Accusing the Accuser

“Satan,” or more accurately with either an indefinite or definite article, “a/the Satan,” means “an/the accuser.” Our accuser is our adversary. But what does the accuser accuse us of, and are the accusations just?

Many approach these questions in reverse order, thinking that Satan, as the Father of Lies and the antithesis of justice, cannot accuse us justly. So whatever Satan accuses us of, they must be false accusations that oughtn’t be believed. I’m not so sure about this. Take the questions in order. Suppose Satan accuses us for our sin; i.e., for breaking God’s just law, thereby condemning us. If so, Satan’s accusations are perfectly just. “There is no one righteous, not even one.” The lie in Satan’s accusations is not their falsity; it’s their partial truth. Anything short of the whole truth is a lie.

God’s perfect justice, the foundation of right and wrong, gets expressed to us in the form of moral duties and obligations, which the law tokens. As such, the law itself is not bad or evil. Justice, and hence the law that reflects it, is one aspect of God’s goodness. It is called “the law of sin and death” only because, were it the final canon from which verdicts were read, none would stand uncondemned. No mere human can perfectly fulfill the law—i.e., meet all one’s moral duties and obligations—and thereby escape being blameworthy, and hence escape being justly accused. This is precisely why we are enslaved to it: our slavery to the law of sin and death results from its obligatory nature: we must behave accordingly, lest we be blameworthy and justly accused.

The sword Satan wields against God’s people is therefore the law of sin and death, justly demanding—by God’s own authority—a final verdict of “guilty,” cutting them off from God forever. But what Satan fails to see is that there is more to God’s goodness than his justice. God, being unable to flout his own moral nature by breaking the law, is not merely not blameworthy; God is praiseworthy. God’s goodness is effusive, overabundant, and reaches—like grace, mercy, and forgiveness—“above and beyond” duty and obligation. The freedom found in the law of the spirit of life results from its supererogatory nature: God is not obligated to show grace, mercy, and forgiveness; He shows it freely.

Perhaps like an overzealous police officer corrupted by power, Satan fails to see the law as instrumental to the purpose behind it (which is to promote shalom) and sees only its function (which is to condemn) as the end itself. Or, to put it somewhat differently, perhaps as self-appointed administer of God’s justice, like a true bureaucrat, Satan can see only the letter and not the spirit of the law. But the spirit of the law of sin and death was always meant to point to a different law, one that’s at once deeper and higher: the law of the spirit of life. “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” Christ came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:6-16)

The Accuser justly accused the first Adam. But he could not justly accuse the second. Rather, the second Adam justly accused the Accuser.

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Ransoming the Holidays

Easter Bunny at Christmas cartoon 1Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is as much an Easter carol as it is a Christmas carol. Indeed, there would be no Christmas without Easter. Jesus’ humble birth, however miraculous, would have been a forgotten historical anomaly had he not been raised in victory. Wesley’s famous hymn calls to mind Gregory of Nyssa’s infamous fishhook analogy:

[A]s has been said before, it was not in the nature of the opposing power to come in contact with the undiluted presence of God, and to undergo His unclouded manifestation, therefore, in order to secure that the ransom in our behalf might be easily accepted by him who required it, the Deity was hidden under the veil of our nature, that so, as with ravenous fish, the hook of the Deity might be gulped down along with the bait of flesh, and thus, life being introduced into the house of death, and light shining in darkness, that which is diametrically opposed to light and life might vanish; for it is not in the nature of darkness to remain when light is present, or of death to exist when life is active. (Gregory of Nyssa, Dogmatic Treatises, Etc. XXIV)

This colorful imagery is echoed by Martin Luther:

[H]e suffered, died, and descended into hell that he might overcome them all. Now since it was such a one who did all this, and death and hell could not swallow him up, these were necessarily swallowed up by him in a mighty duel; for his righteousness is greater than the sins of all men, his life stronger than death, his salvation more invincible than hell. (Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty)

In an ultimate act of poetic justice, God deceivers the Deceiver, devours the Devourer; the roaring Lion gets eaten by the bleating Lamb. The Resurrection therefore fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy that the Lord will “swallow up death forever” (Is 25:8), which serves as the basis of our own hope of resurrection—that “death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:4) and that  “what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor 5:4).

Evangelicals tend not to observe continuity between Christian holidays. The very concept of a liturgical year is foreign to most nondenominational churches, probably due to excessive paranoia of revering lifeless religious traditions (only to replace them with lifeless traditions of their own). It may also be due to the fact that for a liturgical year to be meaningfully implemented, a decent amount of thought and reflection is required (which, coincidentally, have also been replaced by various forms of passive entertainment).

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“The doctrine of the Atonement, the doctrine that God has resolved the problem of moral evil in the world by means of the suffering and death of Christ, is the central doctrine in Christianity; and yet very little attention has been paid to it by contemporary philosophers of religion. There are no doubt many reasons for the neglect; but among them is embarrassment, for many of us know this doctrine only in the version which tends napkin theology 2to be promulgated by unreflective believers who are more to be admired for devotion than for philosophical expertise. This unreflective account of the Atonement is often assumed to be just the theory of the Atonement held by Anselm (or Luther, or some other notable philosophical theologian), but careful study of the work of such theologians will show that their theories differ significantly from the unreflective account with which most of us are familiar. That account tends to consist in the following set of claims (or something approximately like it).

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