A friend of mine contacted me recently and asked me if I would review a book for another friend of hers. Since it meant I would get a free copy, and I could ignore the book if it sucked, I accepted the invitation. A few weeks later, Empathy for the Devil arrived in the mail, and it did not suck.
First of all, I have to say that I love that the guy who wrote a book about the devil has the last name Forasteros, which sounds like maybe he could be a minor character in Faust or something.
But that’s beside the point. Let me get to the book itself. What it does is take a look at some biblical villains, and then follow those stories with a bit of theological observation. The cast of characters are Cain, Delilah, Jezebel, Herod, Herodias, Judas, and finally Satan himself. So the basic pattern is villain-commentary, villain-commentary, etc.
The author is a good writer. The genius of this book is to craft sympathetic stories of people we are inclined to dismiss as just evil. The author rightly notes that the danger of dismissing the bad guys is that it can make us forget how easy it is for us to become bad guys ourselves. Nobody really sets out to be evil. They set out to do something they believe is good and right. The problem is that the good is complicated. It is hard to know. Most of the time what we believe to be right is colored by our own doubts, traumas, and insecurities.
I have to say that some of the author’s theological observations, chapter-by-chapter, are a bit ho-hum. But that could be a matter of preference. (This is where I sound snooty.) It could have something to do with the fact that he is writing this for a broad audience, and I am supposed to be an “expert” or something. Basically, I sometimes read theology the way a nutritionist might read an article in Women’s World about the latest diet breakthrough. The good news is that most people aren’t me. The insights the author has are strong. The stories he tells help convey the theological concept of systemic sin fairly well, which is something most people need to think more closely about.
On the whole: Good book. Read it.
P.S. The chapter on Herod and the Magi, and the point the author makes about drone warfare, is very strong. Definitely read that part. Most of us are totally good with killing a few kids to secure what we think to be peace. Merry Christmas.