Have you ever heard of Milton’s Paradise Lost? It’s a classic poetical rendering of what happened right after the Creation starting with the fall of Satan, his army’s rebellion against God, his being cast out of Heaven, then what’s described in Genesis 1-3. I’m not going to blow smoke at you and tell you that I’ve actually read the entire thing: It’s waaaaaaaay too long for my short attention span. However, I've read portions of it and am pretty familiar with it. Lots of school-kids are forced to read it every year, and probably are turned off to poetry forever as a result.
The reason I bring it up is because of a criticism which C.S. Lewis made about Milton’s word picture of Satan. Of course Lewis loved the work, but he found fault with the way that Satan is portrayed as a grand and glorious character. He speaks grandly, he has some of the most interesting lines in the book, and you can’t help but admire his bravery/courage. As an admirer of the American Revolution, I find an element in Milton’s Satan that’s actually attractive in his rebellious defiance of authority. We've always had a soft spot in our hearts for the plucky underdog who rebelliously thumbs his nose at his alleged Overlord. The most famous line in the entire work sums up the attitude quite well: “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven!” Come on, admit it—There’s something in that which resonates within us.
That’s why Lewis found fault. The real Satan is not really admirable in his defiance. He’s a spoiled ingrate, and he’s not rebelling against some tyrant or bully. He picked a fight with the One Being who’s the essence (literally) of goodness, mercy, kindness, justice, and love. He saw God’s glory, and he wanted it for himself. There’s nothing to respect in that.
So it might surprise you to find that I’m going to find some positive lessons we can gain from our Enemy. Of course, I’ve said before that it’s always good to learn from negative examples of others: You see some doofus committing X in the Bible, he suffers from bad consequences, and you’re supposed to say “Wow! I sure don’t want to end up like that guy!” That’s not the case here. There are at least two ways in which we can improve ourselves by following Satan’s example. I’m not saying I admire him. I’m saying that I can learn some things from him.
First, we need to follow Satan’s example in his persistence. Today’s passage mentions it—he’s accusing us before God “day and night”--but it’s implicit all through Scripture. He’s been battling God’s plan for thousands of years. If one scheme doesn’t work, he’ll try another. In much of the world and throughout most of history, he’s tried to destroy the Church by means of frontal assault. Hostile governments have persecuted believers and continue to this day. But in the western world he’s tried another tactic: Lulling the Church to sleep. Why spend his time persecuting the Church when he can just as effectively shut it down by distracting it? I think we could profit by following that principle as well: Just because something doesn’t work immediately, you don’t simply give up. Maybe try another strategy!
Second, and this is even more meaningful to me today: Read the very last words of today’s reading. Read it slowly, please. Let it sink in. Satan in this passage is seen to redouble his efforts. If a subordinate demon came up to him and said “But master, we’re already at maximum effort! We’re already at 100%!!!” what would be his response? “Nonsense! Crank it up some more! We can put some more energy into this!”
Why is he redoubling his efforts here? Because he knows that his time is short! He’s under no illusions that he has all the time in the world. He doesn’t know exactly how much time he has left to carry out his anti-God plans, but he knows he has less time today than he did yesterday.
My friends, it’s like the Church in America is suffering from narcolepsy. Isn’t that where you fall asleep at inappropriate times? I promise you, our Enemy doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t take vacation days and he never punches out on a time clock.
He knows that his time is short. Do you?
Lord Jesus, I’m so sorry for forgetting that the clock is ticking. I have less time to serve you today than I did yesterday. Please forgive me, and give me a stronger sense of the temporary nature of time and the eternal nature of eternity.