Demons in God’s Plan

By Peter Darcy | On Dec 2, 2015 | No Comments | In Angels

By Peter Darcy

God gave the gift of free will to both angels and men in order that the capacity for love would not be coerced but freely offered. No one can deny, however, that free beings of both angelic and human nature have used their freedom to reject God and harm God’s children. How are we to understand such evil in God’s plan? Rather than offering a precise theological answer to this question, let us, rather, turn to one of the creative masters of our age for insight into the dynamics of grace and free will, and the power of good over evil.

English author J.R.R. Tolkien magnificently envisions how the fallen angels’ evil was transformed into the service of God’s larger plan for the universe. Tolkien’s epic work, The Silmarillion, written as sort of a “prequel” to his more famous Lord of the Rings trilogy, is an imaginative description of the creation of the world and the events that led to the world in which we live. Amazingly, he describes the creation of the world as having taken place by the harmony of angelic music. Quite a beautiful concept. This is ultimately related to the power of good to overcome evil, as we shall see.

In Tolkien’s representation of creation, he describes the most powerful angelic being, Melkor – an obvious image of Lucifer – as having broken away from the other angels because of his adamant will to play music according to his own whims. Tolkien’s depiction of God – called Ilúvatar – foresaw that this glorious being would separate himself from the harmony of the other angels with the result that discordant notes would enter into the music that holds the world in being. Yet, Ilúvatar’s foreknowledge also arranged that the dissonance would somehow become part of the larger symphony which Melkor and the other rebellious angels would be unable to disrupt. Here are two passages in which Tolkien, using his own sublime gift of language, describes this dynamic of angelic harmony absorbing demonic dissonance:

And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.

There were two musics [of angels and demons] progressing at one time before the seat of Ilúvatar, and they were utterly at variance. The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came. The other had now achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes. And it essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn pattern.

This wonderful depiction of how God “weaves” the raucous clanging of the demonic discord into new patterns of angelic music strikes me as a magnificent poetic explanation of a mystery that even the greatest theological minds find hard to put into words. This transformative dynamic is what we commonly call the Paschal Mystery, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the dynamic Source of the world’s life. The greatest evil that ever occurred in the world, namely, the Crucifixion of the God-Man, was somehow transformed into the greatest good for all of creation and all time by His Resurrection. Tolkien seems to have captured the truth of God’s foreknowledge as absorbing and “weaving” the reality of evil into the lyrical fabric of salvation.

The earliest theologians of the Church were in agreement about the angels’ ignorance of the Paschal Mystery. The fathers believed that the Mystery was not foreseen even by the most extraordinary angelic intellects. Numerous fathers of the Church cite the event of the Ascension of Christ as the culminating moment of angelic wonder as they looked upon the Word made Flesh escorting redeemed humanity through the open gates of Heaven in a miraculous transformation that could only have been accomplished by God Himself. This was a total “overthrow of the natural order of things” and resulted in complete astonishment as the angels witnessed “a reality absolutely new and unforeseeable”. Notwithstanding their gifts of intelligence, the angels had to be enlightened about the mysteries of faith – as we do – which were not fully knowable even by their penetrating, natural intellects.

As a result of the Paschal Mystery, the angels were changed, not in their essential nature, but in their ministries. Some of the Fathers of the Church characterized the angels as being “desperate” because of their failure to stem the tide of evil in the world and to keep humanity from falling into idolatry. They failed, not for their lack of effort, but rather because of the wickedness of men’s hearts and the strength of the demons’ seductions. After the Death and Resurrection of Christ, however, the angels served humanity with revitalized energy, braced by God’s redemptive power. With the revelation of the Paschal Mystery, the angels lost their previous “desperation” about the power of demons and rejoiced with exuberant joy that God Himself had come in the flesh to remedy the problem of human sinfulness.

This, perhaps, is a long way of saying that God foresees and permits all the evil that is done by the free will of fallen angels and men because He has encompassed it in a larger Mystery whereby evil will be transformed into a greater good, or, to use Tolkien’s words, “woven into [the greater music’s] solemn pattern”. The Book of Revelation, in particular, shows the surprising image of holy angels acting as monitors of destructive demons, controlling and releasing their evil as instruments in God’s overall plan for salvation.[37] We can thus say that God actually uses demons to accomplish His divine plan in a way that is effective and ultimately humiliating to the proud demons. The demons must find it infuriating to know that they are being used as instruments in God’s plan of salvation.

St. Thomas explains how it seems that the holy angels seem to stand by while the demons carry out their evil in the world. He says that

the holy angels are the ministers of the Divine wisdom. Hence as the Divine wisdom permits some evil to be done by bad angels or men for the sake of the good that follows, so also the good angels do not entirely restrain the bad from inflicting harm (Summa Theologica I.109.4.ad2).

The holy angels are the perfect executors of the Divine will and wisdom; they carry out God’s wishes with perfect obedience, even if their intellects, like ours, do not fully understand all God’s reasons. They are, therefore, good examples to us who have to give humble obedience to so many matters of our Faith, even though we may not have a full understanding of the truths behind the teachings.

One final note about evil in the divine plan: God places strict limits on evil’s scope and power in this world. In the final book of the Bible, we are told that the power of evil lasts “only for an hour” (Rev 17:12); this metaphor is God’s way of telling us that the demonic program of destruction is temporary and must be endured. It also reminds us that those who are faithful to the end will be saved (cf. Mt 10:22, 24:13; Rev 2:10).

Now, aren’t you glad that the holy angels are on our side?

Written by Peter Darcy

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