In literature, the antagonist is the one who works against or opposes another main character. This is pretty straightforward and my immediate reaction is to place Satan/Serpent/Devil as the bad guy in the story of scripture. But while Satan is described in villain like terms through scripture, Satan is not primarily working against God. In fact, Satan in many places is used by God to accomplish his purposes…Satan is in all places under the authority of God…and Satan is defeated in the middle not at the end of the book (and that makes for fairly anti-climatic story?). So, I don’t think it is best to follow my gut and accept Satan as the villain/antagonist of the story of scripture.
My second thought is to read humanity as the antagonist of God in scripture. This idea has a lot going for it in that humanity is consistently pictured as running from God, brazenly opposing the will of God, rejecting the steadfast love of God, and ultimately named as the ones responsible for the death of God’s Son. These certainly seem like the actions of an antagonist, but I have reservations about this idea also. First, humanity cannot be generalized in this fashion (not in real life or in the story of scripture). In the story, there are those who follow and those who reject…who obey and disobey (sometimes at the same time!)…who seek to hide and seek to be found. Generalizing humanity in this fashion is not only unsound but it also opens the door to untold horrors. When we to neatly identify those who are in and those who are out, it becomes very easy to treat those outside harshly (maybe have this discussion in a later post). Second, humanity is the very one being chased in the story and ultimately is caught. In pure literary terms (not that scripture has to accommodate to these terms!), the lion and the lamb would not lay down with each other. And in view of the story of scripture, humanity is opposed to God but it is not of itself. In itself, it is in the image of God, but something has caused this image to be tainted.
This leads to what I believe is the antagonist of scripture – death. Scripture is the revelation of God’s desire to be in relationship with humanity, but death in its different forms contends with God’s desire.
Physical death stands on the horizon for all humanity giving a definitive time for the establishment of a relationship.
Spiritual death is a reality for all humanity because in the story of scripture it symbolizes separation from God,a lack of intimate personal right relationship with God.
Death is the common enemy of humanity and God. Thus, it is death that God ultimately defeats. The victory is won in the middle of the story, but the victory is awarded in the end. In other words, death still prevails over humanity but it has lost its sting.
I believe that correctly identifying death as the a antagonist of the story has major implications for how we read and enter into the story. That will be the subject for tomorrow.