Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Why did Lucifer fall?

Why did Lucifer fall? Short answer: beats me!

It's a perennial theological question. Ultimately unanswerable. God knows. Some heavenly angels and fallen angels may know. Satan knows, unless he's in denial.

Because Milton wrote an epic poem on the fall of man, he had to have a theory, a backstory, to pad out one chapter of the Bible. 

The question goes to the origin of evil. How is the first sin possible? Sinners sin, but how does one become a sinner in the first place? What's the first step?

And it's wider than the fall of Lucifer. While Scripture is rather elliptical on the subject, there's an indication of a large-scale prehistoric revolt in heaven. So how do we explain the fall of so many angels? Indeed, the virtually simultaneous fall of so many angels? Why did Lucifer have so many followers? 

There are different ways of approaching the answer. It's like asking, what makes Harry Lime a villain? At one level, Lime is a villain because that's how Graham Greene wrote the character. But in principle there could be a backstory to explain why he's so amoral. 

By the same token, we can say Lucifer fell because God predestined him to fall. But there's still the question of motivation.

The problem or paradox depends in part on what assumptions lie behind the question. One way of posing the question is to ask, How can one fall from perfection to imperfection? 

But was Lucifer perfect? What does that mean? We might distinguish between three different things:

i) To be nice

ii) To be happy

iii) To be good

We're apt to think that if you're not good, then you're evil. But is it possible, at least initially, to be on a knife-edge between good and evil? An agent that has the unrealized potential to be good or evil?

We might also distinguish between a perfect agent and a perfect world. If an agent originates in a perfect world, does that ipso facto make him a perfect agent?

It's easy to be nice if you have it easy. It's easy to be happy if you have it easy. It's easy to be generous if you're rich, because it doesn't really cost you anything. 

Consider horror flicks about spoiled rich kids who take a trip. They're classmates. The smart set. They like each other. They're nice so long as the situation is nice.

But if they suddenly find themselves in a survival situation, then the veneer of amiability peels away. Classic fair-weather friends. If they're in competition for survival, they turn on each other.

Because all their wants and needs were provided for, they have no inner resources to tap into when that's removed. It's a cliche that a crisis brings out the best in some folks and the worst in others.

To take another example, suppose you have a teenage boy or girl who's self-absorbed. But then there's a crisis in the family. A parent or sibling becomes disabled or deathly ill. The teenager must take up the slack. There are three possible outcomes:

i) The crisis may reveal that the teenager had hidden reserves. That was there all along, but it took a crisis to bring it to the surface. The teenager was self-absorbed because there was no pressing need, and not because he was uncaring or inconsiderate. But when the crisis arises, he pivots. He adapts. He takes up the slack.  

ii) The crisis may reveal that the teenager is unprepared to face the challenge. It's a struggle. The crisis forces him to cultivate the necessary virtues. The need to meet the challenge is the process by which he develops what he needs to meet the challenge.

iii) He may walk away. He may abandon the ailing family member. Initially, he may make a token effort, but it's too demanding. It crimps his style. It's no fun. 

What if antelapsarian heaven was like a tropical paradise for angels. That's the only world they ever knew, from the moment of their inception. What if God then did an angelic trial by ordeal like he did to test Job or Abraham? What would be the reaction? Would that have a clarifying effect? 

Admittedly, this is mere conjecture, but it extrapolates from God's dealings with humans. And it transposes some insights from the soul-making theodicy to an angelic key.  


  1. I always thought the fall of Lucifer was pretty basic. Milton describes it well "its better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven".

    Lucifer did not accept the sovereignty of God. He wanted to be master of his own universe.

    A lot like most atheists todays.

    1. Just pushes the question back. Where’d those evil motives come from? Indeed, one might think the very having of those reasons constitutes ‘falling’. So your answer reduces to: he fell because he fell. Not very illuminating!

    2. No, the question is whether it's evil to be morally unformed.

  2. Opinion only here - I like how the office of ha'satan morphs into a personal name. I think Lucifer's office of accussor before the Throne may have helped in his downfall - I'm a Law & Order: SVU fan. On the episode where a ADA is first assigned to the squad, she tells her boss "I don't want it." and he answers, "You will." Many seasons later, the character is written out by having her break the law to ensure a (guilty) suspect is convicted. She did indeed grow to want it. She grew to want it too much. Point of the story - maybe Lucifer, in his role, grew to favor what he thought was justice too much and came to think of God as too "easy-going" on sin.

  3. I think there's quite a bit more we can say. I have written a book on the subject developing a (somewhat) fresh thesis- more like building on certain Reformed insights. I would love to hear your thoughts. Chapter one provide s the basic Contour of the thesis. Here is a free PDF.

  4. Ezekiel 28 seems to provide the best answers. He was the evil spirit behind the king of Tyre, who was in the garden of God (verse 13), who was an anointed cherub (v. 14, 16) who fell because of pride / arrogance of his wisdom and beauty (verse 17). with Ezekiel 28:2 and 6 - wanting to be "God", making his heart like God, etc.
    all this seems to provide OT background to what 1 Timothy 3:6 says about the temptation to pride/arrogance/conceit of a new convert.

    That evil spirit behind the king of Trye also explains the parallel of an evil spirit behind the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14 - the emphasis on pride and "the will to power" - the repeat of "I will" speaks to that.

    The fact that both Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 speak about an evil spirit power behind evil political rulers who want to control people, territories, make war, are cruel despots, etc. - speaks to the reality of human history and dictators and aggressive wars, etc.