ANGEL OR DEVIL? OR SINNER AND SAINT? July 10, 2019 by Brandi Hebert
Time Magazine’s Special Edition this month is titled, “The Science of Good & Evil”. Its cover features an illustration by John W. Tomac that graphically depicts a faceless outline of a person with two caricatures. On the person’s right shoulder stands a caricature of an angel in a white robe with white wings and a white halo whispering into the person’s right ear. On the person’s left shoulder stands a caricature of a devil, dressed in a red suit replete with a black pointed tail and black horns, whispering into the person’s other ear. Angels and devils. Good vs. Evil. Sinner vs. Saint? Perhaps, there is some science to understanding good and evil in one’s personhood and in society in general as the articles within the magazine suggest. However, I believe that the question of good and evil is one also of, and perhaps better suited to, that of theology, the language of God. It is a spiritual question when we ask ourselves how we believe we ought to live and live with one another. There is certainly a science to understanding ourselves and ourselves in community, however to dismiss the spiritual aspect of good and evil would be to limit our resources to deeper understandings. Faith and theological questioning doesn’t ask us to take leave of our rational, scientific thinking. On the contrary, as Princeton Theological Seminary professor Daniel Migliore suggests, ‘Christian faith is not blind faith but “thinking faith”. The cover image on the Time magazine is a colloquial rendering of a classic image of good and evil in the U.S. Less well known than this image, however, is an understanding of the Lutheran theology of simuls. The Lutheran simuls profess that two seemingly disparate entities can exist simultaneously. One Lutheran understanding of simuls is sinner/saint. Lutherans believe that all fall short of attaining the perfection or ‘saintliness’ of God’s Divine self and thus are sinners. Yet, through the power of God’s actions through Jesus Christ on the Cross, Jesus followers believe are set in right relationship, thus becoming both saints and forgiven sinners. Therefore, from the Lutheran perspective, the Time magazine cover is somewhat misleading. Good and evil are not some disembodied aspects of personhood set apart from oneself, but two simultaneous conditions of one’s human existence. How one then responds to the grace that is the receipt of forgiveness for one’s devilish failings then underscores how one lives into one’s faith and goodness more fully. However, it is the gift of grace always which compels one’s actions forward towards the fruits of the Spirit which the apostle Paul outlines in Galatians 5:22 as “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Recognizing that not all participants in this forum profess to Lutheran simul theology, but suspecting that there are points of contact with the simuls and other world religions, how do you understand good and evil through your own unique lens?