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.

I was also primed for this book by my recent experience with the homeless ministry of my church community, where I started out watching TV with the homeless (in the form of the TV miniseries The Bible, of course) and then moved on to a series of video Bible teachings on the prayers and parables of Jesus. Some of those videos were shockingly tone deaf about the perspective, even the basic human dignity, of homeless people, and I found myself distancing myself from the makers of those videos, even though I have more in common with them than I do the guys who make up our discussion group.

Anyway, I'm learning a lot about Bible interpretation from Ekblad's book - how our lived experience will allow us to draw different insights from the Scriptures, so long as the dominant culture (e.g., mine) gets out of the way and lets it happen. I'm also learning, almost as a side effect, about the mission of the church.

It turns out that the church is easily thrown off its mission. Just add some money, some power, some cultural privilege, some law and order, and suddenly the church is, as they say, "majoring in the minors." This idea came into stark relief for me with one passing line from Ekblad,tucked away on page 99, in the middle of the fifth of nine chapters:

"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.

TWEET THIS: The Paraclete advocates for us even and especially when we are found to be in the wrong.

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.


Anonymous said…
* The good neighbor is one that is never see, nor heard by you.
* He bangs on his drums daily & for over an hour, it gets to you, the tweets from the surrounding neighbors single file in his direction, "$#@% %^& %$#& *^ man".
* He leaves his gate unlocked at night & the wind bangs it shut at regular intervals, "*%^ $%&^$# man" the neighbors tweet.
* Then we find out that he does not have a drum kit, it is not him practicing to keep up his skills but him taking the piss (as the British say)he does it all on a keyboard & loud, "%$#@*&^%#$ &^%#@ man".
As far as he is concerned we are heighbors from hell.
Anonymous said…
"The voice of Satan, accuser & tempter, too often sounds louder & more powerful than that of the Paraclete" - The Holy Spirit - Gods Spirit within us, indwells every believer.

The voices within us, that lead us astray.

* to sugar
* to food
* to exercise
* to sex
* to attention & affection
a) the needy person who will not give you any space.
b) unrequited love - is such a bore.
* alcohol
* drugs
* kleptomania
* the thrill
* the sadist
* the masochist
* a manefestation of both, S&M.
And there is so much more.

Are we sure that it is not a case of being trapped & compelled & against our will - forced - inflicted upon - by Satan for the planet earth is his domain.
If so, is it therefore a punishment for past sins & this is hell?
Q:- do we believe in reincarnation / passed lives, if not it must be sins committed in utro or in infance & childhood.
Who has actually heard the voice of Satan so that they can attest to it's abrasiveness. To my mind the voice of a persuader is gentle & kind & thoughtful & loving & consolling
"there, there, dear, it hurts dosen't it, take the painkiller & it will feel better".
Sooner rather than later you are addicted to prescription drugs.
TO PAIN RELIEF. the flesh is weak.
Who Dun It to you - the nurse / doctor/ mum/ carer/ they who so ever handed you the drugs & soothingly convinced you to take them.
Because the pain is relentless & at some point you will not be able to resist the pain anymore & you will want to die - for the coward that you are.
This is not God, nor is it the Holy Spirit, nor it is Jesus, & nor is it the Holy Mother.

I am Roman Catholic so it has to be all of the above. I have a set of rosary beads & I pray to the Holy Mother you see.

Me thinks, a rethink is in order.
Thank's for the articles - Great Stuff.
Anonymous said…
1/ Frank Sinatra - Glad To Be Unhappy.
2/ Glad To Be Unhappy - John Mayer & Chris Botti.
Resignation to the fact.

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