Satan, the Paraclete, and the Mission of the Church
I'm reading Bob Ekblad's 2005 book Reading the Bible with the Damned, a chronicle of his ministry of Bible study with inmates, immigrants and the impoverished. I've wanted to read this book since I first heard about it, but I finally picked it up in the bookstore at the Seattle School of Theology & Psychology during this year's Inhabit Conference, put on by the Parish Collective. That conference primes you for books like these; when we focus not on the physical plant of a church building but the work of God in a particular geographical context, we see everyone and everything differently.
"The voice of the Satan, accuser and tempter, too often sounds louder and more powerfully than that of the Paraclete - advocate and comforter."The voice of the Satan in this context confronts the men taking part in these studies with their alcoholism, their drug use, their criminal acts that have landed them in jail - basically, whatever personal shortcomings preoccupy their minds about themselves. The voice of the Satan tells them they have failed too many times to merit the love and concern of good people like God, like those in authority over them, like those well-intended Bible study leaders who visit them in their distress. The voice of the Satan tells them that they may as well enjoy their vices - they will feel better for indulging them. The life available to them is not worth staying good for. The voice of the Satan is exactly what it sounds like: evil, vindictive, subversive and wrong. In contrast is the voice of the Paraclete, which is how the Scriptures refer to the Holy Spirit. This voice of God is understood to be for those who hear it, comforting in tone even as its authority is directed toward the good of the person who hears it. The Paraclete advocates for us even and especially when we are found to be in the wrong; the Paraclete defends the defenseless and champions the cause of the lost and forgotten. The Paraclete comforts the afflicted and intercedes for them, making a better future for them. The Paraclete advocates for us even and especially when we are found to be in the wrong. http://ctt.ec/gZERj+ It strikes me that as we take our faith into the lives of other people - an audacious act to be sure - we ought to make a concerted effort to sound less like the Satan and more like the Paraclete. It also strikes me that, often, this is not the case. Picture, if you will, someone engaged in the act of evangelism. Depending on your life experience, you may be picturing a bold, noble, steel-jawed champion of the faith, or you may be picturing an oily TV preacher picking someone's pocket. Or maybe your mental image lies somewhere between the two. In any case, you're probably not picturing an act of advocacy - a material effort to secure the good of another person. You're probably not picturing an act of comfort - words or actions that convey consolation and empathy. You're probably picturing one of two common strains of evangelism: * Accusation, in which the object of the evangelist's ministry (the "evangelee") is made to appreciate the full weight of his or her sinfulness, that it results in eternal separation from God and consignment to the eternal flames of hell. * Temptation, in which the evangelist describes heaven as the best place on earth, and entices the object of evangelism to do whatever it takes to get there. Accusation. Temptation. These are the tools of the Satan. I'm just saying. I don't mean in this little rant to suggest that hell is not bad and heaven is not good. Nor do I mean to suggest that we would not each be well served by coming to terms with the various ways we've failed ourselves, our loved ones, our world and our God. Nor do I mean to suggest that every evangelist, every act of evangelism, is under the control of the Satan. Most evangelists are well-intended, good people, and they're doing what they think is best for everyone. What I mean to suggest is that there are ways we can give witness to the God we have come to know as good - ways that don't rely on the ways of the wicked. We can notice the ways in which our neighbors have been failed by the world, and we can, in the name of God, seek ways to improve their situation. We can notice where despair and shame have taken root in people's lives, and we can replace it for them with hope and consolation. We can, in short, be good neighbors to our neighbors, and we can see what God does with that.