Our archbishop often says, “God wants his world back.”
We might ask: What happened that God needs to do something to get it back? What happened is the second part of what the kerygma calls “sin and its consequences” or what I have come to simply designate by the word “captured.”
If the Gospel is the Good News, then we can call this the bad news. And the bad news is far more horrific than our worst nightmare. I would suggest the Gospel is considered, mistakenly, by many to be simply news, because they don’t recognize — or haven’t heard proclaimed — just how bad the bad news is. Only when this is grasped is the proclamation of what God has done for us in Jesus truly good, extraordinary, life-changing news.
One way to get into this most important truth of the faith is to ask the question, “Why did God become man?” Why did the second person of the Holy Trinity become incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary? Did he merely come to tell us stories? Did he come to do miracles? Or did he come for something more? I find it helpful to recall what one author says: The incarnation of the second person of the Trinity was the invasion of one kingdom — the kingdom of darkness — by another and stronger kingdom — the kingdom of God. Or, in the words of 1 John 3:8, “Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil.” In other words, God became man to fight, to liberate and to rescue his creation held bound by the one Jesus calls “the ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 16:11).
Let’s try to understand this second part of the basic message of the Gospel by looking at five things:
- The identity of this person Jesus refers to;
- His reason for rebelling against God;
- His strategy;
- His goal for your life and mine;
- The consequences of sin.
In looking at these, we hopefully will grasp just how bad the bad news is and why our lives should be a joyful, wholehearted surrender in faith to the God who has fought for us.
The identity of the enemy
When we looked at the beauty of creation, we saw that God is the creator of everything and that he made everything out of love and it was good. Our opponent, the one Jesus came to fight, was one of these creatures made by God. He was an angel. St. Paul tells us that the enemy often disguises himself as an “angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14); that is, he doesn’t appear with a pitchfork and horns and reveal himself as evil. He’s subtle; he’s smooth; he’s a master at marketing, we could say. Two names we most commonly use for the enemy are the devil and Satan. These names reveal something about his character. “Devil” means “the divider.” This is what the enemy seeks to do: He tries to sow division — within marriages, families, parishes, workplaces, friendships, countries, etc. The word “Satan” means “the accuser.” This creature, as we’ll see in a moment, loves to accuse. He accuses God, he accuses us and he accuses others in our minds and thoughts.
The enemy’s reason for rebelling
Why would this angel, created out of love by God, rebel? The reason, according to Scripture, is envy. “But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are allied with him experience it” (Wis 2:24). Envy is something far worse than jealousy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that envy is “sadness at the sight of another’s goods” (2539).
So, who was this angel envious of? When I first heard this, everything changed for me. He wasn’t envious of God. He was, and is, envious of us. This creature was so incensed at God’s plan for us to become partakers of the divine nature (cf. 2 Pt 1:4) that he rebelled and went to war against the creature God loves most of all, the one made in his image and likeness and to share in his own abundant life: you and me.
The strategy of the enemy
Often in sports, coaches prepare their teams for the opponent by watching copious amounts of game film. In other words, you record what the other team does and then you study it and prepare a game plan based on what you see the opponent does well and not so well. At various points in Scripture, God is giving us, if you will, “game film” on the opponent. He is revealing to us the strategy of this one who hates us.
One of the most important places God reveals this strategy to us is in the account of the Fall in Genesis 3. Genesis 3 doesn’t merely reveal to us what happened way back at the beginning of our race, when our first parents were deceived into rebelling against God. It shows us what always happens. In other words, it shines a light on the tactics of this angelic creature who is envious of us and is trying to keep us from the end for which we were created.
So, what is that strategy? Simple: He tries to tempt us to think that God is not good, that he’s not a loving father. Instead, the enemy whispers in our ears, “He’s holding out on you. He’s your enemy. You could be happier without God.” This is at the heart of the temptation by the serpent in the garden. Here’s how St. John Paul II described what happened that fateful day and what we learn about the enemy: “The spirit of darkness is capable of showing God as an enemy of his own creature, and in the first place as an enemy of man, as a source of danger and threat to man. In this way Satan manages to sow in man’s soul the seed of opposition to the one who ‘from the beginning’ would be considered as man’s enemy — and not as Father. Man is challenged to become the adversary of God!” (Lord and Giver of Life, 38).
Whenever things go wrong, when prayers are unanswered or answered in a way we didn’t want — when the diagnosis comes back malignant, when some tragedy happens — the enemy is there in our minds whispering, “See! He doesn’t love you. He doesn’t care! He’s not a good God. Isn’t it obvious? If he was good, he wouldn’t have let this happen!” I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard that voice countless times in my mind.
The goal of the enemy
Jesus addresses the enemy’s goal for your life and mine perhaps most powerfully in John 10:10: “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy.” The Letter to the Hebrews says this creature has the power of death and holds us in bondage to the fear of death (Heb 2:14-15). In other words, the desire of this creature is to deceive us into rebelling against God and to lead us into bondage, destruction and death. It can’t be said strongly enough: This creature absolutely hates you and me. He wants to destroy us, mock us, humiliate us and trick us into rebelling against God so we won’t reach the end for which God has created us: to be divinized. And it’s all out of envy.
The consequences of sin
What, then, are the consequences of sin? What was the result of the Fall of our first parents? Often, this is simply answered by saying the consequences of sin are separation from God. This is true, to be sure! But it doesn’t grasp the whole horror of the bad news. And I don’t know about you, but when I was younger, this didn’t really matter to me. “So what?” I thought. “I’m separated from God. What’s the big deal about that?”
To understand more fully what happened as a result of sin, we need to understand that our first parents, unknowingly, sold not only themselves but our human race into slavery to powers that we cannot compete against. These powers include most especially Sin and Death, which are best understood by being written with capital letters. Sin is not only something I do or don’t do; it is first and foremost a power, almost like a government or authority, constantly trying to exert pressure on me to cooperate in its maliciousness and rebellion. This might sound a bit too much to our ears, but I think it’s actually rather easily proven by our experience. Have you ever done something you knew you shouldn’t do, and you didn’t want to do — in fact, perhaps you hated doing — but you did it anyway (cf. Rom 7:19)? I do all the time! Have you ever wondered why? This is the reason. Because on our own, without God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are powerless to overcome Sin. It’s not enough for us to repent, as important as that is; we need to be delivered from the tyranny of Sin.
Death as a power is much more obvious, I think. No matter how much money I have, no matter the medical care I have access to, no matter what area of the world I live in, the best I can do is delay death. It comes for us all, and anyone who has ever been there at the bedside of a loved one watching them breathe their last knows painfully well just how truly impotent we are in the face of this horrific power.
A modern-day image
For me, personally, the most powerful way to enter into this part of the kerygma is to pray about the image of a human trafficker, a modern travesty of unimaginable proportions. Our race, as a result of the Fall, is like someone who has been captured and is now in the hands of a human trafficker who exploits, uses and abuses that person. And there is no way out unless someone stronger comes to the rescue.
And that’s exactly what happened. That’s why Jesus came. And that’s why we give God praise and thanks and glory and honor and surrender to him in faith.