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Friday, May 09, 2014

Debunking Heavenly Mythology VIII: Captain Kirk Was Wrong

“Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”
— John Milton, Paradise Lost
I know, I know, it’s Satan’s famous line from Milton, but the first time I heard it, it was delivered by William Shatner’s Captain Kirk in the original 1967 Star Trek episode Space Seed. In my frequently-inaccurate childhood memory the line belongs to Ricardo Montalban’s villainous character Khan, but thanks to YouTube, I stand corrected: Montalban doesn’t ever actually get to say it. Rather, with unusual subtlety for the genre, Khan, offered the choice between a comfy prison or the challenge of taming a wild planet, asks Kirk, “Have you ever read Milton?” Kirk, being a renaissance man, replies “I understand”.

Thankfully for my fascinated pre-teen self (and most of the audience, I’d suspect), Kirk later explains the significance of the reference to his engineer Scotty (who, despite spectacular feats of speed-engineering, is apparently not a renaissance man).

And really, it’s Shatner, so who better to deliver the line?

But that line stuck in my head. I thought it was really cool, and defiant, and independent, and all those things the TV screenwriters thought it was supposed to evoke (hey, I was probably twelve, okay?). Anyway, it worked.

But whether you choose to attribute the line to Kirk, Khan, Milton or Satan himself, it’s still wrong: Nobody reigns in hell.

Into this particular mythology dumpster you can also toss the popular images of Satan in red with horns, a tail and a pitchfork, tormenting people. As far as I can see in the word of God, once hell is open for business, Satan torments exactly nobody.

This is just me, but I think the citizens of hell will torment themselves. No additional help will be required.

If we are to look at the actual words of Scripture, a practice I thoroughly recommend, we read this about hell from the Lord Jesus himself:
“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
So hell, far from being the natural abode of Satan into which wicked men are flung for punishment by His Nibs, has actually been prepared as a place of punishment for Satan himself, and his devoted following of angels who “left their proper dwelling”.

Are we to conclude that such is the nature of divine optimism that it has been deemed unnecessary to specifically prepare a place for those who reject the salvation available in the person of his son? Or are we to conclude that those who disregard the Lord Jesus are of such little relevance to God that no specific plans have been made for their eternal punishment? Is there, perhaps, another reason human beings are destined to spend eternity in a place originally prepared for demons?

I have no way of knowing, and I wouldn’t presume to guess.

Luke speaks in Acts about the “ministry and apostleship from which Judas”, the betrayer of the Lord, “turned aside to go to his own place”. I don’t know what “his own place” means, to be honest, and I promise not to write a book speculating about it.

I do know that the pop culture fantasies related to hell are not in any way substantiated by the word of God.

The horns may well come from imagery in the book of Revelation, as may the tail (or perhaps the tail comes from the fact that Satan is described as a “dragon” and a “serpent”). Alexander Hislop points out that the horns, symbolizing power, strength and will, were a feature of ancient depictions of warriors going all the way back to Nimrod. But regardless of where they come from, apart from his appearance to Eve as a serpent in the garden of Eden, that seems to me to be figurative language, and not a literal description of Satan’s appearance to men. While we know it is a masquerade, he is described as taking on the appearance of “an angel of light”.

Exactly what purpose would it serve for Satan to appear to men as evidently and transparently evil? I can’t think of a single logical reason he would do so, when we are told he is by nature a “deceiver”. The last thing a deceiver would want to show us is his true appearance.

And whatever his actual appearance after millennia of rejecting the will of God, I suspect it is more other-worldly than anything Hollywood’s special effects guys can come up with. Red pajamas, a pair of horns and a tail will simply not do the job.

As for that “independent spirit” I admired as a boy in the Star Trek Milton quote, when it actually speaks, it says things like this:
“I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God. I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”
Which, I suppose, would be fine sentiments to express if you had even the tiniest hope of backing them up. But Satan is not a god and certainly not God. He is a created being. He owes his continued existence and ability to rebel, just like all created beings, to the one who upholds the universe by the word of his power. All his displays of self-aggrandizement and rejection of rightful authority will be destroyed and brought to nothing, not by the might of the heavenly hosts of God, but by “the breath of his mouth” and “the appearance of his coming”.

The true ruler won’t need to lift a finger to put Satan in his place.

We read again and again that those who reject the purposes of God will, for eternity, be cast into the “lake of fire”, which is the “second death”, where, far from ruling, Satan will be “tormented day and night forever and ever”.

Hell is not the rambunctious, independent alternative to the groveling, obsequious servitude of heaven that men like to picture.

Nobody reigns in hell.

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