“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
So begins The Gunslinger, the first book of Stephen King’s fantasy epic series, The Dark Tower. Over the course of the series we learn that the man in black is in fact a character familiar to King’s universe, Randall Flagg. Flagg is an evil entity. Perhaps we could call him a wizard, though wizard is not really the right word for him. Better to say he is the personification of evil.
Flagg first appeared in King’s post-apocalyptic book, The Stand, which I am reading right now (I’m on page 810 as of this morning). We meet him walking through a desert in the western United States, and he is immediately shown to be a dark man who loves chaos. After a plague kills 99% of humanity, the survivors dream of Flagg as well as a kind old woman named Mother Abagail. Some survivors join Flagg while others join Mother Abagail. Some of Abagail’s first followers are not sure if Flagg is real and ask her about him:
“How much do you know about the dark man? Do you know who he is?
“I know what he’s about but not who he is. He’s the purest evil left in the world. The rest of the bad is little evil. Shoplifters and sexfiends and people who like to use their fists. But he’ll call them. He’s started already. He’s getting them together a lot faster than we are. Before he’s ready to make his move, I guess he’ll have a lot more. Not just the evil ones that are like him, but the weak ones…the lonely ones…and the ones that have left God out of their hearts.”
“Maybe he’s not real,” Nick wrote. “Maybe he’s just…” He had to niblle at the top of his pen and think. At last he added: “…the scared, bad part of all of us. Maybe we are dreaming of the things we’re afraid we might do.”
Ralph frowned over this as he read it aloud, but Abby grasped what Nick meant right off. It wasn’t much different from the talk of the new preachers who had got on the land in the last twenty years of so. There was evil, and it probably came from original sin, but it was in all of us and getting it out was as impossible as getting an egg out of its shell without cracking it. According to the way these new preachers had it, Satan was like a jugsaw puzzle – and every man, woman and child on earth added his or her little piece to make up the whole. Yes, all that had a good modern sound to it; the trouble with it was that it wasn’t true. And if Nick was allowed to go on thinking that, the dark man would eat him for dinner.”
The Stand, p. 503-504.
I couldn’t help but think of this passage, and of Flagg, in the last twenty-four hours. Once again evil has been given a face as one man murdered dozens of people at a concert. As usual, many people have shared much on social media – thoughts, tears, prayers, ideas for why this keeps happening and ideas how to stop it. A lot of this is helpful, some of it is probably not.
I personally don’t have much to say on any of that right now. All I know is evil is alive and well in 2017. Most days, if you ask me, I am honestly not sure if there is such a being as “Satan.” God as the ultimate reality, the infinite ground of being and creator of all things, makes sense to me. A spiritual realm with spiritual beings, some good and some evil, is a little tougher to swallow but I can buy it. But a grand demon in charge of all the rest, good ole’ Lucifer? For some reason, that seems difficult to believe. But then I look at the evil and suffering in the world and I think maybe there is something to that old time religion with its talk of battles with an incredibly powerful being, Satan, the personification of all evil.
Satan is still active, enticing people to evils both big and small.
Flagg may have a different name and face, but he’s out there causing chaos.
The walkin’ dude is still walkin’ through the desert…
PS: Richard Beck has a pretty fantastic book on Satan that I read a few months back that speaks to contemporary Christian skepticism to Satan as well as the reality of such evil. Check it out: Reviving Old Scratch.