A big concern in Oklahoma is a new monument that some want to erect on the Capitol grounds, right next to the huge stone tablet bearing the Ten Commandments. Those who desire to erect this monument claim their right to do so under the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.
It's a seven foot statue of Satan as "Baphomet, a goat-headed, angel-winged, androgynous creature" flanked by two children gazing rapturously on him. The Satanic Temple based in New York has been campaigning for its erection. An Oklahoma State Representative is said to have called it "an insult to the good people of the state." I'm sure there are similar complaints from others of our good people.
While the Satanists have no complaint as to the Ten Commandments' monument, they simply feel that it should be accompanied by other religious monuments. Other groups are attempting to do the same in other states. The ACLU, of course, has sued to get the original monument removed, and pending the outcome of that case, we're told there will be no more new monuments.
My Atheist friend, of course, finds quite a bit of humor in this whole flap, as I suppose do many other unbelievers of various persuasions. I must confess that I too find the whole affair amusing. Somehow, I don't feel my faith at all threatened by the erection or removal of the various monuments. I even (sarcastically, of course) commented that perhaps old Beelzebub's statue was appropriate for our fair state, right next to the Ten Commandments, considering our behavior and politics.
But how should I relate to this whole affair? My mind somehow seeks to make connections where there seem to be none; like what would be the significance, if any, of a statue of Satan sitting right next to the Ten Commandments? There seems to be a subtle, unintended irony here. My thoughts kept coming back to the Apostle Paul's word pictures of what we have been delivered from by Christ:
"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you then walked, according to the age of this world, according to the ruler of the domain of the air - the spirit that is now working among the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:1, 2).
"... the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins that He might deliver us out of the present evil age according to the will of our God and Father" (Galatians 1:3, 4).
"Giving thanks to the Father ... who delivered us out of the domain of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of the Son of His Love" (Colossians 1:12, 13).
According to Paul, we - every one of us -- were subjects of "the domain of darkness," enslaved and ruled over by the being represented by that statue and his minions. But through faith in Christ who died to rescue us, we have left that slavery behind.
This ruler, who is known by a variety of names - Satan (Adversary), the Devil (slanderer), the tempter, the accuser of the brethren, the Old Snake, Beelzebub, Beelzebul - is pictured by Paul as carrying out his will through his minions. And he's still active in our lives, even though we are no longer his subjects.
Paul uses a number of words to describe the beings who ruled over us in the past. One word stands out, the Greek word stoicheia, which is often, especially in older English versions, translated as "elements" or "elemental things." While this is a legitimate translation in many cases, Paul uses the words of actual personal beings (as it is used in magical papyri in the second century). "Elemental spirits" is probably a better translation of the word in Paul's writings.
He tells the members of the church in Colosse, a church composed mainly of new converts from paganism: "... you died with Christ from the elemental spirits (stoicheia) of the world ..." (Colossians 2:20).
He tells the Galatian churches, also recent converts from paganism: "Even so we, when we were children, were enslaved under the elemental spirits (stoicheia) of the world" (Galatians 4:3).
"... at that time when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those which by nature are not gods" (Galatians 4:8).
Paul's letters were written to young churches, full of new believers, many of whom had only recently left behind the worship of pagan deities -- those "elemental spirits" mentioned above. And many of his letters had to deal with problems that came up in those churches. Some of those new believers had difficulty sorting out what was proper behavior and worship and what was improper. There were - then as now - temptations to fall back into the old ways, which Paul saw as putting themselves again under bondage to those spirits.
The church at Colosse had such temptations. Their temptation was to fall back into pagan worship, but with a "Christian" twist. While it is not clear exactly in what ways this temptation presented itself, it seemed to be bound up in worshipping pagan deities as angelic beings, on the same level as Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote to combat this tendency by showing that Christ was higher than any and all created beings - that He was God in the flesh. He told them that when they placed their faith in Christ, they died to those old ways and that they were resurrection creatures. It made no sense to return to their former ways.
"Watch out lest there should be anyone who leads you captive through philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ ..." (Colossians 2:8).
"If you died with Christ from the elemental spirits of the world, why, as living in the world, do you dogmatize, 'don't touch, don't taste, don't handle'?" (Colossians 2:20, 21).
But the churches of Galatia were going astray in a different manner. Though they too had been converted from paganism, there were a few who had come out of Judaism, and there were some teachers who had been teaching them that to be justified and live the Christian life, they needed to get themselves circumcised and keep the Old Testament Law. In other words, these new converts from paganism were being urged to become Judaistic Christians. And Paul's words to them were even harsher than those to the Colossians. He tells them that to turn to Judaism was to turn their backs on Christ and to return to those same elemental spirits that had enslaved them when they were pagans.
"... at that time, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those which by nature are not gods. But now having come to know God, how can you again return to the weak and poverty stricken elemental spirits, to which you want to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, lest somehow I have labored for you in vain" (Galatians 4:8-11).
"You have been severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the Law; you've fallen away from grace" (Galatians 5:4)!
So when I envision those two monuments sitting side by side on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds, I can't help but see the irony in the fact that in a real sense they represent two forms of slavery that we are in danger of falling back into:
· The danger of worship of false gods -- pure paganism
· The danger of putting ourselves under the Old Testament Law - as a way of works' salvation or a way of life.
As Paul warned his readers in both of these churches, we cannot turn back, whether to paganism or legalism. We have been freed in Christ from both of these.