Thursday, August 09, 2007

If Satan can't be redeemed, what hope is there for anyone?

ABC Family finished a triology last weekend entitled Fallen. I didn't see it when it was a movie last year about a boy who is nephalim, the product of sex between an angel and a woman, the sort of unnatural activity that the Bible says provoked God to cause Noah's flood. But they replayed that along with two new two-hour episodes to take the story to its apparent conclusion. So in six hours I could watch the whole story. Then they replayed each part of that at least once, so I could watch a confusing section yet again.

Our hero in Fallen is not just any nephalim, but the most special one possible, the son of Lucifer and a woman Lucifer claimed to love, even though the plot of this story has all mothers of such children dying in childbirth, and the angels know that, so they know they are murdering women by having sex with them. Such nice boys.

So nephalim in this story are all orphans. Then on top of that they are hunted down by rather dim-witted and uncaring angels called "powers", different from what the Bible means by "powers", who believe their duty to the Creator is to kill all these nephalim and some number of innocents in their immediate vicinity.

Nephalim that can survive to the age of 18 are magically delivered from a transitional state of headaches and other distress into having supernatural powers like flying, throwing fire, and being able to make a sword or two of "angel fire" appear at will. Our hero has an additional talent. Lucifer spread an apparently accurate prophecy that this boy is the Redeemer to fallen angels. If fallen angels come to him sincerely wishing to return to heaven, this boy can lay his hands on them and redeem them, causing them fleetingly to resume the appearance of an angel and then either return to heaven or be distintegrated in a flash, an ambiguity that never is clarified.

Such a redemption is all Lucifer seems to want from his son. The script makes this difficult. Lucifer is deceptive in meeting his son, giving the impression that he is just another fallen angel at first. If there is honor among theives, isn't there genuine love among the malevolent? There isn't according to this script. Still our hero is about to redeem Lucifer even though he now fully understands that this is Lucifer, but is stopped by visions of so much evil when he puts his hands on Lucifer, images of war and the like. I'm sorry, Dad, you've just been too darn bad for me to redeem you.

Lucifer doesn't take this passively. Now he resorts to intimidation, which breaks down into both Lucifer and our hero bringing forth their swords of angel fire to do battle. A routine cinematic conflict ensues with our hero pushing Lucifer off a cliff back to the depths of hell. Happy ending.

Somewhere along the line in a story like this I wonder about the way authors take such traditional characters, ones that are only in our culture because of Christianity and change their story into something that isn't Christian at all. Jesus is mentioned briefly in Fallen, but apparently both Jesus and the Father are off on some other planet, and these angels are deciding their own fate much as humans do naturally. There isn't an outright denial of God here, but God has no role to play.

I forget about this point as I watch, knowing there's bound to be another father/son battle coming, as with Star Wars, wondering how that will play out here. Isn't it strange that in the somewhat secular Star Wars, there was redemption for the evil father at the end, but not in Fallen, which is supposedly out of a tradition that emphasizes forgiveness?

Of course in Star Wars, there was no redemption for the epitome of evil, the Emperor, though maybe a quick death is something of a redemption compared to other possibilities. Is that the issue in Fallen? If the epitome of evil is redeemed, does that make evil meaningless?

No, it means evil is temporary, which is very different from meaningless. Suffering is temporary, but it is horrible, much more horrible than people will acknowledge, because then they would be obliged to do something about it. For a very long time, humanity has wanted suffering to be the result of what people deserve. Much of the Old Testament is based on such a belief. Arguments against redemption are bound to make this point, whether it's arguing against redeeming Lucifer, a pedophile, a mass murderer, or a corrupt politician or other leader. They must be punished!

Why must they? Is the only reason people have for being good a matter of avoiding punishment? I'm sure that's true as a matter of fact for many people. It's hard for us to say why anyone is Christian, but surely many Christians accept faith out of fear of the consequences of not accepting faith. Some on the internet have even said to me directly that unless my faith is to avoid hell, my faith is meaningless, as if they know anything about that.

But what does God say? The God of the Bible says that He wants mercy, not the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament. You would think it wouldn't be hard for people to take a step beyond that and understand that God also wants love in general, not worship or any of these other artificialities that we make supposedly to honor Him. But that's hard for people. It's hard for people to understand just how much of what's traditional, anyone's tradition, is wrong.

God tells me there never was a being named Satan. Isrealites imagined an adversary to them among God's angels, whom they also imagined. With time both a backstory and stories set in the future grew, making Satan into God's greatest angel named Lucifer, the one associated with such a fundamental element as light. Who else could commit a greater sin of pride than the greatest angel?

Can the greatest sinner be redeemed? Not if sin continues, or sin would have no consequences. But if sin continues, who are any of us to escape it?

Redemption is a tricky business. I finally decided that the ambiguity regarding the redemption of the fallen angels in Fallen is a good thing. Do they really go back to heaven, or is their redemption in fact just a quick death? Who knows? Human beings face the same dilemma. Is there really an afterlife that will be a good place for us or is the best we can hope for a long, productive life with an easy death, as much of the Old Testament suggests? One can have faith about such things, but which is true faith, and which is false faith? Such uncertainty drove me to God. People can say anything they want about how their way is superior to my way. I know there's no way to know that, unless something beyond me knows and tells me.

How does that knowledge beyond me feel about redemption? How about redeeming the epitome of evil? My understanding is that if there is any redemption, it cannot be only for those who need it a little. It must be for everyone, the only requirement being that people accept the redemption. Surely the Satan of myth would be smart enough to be first in line for such a redemption. Well the idea of needing to redeem everyone doesn't preclude requiring someone like the mythical Satan to be last in line, and not cause trouble while waiting. The myths surely would make Lucifer capable of that. Yet stories of good and evil don't make evil so smart. It makes evil too evil to be smart. That's one reason evil needs redemption.

To forgive or not to forgive. The God of my understanding is not completely one-sided on this point. When everything is said and done, if He feels the need to inflict vengeance on a small set of evildoers, He will do exactly that. Maybe there will be enough love that such vengeance won't be needed. Maybe there won't be. It's hard to predict. God is flexible and can go either way.

Yet if anyone is subject to vengeance in the end, there can be redemption in that person's surrender, maybe redemption that requires some amends to be made, but still some redemption. If the worst offender is not eligible for such redemption, then how can redemption exist at all? How can the volume of one's sins matter? If God's capacity for forgiveness is so limited, who says it will be enough to extend to you? You can say the Bible says so or anything else. You're just trusting in that. You don't know.

God tells me He is optimistic. The worst evils in our world can be redeemed, but will they surrender? It's hard to say. If they're smart, they'll surrender. Then what is there for the worst evils who are too dumb to surrender? Won't God have sympathy for those who are more ignorant than evil? We'll see. Don't count on knowing the answer to that one.

However the mythological Lucifer is portrayed, he is not dumb, or the author has just changed his character. If he's not dumb, then he must know how to be redeemed and will act accordingly. I'd hope redemption is so easy that Lucifer has already managed to be redeemed. God tells me the only reason he hasn't is that Lucifer doesn't exist. But the idea exists. Somewhere among the men hated by our culture is the greatest evil who ever lived. I don't see a principle by which I can be redeemed and that greatest evil can't be. Maybe I cling to God enough to realize my redemption while someone with no interest in God wastes his, but redemption was available to us both. That's how I see it.

I wasn't expecting Fallen to think it through like that. In Fallen, the bad guys lose, and the good guys win, even the good guys who aren't all that good. We forgive them because they're good guys, just as we don't forgive the bad guys because they're bad guys. That's human nature. If human nature is all there is, there is no redemption. Those who hate who I am will always hate me. Those who love me can overlook my shortcomings, if I don't make them too obvious. That's not redemption. That just staying in character.

The God who came when I prayed, "God help me!" wasn't like that. Our relationship has changed. We both have changed. I have been redeemed from my confusion, from my having no Lord but myself, maybe much more than that. I understand Him in ways I didn't once. If the God who came to me was a bad guy, then He has been redeemed, because He is now a good guy. Either way He is significantly different from the traditional God. He is whoever and whatever God is, not what someone who doesn't know says He is, a concept I wish more people could use as a starting point for God.

There is redemption. I don't know exactly how it works. Willingness is important. How can I know more than Lucifer knows about this? I didn't think that as I watched Lucifer fall back into hell in Fallen, but it didn't take me long to think that. I ask God such things. I'm happy how that's turned out. There's a lot of redemption in life, even enough for Satan, if there were such a person. Maybe even people who insist on being left out of that redemption are not left out. I wouldn't count on that, though.