Coming in Glory

Chapter 11

The Cosmic Conflict:
The Claims of Darkness and Light

There are two dominant powers in our world; of the greater universe we can speak only in analogy, but inasmuch as the spiritual consciousness embraces all worlds in the one divine reality, we may be reasonably sure that the conditions of our world are a part of the greater whole and not in any way dissimilar from it. The dominant powers are those of good and evil, or light and darkness in the language of the Fourth Gospel and the first letter of St John. This dualism is not a primary fact of life, for God is the sole Creator of all things, and in him there is light without any darkness at all (1 John 1:5). All that God has made is fundamentally good, but it has to experience its own being and actualize itself. This is the law of growth that is an immediate corollary of the life of the creature. Thus, the infant may be perfectly fashioned, but it establishes its perfection only as it grows to adulthood, and is able to control its own inner functions to the extent of a glowing maturity. As we read in Hebrews 5:7-10, Christ himself, son as he was, learned obedience in the school of suffering, and once perfected became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, named by God high priest in the succession of Melchizedek. This perfection was attained in living the life of a common man among the multitude, and offering up prayers and petitions, in great suffering, to God who was able to deliver him from the grave. It was his humble submission that enabled his prayer to be heard. In this way Jesus moved unobtrusively towards the supreme darkness of crucifixion, thus assuming the darkness of the world, and then by virtue of his spiritual excellence was found worthy of a supreme resurrection in the light of God's presence.

Another person, however, even as gifted as Jesus himself, might have spurned the divine guidance and moved defiantly in his own way towards domination and the subjugation of all his fellows so that they became mere slaves of his purpose. This was indeed Jesus' third temptation by the devil in the wilderness, according to St Matthew's account. Had he succumbed to the wiles of the evil one, he could have attained world dominion, but the one in final charge would have been the devil, and he rather than Jesus would have exerted the definitive influence on the cosmos. Whenever we succumb to the power of matter, the evil one triumphs, and darkness overcomes light. Whenever we choose the way of God, we enter into light, and the way to resurrection is shown us. But the journey is arduous, even heartbreaking, as the lives of many of the prophets have indicated. It too has to enter into the darkness as a prelude to a universal resurrection into the light.

All this consideration posits a conscious, intelligent force of darkness, an overpowering presence of evil in the universe, a presence of personal identity no less real in essence than the personal presence of God. If the personal God of monotheism loves all that is created, so the personal evil one, the devil, is equally aware of the creation, but desires it for personal gain so that he may eventually be the master of the universe. Let it be said at once that the genesis of evil is a result of the primary creative act of God, by whom all things are made. God may not have willed the emergence of evil, but he could not avoid it when he bestowed free will on his rational creatures, whether human or angelic. To use that divine gift of free choice on a personal, acquisitive basis is much more immediately attractive than offering it in humble dedication to God and one's fellow creatures. The vision of world dominion is far more compelling than one of service for the good of the created whole. The end of this fateful choice is seen when we survey the course of selfish action as directed by the evil one, traditionally depicted as a fallen angel of immense resource and malice.

The way of the evil one is to offer us all manner of good things, so that our material wants are satisfied, our diseases healed and our personal magnetism is enhanced. Soon we are subtly changed as individuals: revelling in our own personal power and material possessions we start to glorify the one who effected this magnificent transformation in our condition. This is in fact precisely the recompense exacted by the power of evil, that everyone should bow down to his person and worship him. In so doing the identity of the creature is quietly diminished, as his will is progressively usurped by the all-embracing power that infiltrates his personality; eventually the person is swallowed up in a mass obedience to the supreme power. The integrity of the creature is undermined; the person is seduced into a surrender of his God-inspired purity of judgement and intent. His spiritual aspiration falters and his ideals are brought down to the level of general corruption that typifies a people of heedless activity and spiritual blindness. Eventually he ceases to respond to the insistent call of the Holy Spirit to assume the full nature of a son of God, instead retreating into the dungheap of vice and delinquency.

This is the way of the devil, whose nature is that of the antiChrist, when he gains ascendancy over his deluded victims; he subtly clouds their soul consciousness so that they are deflected from acting in a morally responsible fashion. Instead they behave like a herd of cattle, comparable to the Gadarene swine in which the evil spirits exorcized by Jesus took refuge; the end of the pigs was destruction in the nearby lake, a type of end in store for the possessed humans also. There is a mysterious and highly significant passage in the Gospel where Christ instructs his disciples not to be afraid of those who have the power to destroy the body, but fear in no uncertain fashion those who have the power to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28). On one level of reality the soul is immortal, inasmuch as it is God's creation and God loves every created thing. But the power of evil can so dominate a person that his soul consciousness is totally obliterated; he discards his human identity and behaves irrationally, like a coarse animal in a large herd, entirely under the direction of the evil one.

This terrible sequence is seen in the course of mob violence. The precious power of discrimination, the fruit of our individual integrity and the very spark of our identity, is blurred and occluded. Devoid of this light of responsibility, the individual is tumultuously overriden by the emotional surge of the crowd and is rendered capable of committing the grossest acts of destructive cruelty, acts that the same person in a state of calm and prayerful awareness would reject in abhorrence. From all this we can see how the antiChrist acts: first the awareness of the person is dulled and duped into a torpid complacency as the confidence is won by acts of supply and apparent generosity. The freedom of the will is then unobtrusively abdicated, so that the victim leans ever more in dependence and trust on the source that has come to his assistance. The evil one battens on the soul consciousness of his victim, whence issues the free will with its capacity to choose and make decisions. In this way the torpid, unguarded awareness lets in evil destructive powers that rob the person of his freedom. As the soul is taken over and the personal freedom of action is set on one side, so the individual becomes inextricably enslaved to the devil, who proceeds to attack and dismember the soul until it becomes a pulp of discrete personal data that are dissipated into the general psychic milieu of the afterlife.

We see this horrifying trend of events whenever a secular agency takes absolute control and organizes a composite group of people around it. Despotic political regimes are one obvious example, but so has been the Church throughout the ages. In this respect the concept of the Church embraces all religious traditions; their aim is to bring the people to the ultimate reality that is called God when a personal, loving dimension is envisaged as the result of an encounter with the divine in nature, or with the numinous as transmitted psychically in art or in deep personal relationships. The summation in the main Christian stream is the sacrament of the Eucharist, which in turn finds its peak in the hush of silence that descends in the moment of sudden cosmic awareness at the time of receiving the elements and thanking God for them afterwards. It is, indeed, the silence that brings the Deity in close relationship with us, whereas the preceding liturgy, splendid as it may be, serves rather to put us in the right frame of mind to receive the divine guest who is also our eternal host.

When a Church takes this function of divine encounter and human development to full sonship with God for granted, it is in great jeopardy of becoming enmeshed in a web of power politics, whether intrinsic to its structure, related to the country in which it functions, or as part of the world scene. While none of this is primarily wrong - indeed, it is an inevitable part of every individual's work to become involved in such matters, especially if the person is intelligent and compassionate - it can soon manifest demonic overtones as the institution or a particular variety of political and economic involvement holds sway. It is in our ceaseless aspiration to the Deity, the one alone who transcends institutions and political theories while infusing them all with love according to the ability of their servants to receive that love, that salvation lies. Jesus put this even more starkly when he said, "Set your mind on God's kingdom and his justice before everything else, and all the rest will come to you as well" (Matthew 6:33). The converse is equally true: if any thought other than the love of God and his law of service in the world guides us in our ambitions, the result will be enslavement to the evil powers. We often forget that the choice set before us is one of life and spiritual death, of light and darkness. If we choose the way of light and life, we will certainly be tested in the fire of experience and tempted to self-gratification on the one hand and despair on the other - Jesus himself was spared neither temptation and to excess. But we shall not be overcome; this teaching, enunciated by St Paul in Romans 8 in a most splendid outburst and more tenderly by Julian of Norwich in her Revelations of Divine Love, is the essence of the spiritual hope. It is certainly seldom fulfilled even tentatively in such short earthly life, and indeed the sufferings of innumerable people on the altar of incurable disease, man's constant inhumanity to man, and the various natural disasters that rock the world seem to point to the delusion if not the actual lie enshrined in such a world view. But the test is always the same: could we possibly want to return to our state before we saw the light that drew us on? A few have actively retreated in this way, but all that has been left for them is emptiness, cynicism and a dreary negativity that refuses to see value in anything outside the data of the physical senses, whose temporal duration is limited enough even in the life of one body. The question - and the answer - is always that of Peter when he is asked whether he, too, like so many others in the Master's entourage, would prefer to leave him now, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Your words are words of eternal life" (John 6:68). The cosmic conflict reveals the eternal nature of Christ, now no longer manifested by admirable soul-qualities, but a living, transforming presence in the world.

If, on the other hand, we choose the way of darkness and death; which means in effect selecting a path that magnifies our own interests to the expense of all other people, we shun the promptings of our own soul which we, as it were, lease to the convenience of those who are even more unscrupulous than we are. This somewhat dramatic presentation of a life situation occurs when we choose the lesser way for our own convenience. The type of person who hounds a fellow creature because of his racial or religious background or because of his unusual lifestyle is one who has chosen the domain of darkness for the kingdom of light. By identifying himself with persecutors, who are invariably the tools of the evil one inasmuch as their soul consciousness is completely taken over by forces of hatred and destruction, he surrenders something of his God-given identity to them, who in turn surrender everything to the dark forces that govern so much material life.

How, then, can we distinguish between the powers of light and darkness in our present climactic world situation - it is climactic on account of the enormous scientific and technical advancements escalating year by year together with the greater sophistication of the younger generation devoid, in turn, of any great reverence for the unseen dimension of reality? The powers of darkness have, as we have already observed, the capacity to assume a bright glitter that can deceive the unwary if not the very elect. This statement could be transposed to the devil quoting Scripture in Jesus' three temptations; the word of God itself is not self-interpreting. We are the interpreters according to what God has shown us of himself in our private lives, our natural common sense, and the tradition of which we are a part. Although in a period of great anxiety we may have to act completely alone, we are not alone if we can pray, for then we are united to God, and the mighty communion of saints are with us also. Here we see the juxtaposition of humility and responsibility: once aligned to the heavenly hosts we are strengthened to do the work that must be done, and we, like Jesus, are both servant and master. We can distinguish a power of darkness by the hatred it exudes; it works towards the destruction that stands in its path to dominion, first local, then regional and finally of the whole world. It cannot learn, save how, to be more effective in its actions, but of the nature and aspirations of any opposed to its advance it is insensitive if not culpably ignorant. In the end its supporters are levelled down to a common mould, one that is most useful to its infamous ends.

By contrast, love emanates from a power of light. This is something of a different order from warmth or even affection, which I am prepared to imagine an evil influence can also present to the unwary. Love acts by giving up itself, even to death if need be, for the sake of its friend, who in the final analysis is everyone around us, the neighbour in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This in turn necessitates a love of oneself so complete that one no longer feels threatened by anyone else, let alone has any desire to abuse, denigrate or destroy him. In the face of that love, which is for everyone if it is real - for love, unlike affection, has no favourites - the beloved is shown the light, and unless he is stony-hearted and recalcitrant, he will move of his own free will to that light. "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: light has dawned upon them, dwellers in a land as dark as death . . .. For a boy has been born for us, a son given to us to bear the symbol of dominion on his shoulder; and he shall be called in purpose wonderful, in battle God-like, Father for all time, Prince of peace" (Isaiah 9:2, 6). To be a follower of the Messiah is to be filled with new life so that every faculty is renewed and the whole personality illuminated and transfigured. The identity sparkles in triumphant affirmation, but it does not revel in individualistic gestures. It rather adds its own contribution to the mighty fellowship of saints, the ones alive on earth being in psychic osmosis with those beyond death. By serving in the body of the Most High each organ, or member, attains the apogee of its own unique excellence.

In the mighty conflict of spiritual values - a better term than mere moral ones, for morality can be used to justify many hard, unloving attitudes to ways of life that are unsatisfactory but need understanding and love rather than unremitting judgement - our adversaries, as we have already noted, are in the intermediary psychic realm. In the Letter to the Ephesians, certainly Pauline in inspiration if not wholly written by St Paul himself, the adversaries are clearly stated to be cosmic powers, the authorities and potentates of this dark world and the superhuman forces of evil in the heavens (Ephesians 6:12). It is indeed in the suprahuman dimension that the origin of evil is to be located, but it finds an easy entry in the hearts (or souls) of all those who are unwary, sluggish in the life of prayer and sacrament, and whose private lives are thoughtless and selfish. The social realist might wonder at the sequence of personal defects I have described: surely the way of private life is the most important of the three? But a life devoted to social service and praiseworthy political action soon becomes infiltrated with the forces of evil if it is not well guarded by constant awareness and a primary dedication to God. We are never so dangerous as when fighting on the side of righteousness with weapons tarnished with hatred. The history of various revolutionary movements, especially those of our own century, underlines the power of evil to corrupt admirable idealism when the protagonist is convinced that he alone is right, and all others are wrong. Furthermore, if a person is wrong in the estimation of such a biased partisan, it follows that he is evil, a henchman of the devil. And so prosecutions and terror follow, all in the name of an admirable political and economic theory, which in the end fails to bring any other result than slavery in a new disguise. The reason for this sequence is the exclusion of love, which comes from God. So in the end the power of darkness has won a mighty victory. If the emanation of evil is hatred, its end is enslavement. Just as in the prisons of old each inmate was given a special number and recognized by that number rather than by his own name, so the powers of darkness render their victims faceless, nameless and apparently soulless. The process is a descent into hell, in a way a hell more terrible than the sphere of isolation reserved, as it were, for the erring individual who has failed to repent of his selfish, destructive way of life. This individual is still in contact with his soul identity, even if he cannot place it adequately in relation to his altered situation. The masses led by the power of evil into acts of unspeakably vile cruelty have surrendered their unique being and are now a nameless, faceless mass of screaming animals. In the end it is certain that a return to sanity will take place, preferably in this life or else in the life after death, and then comes a prolonged period of remorse for actions that cannot be altered. It should be recognized that the state of hell is irreversible by human action. The statement, "And as it is the lot of men to die once and after death comes judgement, so Christ was offered once to bear the burden of men's sins, and will appear a second time, sin done away, to bring salvation to those who are watching for him" (Hebrews 9:27-28), indicates that deliverance from hell is due to divine mercy, but we have always to be ready to receive Christ, the ultimate person of redemption of creation from the prison of everlasting, but not eternal, hell.

The passage in the Letter to the Ephesians already quoted, advises us to use truth, integrity, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and finally the power of the Holy Spirit who will give us the right words when the occasion requires them. The need for unceasing prayer is emphasized. Truth is not easy to know until we are at peace within, where lies our integrity and our hidden treasure. Peace in this context is a state of inner oneness with God, a state in which we can listen to various different points of view, and without having our own integrity threatened, can learn from many different types of people and sources of information. A particularly beguiling aspect of hell, or rather a niche in the general hellish atmosphere, is one frequented by those who know they are right, especially in matters of global significance in the realms of politics and economics. They look down in pity on those who cannot agree with them. But many such dogmatists have never experienced the circumstances against which they now so fervently campaign. In many current problems of this type the consensus veers clearly, and often for very good reason, in a particular direction. It is nevertheless better to try to effect a reconciliation or a more considered, gradual approach to an intractable problem than to precipitate such discontent that serious disturbances break out which cause widespread suffering. In the course of this unattractive suffering the noisy protagonists from afar usually beat a measured retreat.

The faith that serves in the cosmic conflict is provided by the cloud of witnesses that are eternally around us leading us inexorably in the direction of Christ, "on whom faith depends from start to finish: Jesus who, for the sake of the joy that lay ahead of him, endured the cross, making light of its disgrace, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrew 12:2). What he stood for and vindicated is a new understanding of reality, that renewal and total spiritualization are the apex of the creative process which continues as long as time remains. Salvation comes from his action in every life provided we have the humility and trust to introduce him to every facet of our existence, every part of our inner life, for God's courtesy is such that he does not intrude into our private lives or invite himself unexpectedly. But tragedy can strike without warning, and then God's presence is eagerly welcomed. Indeed, it seems to be a rule, almost a law of nature, that we do not seek God until we are brought very low, so low that we can see clearly in front of us with vision unobstructed by any fantasies or illusions. Perhaps it is better so, for then at least we can value God's presence instead of taking it for granted as Adam and Eve did before the Fall. God created us in order that we should fulfil our own destiny, even to become his sons in fact as well as by creation. It is more important for us to be true to our nature than any other consideration, even the worship of God. But until we attain right worship of God, we will never know the riches that lie untapped within us, and we will be in constant danger of being seduced and corrupted by the dark forces of the universe which already have their representatives in the human psyche.

Balance is the centre of all progressive motion. It is the subtle interplay of light and shade, of warmth and cold, of youth and age, that are the bases of enduring relationships, or as Jacob Boehme put it, "In yes and no all things subsist" (Of the Supersensual Life, Dialogue 1). Much traditional propriety was orderly, well-mannered, cold and very boring; the same applies to even the most excellent religion when it becomes self-assured, triumphalistic and socially stratified. The surface is plausible enough, but the depths are uncharted. By contrast the permissive society is disorderly and frequently ill-mannered, but its individual members are often acutely concerned about social and political justice in a way that only a few eccentric people would have been in time gone by. The irresponsibility shown in some personal relationships is balanced by a depth of concern for the underdog who was often ignored in the past. Neither the old nor the new is adequate on its own; the old is dead, the new is constantly dying, but from the ashes of its concern and the order of the past a new way could be opened by the power of God in whom alone there is a coincidence of all opposites.

This is indeed the essence of the new dispensation: a flowing together of previously opposing forces, each set on its way as the only measure of perfection. The spiritual battle was the symbol of the past: the righteous won and the wicked were defeated, either suffering death or at least severe punishment. Repentance alone secured some mitigation of sentence. The denouement of modern military conflict has shown the inadequacy, almost the fallacy, of this approach. In the end there is no peace and certainly no permanent victors. Those that are the losers plot subterranean vengeance, while the victors exploit their conquest to the detriment of the other parties. The same scheme applies to less dramatic conflicts in a social or even a family milieu. Above all, no one grows in spiritual stature, for each is concerned only about himself, his rights, and his reputation. When we have learned to hold fast to God, however we conceive him, we shall have transcended this petty, destructive domain of individual satisfaction and death, and moved to something of the new life in Christ.

Then the wolf shall live with the sheep,
  and the leopard lie down with the kid;
  the calf and the young lion shall grow up together,
  and a little child shall lead them;
  the cow and the bear shall be friends,
  and their young shall lie down together.
The lion shall eat straw like cattle;
  the infant shall play over the hole of the cobra,
  and the young child dance over the viper's nest.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain;
  for as the waters fill the sea,
  so shall the land be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.
                         (Isaiah 11:6-9)

Chapter 12
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