Friday, October 7, 2011

Jesus Versus Shakespeare

In our progression through the Gospels, Jesus and friends broke the Sabbath by eating, and then Jesus broke it by healing (Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11). Thereafter, Matthew let us know about a prophesy regarding Jesus, which did not really seem to be a close match upon further inspection.

Jesus Versus Shakespeare
If there was a showdown of wits between Jesus and any man, Jesus would win. At least, He should win. He is God, and part of that status means the endowment of all knowledge; what is, what was, and what will ever be. So I figured it would be a good idea to pit Jesus against Shakespeare to demonstrate Jesus' clear superiority. Funny thing though; it did not quite work out that way.

In case you are in doubt about just how smart God/Jesus is, a good place to start would be Job 38 and Job 39. There, God brags to Job about how superior His knowledge is to that of any man. You can sum is all up with one verse from an earlier chapter, Job 22:2:
"Can a man be of benefit to God? Can even a wise person benefit him?" NIV

Basically, not even the smartest man could teach God anything. Given that Jesus is God, the same goes for Him. And now, on to the battle of wits!

Matthew 12:22-28, Mark 3:22-26, and Luke 11:14-20 all record an incident where Jesus was casting out demons. The Pharisees got angry, and accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons; a.k.a. Satan. Mark 3:23-26 gives us the memorable quote below, which is similarly echoed in Matthew 12:25-28 and Luke 11:17-20:
"How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come." NIV

Pretty smart, huh? If Satan went around casting out demons, how could he rule his kingdom? (It is interesting to note that Satan's kingdom implicitly relies on people being demon possessed; that is by Jesus' logic anyway.)

Now let us offer up our human sacrifice, the immortal words of the mortal Shakespeare. The following quote comes to us from Act II, Scene iii of the play Othello. The villain Iago is secretly looking for a way to destroy the life of the black Moor, Othello, largely because of a rumor that Othello had slept with his wife. Iago's “friend,” Cassio, had fallen out of favor with Othello due to a drunken brawl, and he is desperate to restore his reputation. Iago counsels Cassio to have Desdemona, Othello's white wife, plead to Othello to forgive Cassio. It seems like good advice, but Iago plans to tell Othello that Desdemona secretly desires Cassio for herself in order to spur on jealousy. Speaking of the “good advice” he had offered, Iago says:

"When devils will the blackest sins put on, they do suggest at first with heavenly shows,"

In case your Olde English is not up to par, what Iago is saying is that when devils want to commit the most grievous kinds of evil acts, they start by deceiving their victims by doing something good; gaining their trust to fully enact their wicked plots.

Iago's, or more accurately, Shakespeare's words suggest that Satan, embodied in some possessed human, would benefit greatly by casting out a few demons here and there. In that way, people would revere his miraculous powers and treat him like a messenger from God. That is powerful and dangerous deception!

OK, time to check the scoreboard! Who won this battle of wisdom?


Oh, sorry about that, Jesus. It seems that your response just seemed a little naïve upon deeper reflection, especially compared to Iago's words. I am really surprised you messed that up, given that you know that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), and that you know that many false messiahs and false prophets will work miracles in order to try to deceive people (Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22). Well, better luck next time.


  1. This quotation might provide some relevant reasoning from the Christian side of this teaching.

    In other words, “ If what you believe is true, that there are supernatural forces trying to destroy what is good and what is right, how can they achieve their ends by destroying one another? Surely if I were the prince of the demons I would rather have destroyed the victim, and by so doing, achieve the demons' own ends” How can evil cast out evil? It cannot. Therefore their own argument recoils upon themselves and can no longer stand.

  2. Welcome back, Felix!

    The argument you included above appears to be a good one at first blush, but, when investigated more deeply, I don't think its strength withstands the scrutiny. Let me explain:

    First, you must realize that exorcising (casting out) a demon is not the same as destroying it. All that is happening (according to the Bible) is de-possession. So, at most, the hypothetical situation represented by Jesus' words is just Satan driving demons out of people. Theoretically then, those demons are still "alive" and free to cause havoc in the world. In fact, Jesus' own words in Matthew 12:43-45/Luke 11:24-26 suggest that the same demon who was cast out could easily re-possess the same person. So the net effect of Satan driving out his own demons would be negligible to his kingdom in the long run. Right?

    But what benefit would this temporal, negligible setback be? That brings us to the second point:

    You'll remember that Jesus said something to the effect of “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." Satan's kingdom would consist of those who do not side with Jesus, not just those who are demon-possessed. If you're not relying completely on demon-possession to build a kingdom, then you have to persuade people to join you. You would need them to come to you by either their own free will or by holding some sort of ransom to coerce them to obey. Casting out demons works to the former side of that equation; convincing people that you are the "real deal", so to speak; that you are the one who is worth following because you can heal people, among other powers.

    So, in this sense, Satan driving out Satan is actually a strategic manoeuvre to build his kingdom by building followers in the long run. Not only will such a kingdom stand, but it would flourish. In fact, check out Revelation 13:13-14 for a textual glimpse of such influential, miraculous deception.

    All the best to you!

  3. TWF:

    I'm not sure such a response properly deals with the manner of argument the above quoted is making. Rather than focusing on the "kingdom-building" part it seems to deal with the purpose part of the kingdom. That is to say by casting out demons (and healing and so on and so forth) Satan opposes his own purpose of amplifying suffering or some such, especially since it appears healing was a claimed practice in the early church. The specific morality of this particular set moreover might have been too high of a one to deceive by lest in it some become actually righteous under God's reckoning and by it become part of the opposing kingdom.

    It should also be noted, I think, that the writer limits Satan's kingdom to his angels rather than the mass of humanity under his sway. This might be relevant inasmuch there appears to be little to gain in running such a moralistic deception when the mass of mankind would already be counted under his kingdom and and operating under less intensely charity-focused beliefs.

    Hoping I made some sense,
    Felix Zamora

  4. Thanks for the reply, Felix.

    Those are excellent points! The author of the quote and I are looking at the issue from a completely different perspective, particularly in regard to the foundation of Satan's purpose, and the extent of his "kingdom", if you could call it that. Much of that perspective is built upon the particular branches of Christian theology that we've encountered or been influenced by. While there are several Bible verses explicitly regarding Satan, and several more said to metaphorically or symbolically represent Satan, the picture they collectively present is complex to say the least.

    You are right in pointing out that my reply didn't "properly [deal] with the manner of argument" because I skipped over illustrating why I believe the root of the author's thoughts about Satan's purpose were inaccurate, and I made the assumption that you would draw the conclusion in agreeing with me in that assessment.

    Is Satan's purpose purely to amplify pain, suffering, agony, despair, etc.? While there are some verses you could use to make such a case, I think that view is incomplete and out of context. Why? For a few reasons:

    First is that it makes Satan into a rather base character, lacking any intellectual complexity beyond being bent on destruction.

    Second is that, contextually speaking and compared to God's offering of the eternal afterlife, anything or anyone which could persuade or seduce someone down a path where that offering may be rejected could be labelled as amplifying pain, suffering, agony, despair, etc., and is ultimately destructive.

    Thirdly, If you subscribe to the Satan-convinced-a-third-a-the-angels-to-follow-him theology, as most Christians do, there must have been some very compelling for those angels to become "demons". The drive to cause random humans pain, suffering, and destruction, while probably being appealing in a juvenile manner, hardly seems like a strong enough rallying cry to have caused such a mass defection. On the other hand, the drive to take over, to rule, well, we know all too well how powerful such a motivation can be. So it appears more logical that Satan's purpose would be beyond mere mischief and misery.

    That links into the last point about what constitutes Satan's kingdom, as it was. Given that the ultimate battleground between God and Satan is defined as earth, it appears that humans play an important role, one not so easily dismissed by either God or Satan. From this perspective, I believe it is warranted to consider Satan's kingdom extending well beyond his angelic accomplices, and into the realm of subservient mortals.

    And so, any strategic injury which furthers the cause in the long run is truly wise, like a pawn sacrificed in a game of chess to strengthen a position.


  5. TWF:

    For now, on the first point it seems the chief characteristic of the devil in the New Testament is maliciousness, especially inasmuch that to some extent he is identified with those that kill out of ill will such as Cain, or the serpent that talked Eve into eating a fruit which would lead to death, an effort that seems most easily explained by a motivation of ill intent, that is, envy in an older sense. And FWIW, every Old Testamet appearance has him working to have men on God's bad side, and in Job's case has him acting out the destruction of his household.

    May all be well with you,
    Felix Zamora

  6. Hi Felix,

    Indeed, on both OT and NT accounts. Both "malicious" and "Ill intent" are still fairly broad to define, and could easily be applicable to anything which is against God's intent.

    The NT is more diverse still, as you have the "cunning" side portrayed in Jesus' temptation, you have the ambitious, miraculously powerful, and deceptive tyrant portrayed in Revelation, and then you even have a nod to the "old" Satan when he asked [implicitly] God's permission to sift the disciples "as wheat" in Luke 22:31.

    If I was trying to do the impossible task of getting the upper hand on God through humankind, it would surely be through a mixed strategy involving recruitment of forces and malice and ill intent towards the "good guys" on God's team. So I don't think it's an either/or proposition here, but rather it seems to make the most sense to me as a multifaceted approach to the intended goal.

    Of course, asking God's permission to do so would put a whole different spin on it! ;-)

    All the best to you and your family,