Eritis Sicut Deus: You Will Be Like God

Faust in his arrogance, as Mephistopheles patiently waits.
An etching from page 4 by Harry Clarke in
Faust – by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (translated by Bayard Taylor)
I’m stuck on and struck by many nuanced messages that fell out of the tragedy of Faust, which I just finished reading (here for quick a summary of the story). For example, in what seems to be an unimportant filler scene from Act IV, Faust leaves Mephistopheles (the devil) alone in his study. A young student comes to Faust seeking direction in what to study. Mephistopheles, pretending to be Faust, immediately seizes the opportunity to ensnare the young man. The devil deceives the student with his feigned wisdom and great knowledge. He directs him away from the study of theology and directs him to study wordsConvincing the student that he was sharing a great secret of wisdom, Mephistopheles writes the following in the young man’s notebook: 

“Eritis sicut Deus, scientes bonum et malum”
(You will be like God, knowing good and evil). 

The trap of Mephistopheles was hauntingly familiar, and it certainly was one that had worked before.* As the young man leaves awestruck, Mephistopholes says under his breath: 

Follow the ancient text, and the snake thou wast ordered to trample!  
With all thy likeness to God, thou’lt yet be a sorry example!
The student naively believed that words from his renowned teacher could save him. In reality Satan exulted in knowing that by using a catchy phrase, he had persuaded the student to follow the same serpent that was climbing the trees in the Garden of Eden. This old, but simple formula worked: this young student was now less like God that ever before. 

Fundamentally, Faust made the very same mistake. Supremely arrogant, he trusted solely in his own intellect, his knowledge and his power with words.  He no longer feared the devil and considered God unnecessary. He just needed one favor, and that’s where Mephistopheles factored in. It was the perfect storm. 

When I first met Faust in Act I, I was struck by his Abrahamic ambitions for knowledge.** Tragically, in his hour of desperation, he summoned a devil to help him. Contrast this with Abraham who called on the Lord in his hour of desperation. Where Faust was enslaved, Abraham and was delivered and enlightened.*** 

Seeking knowledge is an essential part of becoming more like our Savior. But in this quest we must ever remember that knowledge of good and evil is not enough to make us like God.**** And it is certainly not our intellect or our clever aphorisms that will save us in our moment of terror.


_________

* Genesis Chapter 3
** Abraham 1:2 describes Abraham’s desires for happiness, peace, rest and great knowledge in a way that resembles the inner yearnings expressed by Faust in his study.
*** Abraham 1:15
**** Even knowledge of the divinity of Jesus Christ is not enough to make us like God: Mark 5:1-14; Acts 19:13-16

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