Last week a friend of mine asked if I thought the Devil was a hero or a villain. Now having been raised by a good Methodist mother, my response should have been automatic, immediate, and emphatic. Nothing with me is quite that simple, though, so the question became something of a thought exercise – and one that I’ve spent more time pondering over the last few days than I expected.
First, if we accept the Bible as the literal word of God, the answer is obvious. The devil is the bad guy. He’s the super villain’s super villain. However,I’m all too aware that edition of the Bible I grew up with was one commissioned by England’s King James I and completed by his team of translators, all members of the Church of England, between 1604 and 1611. The fact that it is a translation based on previously translated works based on events first described not closer than several centuries after they would have originally take place has always felt to me a bit problematic. For purposes of this particular argument, though, that’s not my point.
When I look at the Old Testament story of Lucifer’s fall, I’m often tempted to give it some of the context it’s lacking. Context that perhaps paints an image at an Almighty who is unelected and wholly unaccountable in His actions. If we apply a bit of literary license, we can see God, certainly the God of the Old Testament, as the purest incarnation of absolute monarchy – quite literally king by divine right. Within that broader context, Lucifer raising a reported one third of the angelic population in open rebellion against the throne could be construed as an act of defiance against a totalitarian regime. I’m thinking here now about the images of Romanians rising against Ceaușescu and East Germans overtopping the Berlin Wall in 1989.
From the seat of an all knowing and all powerful deity, Lucifer’s actions can only appear ungrateful, immoral, and a blatant violation of the established order. If one were to be devil’s advocate it certainly seems possible to argue that as a leading light among the heavenly host, he had a duty and an obligation to rise up and cast off the shackles of oppression and lead his people towards a more democratic future. At least that’s how I’d make the case if I were devil’s advocate, but maybe I’m flavoring it with a little too much of my own ideas about how oppressed peoples are supposed to respond.
Perspective is everything. Especially when it comes time to label the winners and losers of the story. So, is the Devil a hero or a villain? Yes, I suppose he is.