesus Christ, but…? Big picture belief in it all, but details of how it all works and what God has in store for His creation, that stuff has no bearing on how we are to live?
In Lisa Randall’s (Professor of Science at Harvard University) new book, Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe, a similar question is posed. Dark Matter is matter that does not interact with light, more like transparent matter than dark, actually. But cosmologists, astronomers, physicists now believe that dark matters is perhaps 85 percent of the matter in the universe.
They now believe what was always so, is. They believe what is not observable, is. Hmm.
The seen and the unseen. This is what Christians declare in the Nicene Creed,
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
I think this includes not only dark matter – but angels, heaven, where our Father sits, and Satan, too. Things are not just the way we see – or choose to believe or not – but the way they are – the way they were made by our God. I am grateful for the recitation of the creed every week in worship if only for this simple reminder – the seen and unseen. The reminder of that profound truth helps me see differently – prompting me to lift my eyes at any given moment to see what God sees, not what I see.
Such a reminder came to Lisa Randall, not in the form of a creed, but in scientific observation and it had a profound impact on the way she investigates the world. As she explained in a recent radio interview
…only about five percent of the energy in the universe is ordinary matter, whereas 25 percent is dark matter. I find that remarkable. I mean why isn’t it (dark matter) a tiny, tiny fraction? And the fact that we don’t see it — I mean, why should everything interact with light? The fact that we interact with light …It’s a kind of mistake people make all the time. We think we overcame that with the Copernican Revolution. We have a more open perspective. But we still have to get it knocked into our heads every time that things are not just the way we see them in our daily lives.
I’m thankful for the reminder today from the gospel that Jesus knew all things to be what they were – knew our Father in heaven, knew the angels were there watching out over all of us, especially our little ones, knew Satan was real and to be renounced, knew life eternal was to be for all who believe…in all.