See the wise and wicked ones,
Who feed upon life’s sacred fire.
These are lines from Gordon Lightfoot’s song “Don Quixote” that highlight an important truth: both the wise and the wicked feed off the same energy. And it’s good energy, sacred energy, divine energy, irrespective of its use. The greedy and the violent feed off the same energy, as do the wise and the saints. There’s one source of energy and, even though it can be irresponsibly, selfishly and horrifically misused, it remains always God’s energy.
Unfortunately, we don’t often think of things that way. Recently I was listening to a very discouraged man who, looking at the selfishness, greed and violence in our world, blamed it all on the devil. “It must be the Antichrist,” he said. “How else do you explain all this, so many people breaking basically every commandment.”
He’s right in his assessment that the selfishness, greed and violence we see in our world today are anti-Christ (though perhaps not the Antichrist spoken of in Scripture). However, he’s wrong about where selfishness, greed and violence are drawing their energy from. The energy they are drawing upon comes from God, not from the devil. What we see in all the negative things and evil deeds that make up so much of the evening news each day is not evil energy, but rather the misuse of sacred energy. Whether you consider the devil a person or a metaphor, either way he has no other origin than from God. God created the devil, and created him good. His wickedness results from the misuse of that goodness.
All energy comes from God and all energy is good, but it can be wickedly misused. Moreover, it’s ironic that the ones who seem to drink most deeply from the wellsprings of divine energy are, invariably, the best and the worst, the wise and the wicked, saints and sinners. These mainline the fire. The rest of us, living in the gap between saints and sinners, tend to struggle more to actually catch fire, to truly drink deeply from the wellsprings of divine energy.
Our struggle isn’t so much in misusing divine energy, but rather in not succumbing to chronic numbness, depression, fatigue, flatness, bitterness, envy and the kind of discouragement that has us going through life lacking fire and forever protesting that we have a right to be uncreative and unhappy. Great saints and great sinners don’t live lives of “quiet desperation” — they drink deeply sacred energy, become inflamed by that fire, and make that the source for either their extraordinary wisdom or their wild wickedness.
This insight — that saints and sinners feed off the same source — isn’t just an interesting irony; it’s an important truth that can help us better understand our relationship to God, to the things of this world and to ourselves. We must be clear about what’s good and what’s bad, otherwise we end up both misunderstanding ourselves and misunderstanding the energies of our world.
A healthy spirituality needs to be predicated on a proper understanding of God, ourselves, the world and the energies that drive our world, and these are the non-negotiable Christian principles within which we need to understand ourselves, the world and the use of our energies: First, God is good, God is the source of all energy everywhere and that energy is good. Second, we are made by God, we are good and our nature is not evil. Finally, everything in our world has been made by God and it, too, is good.
So where do sin and evil enter? They enter in when we misuse the good energy that God has given us and they enter in when we relate in bad ways to the good things of creation. Simply put: We are good and creation around us is good, but we can relate to it in the wrong way, precisely through selfishness, greed or violence. Likewise, our energies are good, including all those energies that underlie our propensity toward pride, greed, lust, envy, anger and sloth; but we can misuse those energies and draw upon life’s sacred fire in very self-serving, lustful, greedy and wicked ways.
Sin and evil, therefore, arise out of the misuse of our energies, not out of the energies themselves. So, too, sin and evil arise out of how we relate to certain things in the world, not out of some inherent evil inside of our own persons or inside of the things themselves. The wicked aren’t evil persons drawing energy from the devil. They’re good people, irresponsibly and selfishly misusing sacred energy. The energy itself is still good, despite its misuse.
We don’t tap into evil energies when we give in to greed, lust, envy, sloth or anger. No, rather we misuse the good and sacred energy within which we live and move and have our being. The wise and wicked both feed off the same sacred fire.
Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Ronald Rolheiser is a specialist in the field of spirituality and systematic theology.
His website is www.ronrolheiser.com.