See the wise and wicked ones
Who feed upon life’s sacred fire
These are lines from Gordon Lightfoot’s song Don Quixote, and they 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 anti-Christ,” 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 Anti-Christ 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 that make up so much of the evening news each day is not evil energy but rather the misuse of sacred energy. Evil deeds are not the result of evil energies but the result of 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 which 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, 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 on 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 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 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.
Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.