Are you a Materialist or Magician?

6 08 2011

One of my all time favorite movies is the brilliant thriller, The Usual Suspects, starring Kevin Spacey as ‘Verbal’ Kint. Not only is the unpredictable ending amazing but it has some awesome lines among which this is one (Here’s the youtube clip of the scene).

Who is Keyser Soze? He is supposed to be Turkish. Some say his father was German. Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that, poof. He’s gone.

This line by Verbal is not only good for its dramatic effect, but its force, I believe, comes mainly from the truth it carries. The greatest (and most dangerous) trick the Devil ever did play on us, especially on the Western hemisphere, was to convince us that he didn’t exist. Interestingly, this idea isn’t original to the 1995 movie and one can trace it back to at least as far back as C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (I don’t know of an earlier source though I have not ruled out the possibility of it). John Murray comments in his WSJ column about this classic and the two dangers into which people fall, being a materialist or magician:

In his original preface written from Magdalen College at Oxford on July 5, 1941, Lewis warned of what he called “the two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.” One error “is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” Lewis concluded that the devils “are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

In light of Rob Bell’s recent publications seemingly promoting the disbelief in the existence of hell, I believe the timeless classics of Lewis is in need of re-visitation. And as we do, Murray unsurfaces a very helpful perspective that is not often mentioned in the discussion. That is, the devil is not an opposite nor an equal to God in any sense:

When asked about “his belief in the Devil,” Lewis addressed the question in a thought-provoking way in his preface to a revised edition of “Screwtape” in 1960: “Now, if by ‘the Devil’ you mean a power opposite to God and, like God, self existent from all eternity, the answer is certainly No.”

As Lewis explained, “There is no uncreated being except God. God has no opposite. . . . The proper question is whether I believe in devils. I do. That is to say, I believe in angels, and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will, have become enemies to God. . . . Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael.”

This is a good reminder for those who have a tendency to become ‘magicians’ or be overly interested in evil spiritual matters. But those who struggle with becoming materialist, which I suspect is most of us (including Bell), I suggest we pick up The Screwtape Letters once again, if we haven’t already done so, and remind ourselves that the visible is not all there is to this world. Then maybe, it will aid us to wake up from the dirty trick the devil has been playing, a trick not just of fun and game but one that has life and death on the line.


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2 responses

6 08 2011
chung

good post paul.. about the devil convincing us he doesn’t exist, i almost bought into this living in this materialistic culture until a month ago when we had quite the experience at our hispanic ministry..

6 08 2011
Paul Park

Hmmm, I’d like to hear about the experience sometime. I need reminders quite often….

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