“Today we live in a society of scientific logos, and myth has fallen to disrepute. In popular parlance, a “myth” is something that is not true. But in the past, myth was not self-indulgent fantasy; rather, like logos, it helped people to live effectively in our confusing world, though in a different way. A myth was never intended as an accurate account of a historical event; it was something that had in some sense happened once but that also happens all the time.”
– Karen Armstrong from The Case for God.
In a recent comment on my sermon, i was asked if i thought hell, the devil, demons, and even the temptation of Christ was figurative. Yes. i think that they are figurative. But folks – that doesn’t mean that i deny that they are literal. That is a false dichotomy. Just because something is figurative or metaphorical doesn’t mean it is not literal.
However – what do you think is more powerful – the literal truth or the metaphorical truth?
What is important bears repeating – “A myth was never intended as an accurate account of a historical event; it was something that had in some sense happened once but that also happens all the time.”
The Devil i know is less scary than the Devil i don’t know. i am more afraid of the metaphorical Devil than the literal Devil. i am more afraid of the metaphorical Devil that i can become, that is an aspect of my ego, than the literal horned, pitchfork wielding monster that smells of sulphur.
The scene from the Gospels (Matthew and Luke) about the temptations of Christ appear to me like something that happened in one’s mind rather than something that happened in reality. The Devil brought Jesus from the wilderness, to the temple in Jerusalem, and then to the top of a high mountain. Perhaps we have been too influenced by the movies we watch where characters can teleport from one place to another so we think of this as normal. What is more important wasn’t whether this literally happened, but what the temptations meant.
The three temptations – turning stone to bread to relieve one’s hunger, to jump from a pinnacle of the temple and rely on angels to break his fall, and to worship the devil in return for all the kingdoms of the world (“All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”) – are more significant as metaphors. If we only read them literally, they are just 3 temptations Jesus was put through by the Devil. But when we read it as a “myth,” as metaphorical, figurative truth, then these 3 temptations were “something that had in some sense happened but that also happens all the time.”
Could the 3 temptations be reminders for us that the figurative Devil can constantly tempt us?
1. Turning stone to bread – the using of our gifts, abilities, skills and power for our own benefit, and not to do God’s will?
2. To jump from a pinnacle of the temple and rely on angels to save us – to expect rescue from supernatural forces, rather than taking responsibility of our situation ourselves. (Very often, it is when we take responsibility and work on our situations that we find help from unexpected places/people)
3. Worship the devil in return for all the kingdoms of the world – The figurative devil is more frightening than the literal Devil. i doubt many people will be kneeling in an altar dedicated to the Devil – but many of us are tempted to worship other things to gain power and wealth. Worship isn’t just a religious practice – worship is ascribing great worth to something. When we place something as more important to God, that is idolatry – that is worshiping something else other than God. It could be wealth, power, fame, sex, pleasure.
The Devil wears many guises – and those guises are not literal.