06 February 2008

Bible Portraits: The Tempter (Part 1)

I am not accustomed to disappointment. By and large I like to think of myself as a patient individual. Yet I will frankly admit that there are times when even I can lose it—especially with those stubborn types who will not bend to my methods of persuasion.

However, let me begin at the beginning, and tell you a little about myself—so that you may lay your fears aside and see that I am not nearly as nasty a character as my detractors have made me out to be.

What you see now is not what I once was. I was the most beautiful and wise of all creatures. There was none that excelled me, none that could be compared with me. The most precious of gems—name them if you will, carnelian, olivine, jade, beryl, onyx, jasper, sapphire, turquoise or emerald—none of them equaled me in splendor. When I roamed the universe the stars would bow before me. The angels held me in awe. I was the very definition of perfection. I was a god.

One day as I roamed through Eden my eyes fell upon the Lord God (that is the incredibly pompous name he likes to go by) kneeling on the ground, sifting a pile of dust through his fingers. As he molded it, the dry dust began to take shape—a trunk, arms, legs, a head. Then, as I watched on, I saw him bend low and breathe into this creature of dust. What had been dry earth took color. Its chest began to heave. The eyes opened and looked about inquisitively. The Lord God took it by the hand and it rose to its feet.

I will never forget that moment, as the Lord God stood back and looked at the creature he had made. If you ask me, there was nothing special about it, rather ordinary, not much different from a baboon. Incredibly I could see in the Lord God’s expression a look of pride—no, far, far worse than that, of delight, of love. At that moment I knew that my position of supremacy was threatened. The Lord God was giving to it the glory and honor that were rightfully mine. It had none of the beauty or intelligence of an angel. Yet it, not I, would have authority over the creatures of earth—the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea. What was I to do?

I chose my moment carefully. It was obvious to me that they were stupid, gullible creatures, yet I wanted to have every tactical advantage. Catch them off guard, subtly misrepresent the Lord God so as to undermine their trust in him, overstate the pleasures of doing what he had forbidden. It would not take any more than that for me to regain my position of superiority and disgrace those interlopers. Perhaps the Lord God would be so angry that before they did any further damage he would wipe them out altogether. After all, he himself admits that he is a jealous God.

In the end it went considerably more easily than I could ever have imagined. They fell for my line without objection, almost without a thought. And yes, the Lord God was every bit as angry as I had predicted. He cursed them and he cursed me—which is why I look the way I do, but I will overcome that. He threw them out of my garden. But here is what really annoys me. Before he shut them out, I saw him stop for just a moment and give them each an animal skin to cover their nakedness and keep them warm. There was a look of wistfulness, of sorrow, in his eyes. At that moment I knew that he still cared for them, still loved them, foolish, disobedient and vile as they were. And I knew that my task was still unfinished.

If the Lord God would not destroy them, I could find ways to make them destroy themselves. With Cain it was jealousy, with Lot greed, with Jacob his competitiveness; with Moses it was his fierce sense of justice, with Naomi her grief, with David his virility, with Solomon his riches, with Elijah his independence. I could name you ten thousand more, all favorites of the Lord God, and one by one I brought them down. Yet in spite of all their failures, their disobedience, their rebellion and sometimes even their outright hatred towards him, he continued to love them, to yearn for them, to desire them for himself. Now you tell me. Is that any way for a god to behave?

I share all of this with you because I am now in the midst of facing my greatest challenge. I have been watching him since his birth in Bethlehem three decades ago. From the beginning I knew he would be dangerous. His name alone was a giveaway—Jesus, Yehoshua, “The Lord is our salvation”. Ha! Little do they know! One day it will be to me that they cry for mercy. And let’s see if they get it!

More tomorrow…

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