abashed the devil stood, and felt how awful goodness is

For children are innocent and love justice; while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.

There used to be a time when men loved justice. That time has passed.1

In those times, there were legions of angels, and those angels’ only purpose was to plummet to earth and dispense justice.

In those times, everyone knew how the world operated. Two people come into dispute. Those people cannot conclude their dispute amongst themselves. They both pray—a quick prayer will do, muttered under the breath—and an angel of justice, an adjudicator, would crash to earth, survey the disputants, and administer summary justice then and there.

Virtue is always rewarded. But most men are not virtuous, and do not get rewarded. Most all men are wicked, and the adjudicators can see your wickedness.

The problem is that it never takes long for people to realize that whatever petty spat they have going on—a drink-soaked brawl, an eloped daughter, trampled crops—really is petty compared to what truly lies in their hearts. And the adjudicators see, clear as a morning’s ray, those wickednesses: the crippling sloth, a neighbor’s envied wife, the infant thrown with the hog slop. Adjudicators persist until a work is done, and when called down they address each sin, each dispute, and each disputant; the calling prayer only brings their attention. They do not take commands, and the prayer is not a command, just an invitation. And when you invite them to extirpate wickedness, they do so.

Battistero di San Giovanni, dome, The Tongues of Men Speak Forth Sin (1225).2

Those men of old knew of all of this.

Perhaps then it was why they were so kind to each other. If disputes lead to wildness and wroth and the cloudiest of thinking, it is too easy to forget that calling an adjudicator is always just but rarely wise. So men, reacting as could be expected to the smoking holes of arguments past and the now-limping now-beggars whose ugliness within was writ without, learned not to dispute. It only takes one to call down an examiner who harrows the sins of all.

And so men forgot. The memory of the prayers fell away before the kindness did, but the kindness fell away too, and now we have the world we all live in.

Those legions still exist, but they are purposeless. They enjoy their current position—that is, adoration at the feet of the deity—but hedonism—and that is what it is—is ultimately unfulfilling. Purpose gives meaning, and exercising that purpose provides joy that lasts beyond when the activity ends.

1 People still think they want justice. They really don’t.

2 Marie-Lan Nguyen (CC-BY-SA 2.5)

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2 thoughts on “abashed the devil stood, and felt how awful goodness is

  1. Interesting idea; definitely provides an alternative to the “Viking” or “barbarian” rationale behind politeness, by moving the potential retribution up a few steps in the hierarchy. (Plus, there’s the possibility of someone rediscovering the prayers, and calling forth forces that are so destructive to the present society that they are seen as horrific monsters.)

    Also, welcome back! 😀

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    • Actually, this is a fantastic idea! There’s the hook: someone rediscovers the prayer. Devastation results. If people don’t remember how to call the adjudicators, they probably don’t know what the adjudicators are doing… and if you don’t know, that devastation suddenly looks like supernatural attack. What happens when awful–awe-full–angels are mistaken for demons?

      Like

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