In last Friday‘s post, I mentioned that many years ago there was a publisher who was seriously considering buying the rights to A Devil’s Gospel. A member of their selection committee wasn’t comfortable with one of the themes of the novel, so I wrote an “afterword” to explain why I structured the novel the way I did. Today I’d like to share with you an edited version of that afterword, with the warning that it contains heavy spoilers for the novel. If you’re planning to read the book and would like to preserve the experience untainted, you may want to bookmark this page and return to it later.
Why I Wrote A Devil’s Gospel
Although A Devil’s Gospel is a work of fiction, it is a work of theological fiction and I’ve endeavored throughout not to deviate from the view of salvation as it is understood in traditional Christianity. In fact, one of my purposes in writing the novel was to demonstrate in a short, hopefully entertaining narrative, specifically that traditional view of salvation history and of God.
At the core of the work, though, is a piece of theology some Christians might find objectionable: the protagonist is an angel who rebels against God but is then redeemed by Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection.
It isn’t that most churches teach that devils can’t be saved. The traditional position on this question is rather that we should concern ourselves with our own salvation and that of our fellow human beings, about which we’ve been told everything sufficient, rather than the salvation of devils, about which we don’t know very much definitively, and which really isn’t our business.
So why do I mind the business of the devils in this novel?
Because I believe it is the corrective measure that is required today. In much of the modern world, Christians and non-Christians alike have a view of God that has been shaped by a very particular understanding of salvation. Under this view, the Lord is a wrathful, angry God of punishment, who will send tornadoes to wipe away entire cities of the unrighteous and earthquakes to topple down the houses of His enemies. Fire and brimstone preaching has lead too many Christians to create an idol in their minds, a fire and brimstone deity who will consign their own mother to Hell if she doesn’t belong to their small community, or if her understanding of God is slightly different than their own. Those with a sense of compassion eventually grow disillusioned with this idol, as well they should; those with intellectual honesty can’t countenance such a god, whose pettiness and temperament equals that of Zeus, as well they shouldn’t.
What Christians and non-Christians need now is a reminder of the true God, the One revealed in the Old and New Testaments, the One whose mercy and love is so radical that many “religious” people ignore it or apply it only to themselves and never to those they consider their enemies. Do I believe that Satan and his devils can be redeemed? I don’t know, but I do believe that nothing is beyond God’s power. And, perhaps most importantly, I don’t doubt the answer to the question of whether God desires the devils to repent.
This is the Good News that modern Christians need to hear. Even a devil can be restored through the power of Christ’s love. Far from a damning God foaming at the mouth to condemn as many as He can, the Biblical understanding is rather of a loving Father who will do anything in His power (which is limited by the gift of free will He granted to His creatures) to save as many as He can.
On first glance, though, it may seem dangerous and maybe even blasphemous to feel sympathy for Satan and his devils, since they are the enemies of God and of humankind. This position, however, still misses the radical love at the center of being a follower of Christ. St. Isaac the Syrian says that as Christians our hearts should burn with love “for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists.”
“Love your enemies,” Jesus said, “and pray for those who persecute you.” Who is a greater enemy to humanity than Satan? Who is a greater persecutor?
It is true that we have more pressing concerns than the salvation of the devils. But reflecting on such a possibility is worth doing if it serves as a reminder of the true nature of the loving Creator. And, if we’re blessed, such reflection may even nudge us toward having more love for all of His creation, including the devils who are our chief enemies, which will re-shape our hearts to that of the great saints of the Christianity and, and ultimately, to that of Christ Himself.