When we stop believing in Satan, everyone around us becomes a potential devil.
That thought came to mind when listening to a discussion on the nature of evil and Solzhenitsyn’s quote, “The battleline between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.” Corporations, politicians, and the media – whether on the political left or right – want to assure us that the enemy is “the other side.” If only we shut them down and seized their power and influence, then we would have peace on earth and in our lives.
So, we demonize others. After all, if there is no spiritual source of evil, then the source must be those people who think differently than us. We rage against our brethren made in the image of God, becoming self-assured that they are devils. All the while, we slowly morph into devils ourselves.
While this is all playing out quite vividly before us in the political and social arenas of America, the battlefield we are neglecting lies within. Our introspection – if it exists at all – is quite frail.
A person who expends their mental energy on coming to know their own heart and seeing the serpent twisted inside there, will have little time for searching out the faults of others. Instead, he or she will engage in a vicious, lifelong battle of coming to know the real self behind the mask of the ego.
This battle is what it means to be a Christian warrior. It’s a bloody mess; it’s hell itself that we must confront in our hearts. And should we chop away the mile-long serpent of sinful passions entwined around the heart, we will find its head remaining. Much to our dismay, the serpent’s fangs are lodged deep into the heart, pumping the venom of pride inside.
Many find this level of introspection unbearable. There have even been those who left the monastic life because of the revelation of hell within. The world provides flashing lights and noisy gadgets to help us forget about the inner serpent. And if that doesn’t work, then it gives us numerous scapegoats and devils in our fellow man. We think we are raging against the Machine, but instead, we are doing its bidding.
The life we are called to is different. We are to be warriors – every man, woman, and child. This language about warriors is in our chrismation prayers and at the making of a catechumen in the Orthodox Church. This glorious adventure before us comes with numerous humiliating defeats. We confess the same sins over and over, not realizing that by doing so, we are crushing the head of the serpent – pride – more than anything else. And it is this head that feeds all the other passions.
So fight we must – it is how we were made. We will either fight against each other or against the sin within. May we choose the latter.
The feature image is by the painter Ryzhenko Pavel Viktorovich. I was a bit torn about using it because it’s quite graphic. But I chose to go ahead with it because it shows the conclusion of a refusal to live a life of introspection: a bloody hell is created around us – whether literally (as in the case of the Bolsheviks) or figuratively as we tear others apart with our judgement, criticism, and outrage. This is the hell I want to see us avoid.