Table of contents
I. Fallen Creation
St. Paul strongly affirms the belief that all things created by God are good. Yet, at the same time, he insists on the fact that not only man, but also all of creation has fallen. Both man and creation are awaiting the final redemption. Thus, in spite of the fact that all things created by God are good, the devil has temporarily become the "god of this age." A basic presupposition of St. Paul's thought is that althought the world was created by God and as such is good, yet now there rules in it the power of Satan. The devil, however, is by no means absolute, since God has never abandoned His creation.
Thus, according to St. Paul, creation as it is is not what God intended it to be--"For the creature was made subject to vanity...by reason of him who hath subjected the same." Therefore, evil can exist, at least temporarily, as a parasitic element alongside and inside of that which God created originally good. A good example of this is one who would do the Good according to the "inner man," but finds it impossible because of the indwelling power of sin in the flesh. Although created good and still maintained and governed by God, creation as it is is still far from being normal or natural, if by "normal" we understand nature according to the original and final destiny of creation. governing this age, in spite of the fact that God Himself is still sustaining creation and creating for Himself a remnant, is the devil himself.
To try to read into St. Paul's thought any type of philosophy of a naturally well balanced universe with inherent and fixed moral laws of reason, according to which men can live with peace of mind and be happy, is to do violence to the apostle's faith. For St. Paul, there is now no such thing as a natural world with an inherent system of moral laws, because all of creation has been subjected to the vanity and evil power of Satan, who is ruling by the powers of death and corruption. For this reason all men have become sinners. There is no such thing as a man who is sinless simply because he is living according to the rules of reason or the Mosaic law. The possibility of living according to universal reason entails, also, the possibility of being without sin. But for Paul this is a myth, because Satan is no respecter of reasonable rules of good conduct and has under his influence all men born under the power of death and corruption.
Whether or not belief in the present, real and active power of Satan appeals to the Biblical theologian, he cannot ignore the importance that St. Paul attributes to the power of the devil. To do so is to completely misunderstand the problem of original sin and its transmission and so misinterpret the mind of the New Testament writers and the faith of the whole ancient Church. In regard to the power of Satan to introduce sin into the life of every man, St. Augustine in combating Pelagianism obviously misread St. Paul. by relegating the power of Satan, death, and corruption to the background and pushing to the foreground of controversy the problem of personal guilt in the transmission of original sin, St. Augustine introduced a false moralistic philosophical approach which is foreign to the thinking of St. Paul and which was not accepted by the patristic tradition of the East.
For St. Paul, Satan is not simply a negative power in the universe. He is personal with will, with thoughts, and with methods of deception, against whom Christians must wage and intense battle because they can still be tempted by him. He is active in a dynamic manner, fighting for the destruction of creation and not simply waiting passively in a restricted corner to accept those who happen to rationally decide not to follow God and the moral laws inherent in a natural universe. Satan is even capable of transforming himself into an angel of light. He has at his disposal miraculous powers of perversion and has as co-workers whole armies of invisible powers. He is the "god of this age," the one who deceived the first woman. It is he who led man and all of creation into the path of death and corruption.
The power of death and corruption, according to Paul, is not negative, but on the contrary, positively active. "The sting of death is sin," which in turn reigns in death. Not only man, but all creation has been yoked under its tyrannizing power and is now awaiting redemption. Creation itself shall also be delivered from the slavery of corruption. Along with the final destruction of all the enemies of God, death--the last and probably the greatest enemy--will be destroyed. Then death will be swallowed up in victory. For St. Paul, the destruction of death is parallel to the destruction of the devil and his forces. Salvation from the one is salvation from the other.
It is obvious from St. Paul's expressions concerning fallen creation, Satan, and death, that there is no room in his thinking for any type of metaphysical dualism, of departmentalization which would make of this world and intermediary domain which for man is merely a stepping stone leading either into the presence of God or into the kingdom of Satan. The idea of a three story universe, whereby God and His company of saints and angels occupy the top floor, the devil the basement, and man in the flesh the middle, has no room in Pauline theology. For Paul, all three orders of existence interpenetrate. There is no such thing as a middle world of neutrality where man can live according to natural law and then be judged for a life of happiness in the presence of God or for a life of torment in the pits of outer darkness. On the contrary, all of creation is the domain of God, Who Himself cannot be tainted with evil. But in His domain there are other wills which He has created, which can choose either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of death and destruction.
In spite of the fact that creation is of God and essentially good, the devil at the same time has parasitically transformed this same creation of God into a temporary kingdom for himself. The devil, death, and sin are reigning in this world and not in another. Both the kingdom of darkness and kingdom of light are battling hand to hand in the same place. For this reason, the only true victory possible over the devil is the resurrection of the dead. There is no escape from the battlefield. The only choice possible for every man is either to fight the devil by actively sharing in the victory of Christ, or to accept the deceptions of the devil by wanting to believe that all goes well and everything is normal.