In this entry I’d like to consider corruption and its cure. In the news we regularly read about corruption but in most cases it isn’t explained. So let’s chase a definition by turning to Ezekiel where we read of Satan’s fall: “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor” (28:17).
This compressed description is, arguably, the ultimate headwater of sin—the moment in history when evil began. It helps explain how sin exists today.
We need to note the role of the proud heart. But how does a heart become proud? Ezekiel offers a cause-and-effect link—his “because of”—and tells us that Satan’s narcissism generated his pride. He had seen a mirror and was captivated by the view. Ezekiel then reinforced the connection with a Hebrew parallelism: Satan’s splendor corrupted his wisdom.
Some readers will ask a proper question: where do we see any mention of Satan? The key figure cited here is “the King of Tyre” (28:11). And, along with that question we have another: how can this passing reference to an ancient city-state be about the origin of evil?
We get there by connecting dots. These include mention of a pristine cherub in Eden; the imagery of the ultimate temple on the “holy mountain of God” where guardian cherubs serve to shield God’s brilliance—as did the model mercy seat cherubs made by Moses. Their beautiful garments of precious jewels were prepared “on the day you were created” to reflect and refract God’s glory. These all point to an inaugural period in creation history.
This summary also featured a shift in Satan’s identity. His creation role was to reflect God’s glory but he turned, instead, to gaze on his own glory. This turned everything upside down. Although still a creature he wanted to compete with the Creator.
In Ezekiel’s broader time-and-space context we see the “prince” of Tyre being led by the “king” of Tyre—with the latter portrayed as a spiritual being; while the former is “a man” who viewed himself as “a god.” This follows the profile of the fall in Genesis 3 where “the serpent” persuaded Adam to believe he, too, could be “like god.” Both men were captured by Satan’s ruling ambition.
Notice the result: “you corrupted your wisdom…” Narcissistic self-love spoiled God’s wisdom. And when we see this parallel to Adam’s fall we can identify the basis of evil: the denial of God’s good wisdom in favor of the Serpent’s perverse wisdom. One is God-focused and the other is self-focused. In Eden the new focus was displayed by Adam’s new shame for being naked. He had lost his view of God’s goodness.
This starting point helps us see the basis for corruption today. The world, Paul tells us, is defined by “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). John repeats the theme. Apart from authentic Christians, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). The whole world, then, is corrupt apart from God, driven by a vision of life separate from God’s loving kingdom.
We still don’t have a working definition of corruption. So here’s a starter: corruption is any attitude and action that exists apart from a heart focus on God. It’s whatever separates the creation from the Creator.
As such corruption is an “un-thing: it requires goodness for its existence because it starts with God’s creation goodness at every point. But evil strips away God’s creation purposes as it applies Satan’s alternative “wisdom from below.”
Augustine saw this in the fifth century. He recognized that evil is not a new reality produced by Satan—as if he, like God, is a creator. As a creature Satan can only operate in the realm of God’s created goodness. There is no second-tier creation called “evil.” Instead every evil is a twist. It takes the goodness out of what God made for good. Goodness becomes “un-good” by applying the lie that we can exist without God.
Eating, for instance, is good; and gluttony is eating with the goodness removed. So, too, speaking truth in love is good; but speaking selfishly, with a deceitful heart, strips away the goodness and the trust our words are meant to offer. Sexual intimacy, as a core feature of life, is a goodness meant for the lifelong marital communion of a man and woman. It fulfills God’s purpose for a husband and wife to become one in love. But when sex becomes a selfish pursuit, engaged outside God’s plan for procreation and family nurture, the goodness is undone.
Corruption may, of course, pretend to be a splendid reality, like the glitter of a Las Vegas Casino. More often it exists in mundane decay, as in the empty pretensions of a failing marriage. In every case of corruption the decay grows because Christ’s Spirit—bringing his life and love—is missing.
But let’s not end here. Can this undoing of God’s goodness be reversed?
The promise of coming incorruption is a hope Christ offers. Even now his Spirit restores life in place of death. By giving us the Spirit of Truth Christ reconnects us with reality. He draws us into the wisdom from above: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:16-17).
This new path forward starts with a new gaze of the soul. Where Satan was consumed with a vision of his own splendor, we who look to Christ throw away our mirrors and look, instead, to the splendor Jesus shares with the Father—in John 17:24—and faith, as summarized by the writer of Hebrews (in 12:2), is our “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
So let’s live correctly rather than corruptly. It’s a matter of where our hearts are gazing: of what we love. Jesus, alone, cures our shame by opening our eyes to his genuine splendor.
With that we get to enjoy the unspoiled view of life he alone offers. Let’s go there!
Good morning Ron.
Your message on corruption reminds me of the illustration you and David shared showing the upper and lower half of a circle representing the powers of good and evil.
Yes, I had the illustration in mind as I wrote. Thanks, Mike.
I’ve dropped the more personal features of your note (hope you don’t mind!) but want to affirm your response (all the elements, both what’s posted here and the rest of what you wrote). The image of absolute contrasts in the Scriptures (as in upper and lower halves of a single moral globe) that we’ve used certainly works for me. We read of the polarities of Light and Dark; Truth and Lie; Love and Hate; real Wisdom and false Wisdom (and more!) so that the illustration really works.