Empathy for the Devil
Do we have anything in common with the bad guys of the Bible?
The sins of wrath, idolatry, and abuse of power are closer to us than we think. How do we guard against them? We learn not only by following moral exemplars—we also need to look at the warnings of lives gone wrong.
In this fictionalized narrative, JR. Forasteros reintroduces us to some of the most villainous characters of Scripture. He shows us what we can learn from their negative examples, with figures such as Cain, Jezebel, King Herod, Sampson and Delilah, and even Satan serving as cautionary tales of sin and temptation. Forasteros vividly tells their stories to help us understand their motivations, and his astute biblical and cultural exposition points out what we often miss about their lives.
We soon discover that we might have more in common with these characters than we would like to admit. Take a fresh look at the scoundrels of Scripture, and find sound pastoral guidance here to walk the path of righteousness.
"Sometimes we get closer to truth by taking the opposite perspective from the one we typically take. Empathy for the Devil gets us closer to truth by exploring the dark side, the devil's side. Like a series of narrative proverbs, we can learn something about what is right by looking closely at what is wrong."
"This is a beautifully written, compelling, and important book that will make you see the villains of the Bible and yourself in a whole new light. Highly recommended."
"Empathy for the Devil is unlike anything you've ever read. Part fictional anthology, part nonfiction, the pages of this book bring ancient antagonists to life in ways that will both shock and inform you. It's Wicked for the spiritual formation set. Every one of us knows what it's like to linger before a mirror, seeing a deep secret or two we withhold from the world, wondering if others really understand our hearts, anxious about whether or not we want them to. When JR. told me he was going to write a book about how relatable the villains of Scripture are, I thought if anyone could pull it off, he could. And he has. The people in these pages are infamous for the worst things they ever thought and did. Plenty of us can probably relate to the fear of being remembered for our faults, what we got wrong. But beyond the darkness there is always a light to move toward. This book shows us the cost of selfish ambition and the choice we have to be protagonists in a story much larger than ourselves."
"The deepest truth usually dawns on us through the power of a story. Nowhere do we find more explosiveness than in the stories of Scripture. We love these stories because they're not whitewashed or edited. We see ourselves in our human rawness. JR. Forasteros has done two things quite well in this book: narrated the story of the dark characters of Scripture and introduced them into our lives in believable terms. If we can own them rather than castigate them, we may find the saving grace of God that delivers us from evil."
"We underestimate the power of looking to our greatest enemies. We forget that they are like us more than they are unlike us and that if we can learn to see ourselves in their eyes, to bridge the gap between 'us' and 'them,' tremendous healing and peace can be found. Never has there been a time in history where this message is more needed, and JR. tackles the subject with creativity, wisdom, and grace. You don't want to miss this book."
"Reading Empathy for the Devil is like realizing your whole life you've been trying to see the stars through the wrong end of the telescope. Carefully researched and creatively written, Empathy for the Devil gives us a new kind of Copernican Revolution. It reframes the way we think about the other and the Other. I feel like I can see the stars with fresh eyes—or maybe for the first time."
"The most compelling question any great story seeks to answer is why? Why did Cain kill Abel? Why did Delilah seduce Samson? Why did Judas betray Jesus? These questions are all the same question: Why does evil exist? And, more to the point, why does it exist within us? In Empathy for the Devil, JR. Forasteros tells seven gripping stories about the most infamous characters of the Bible so we can learn why they did what they did, and, in turn, why we do what we do. Tread lightly, reader: when JR. parts the veil over Jezebel's face or grants us entrance into Herod's inner sanctum, you're unlikely to discover the evil adversaries you booed in Sunday school. Rather, you're going to find yourself subtly nodding your head. You will see these misunderstood men and women of the Bible in such arresting, startling new ways that you may even catch glimpses of yourself in their eyes. The question you have to ask yourself then is why?"
"A provocative exercise in literary invention that casts key biblical figures in an intriguing new light, from Cain to Judas to—yes—even Satan."
"It's easy to pass over the villains of the Bible, dismissing them as foils of the story, convinced that they're not like us. But JR. Forasteros says, 'Not so fast!' Even though we rightly admire the heroes of the Bible, JR. holds up the mirror of Scripture and invites us to ask, Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the vilest of them all? It's not who you think. Empathy for the Devil is a creative, insightful, provocative look at the villains of the Bible, not just as cautionary tales but also as exemplars of the human condition—our common lot. Here is wisdom: by identifying with these 'bad boys and girls' (Oh, my villainous heart!), JR. helps us see how we can become incarnational models of God's redemption in Christ."
"A tendency of triumphalist Christianity and American exceptionalism, and really just human pride, is that it tends more and more toward ignoring its own weaknesses and sin. Empathy for the Devil helps curb this tendency by exploring the shapes and contours, the colors and smells, of our faults. These expanded and gentler retellings of biblical villains' stories create much-needed space for our own brokenness and for God's grace to transform, not just triumph over, the devil in all of us."
"Empathy for the Devil is as provocative a read as it is informative to the very way Christians respond to both the sinfulness within our own human hearts and the world all around. This is a must-read for those with any interest in loving the downtrodden, mistaken, failures, and misfits often all too quickly marginalized and remembered only by their shortcomings."
"Researchers have demonstrated a correlation between reading fiction and a capacity for empathy. This should not surprise us, for both require attentiveness, imagination, and the ability to enter into another's story. Synthesizing solid yet accessible biblical scholarship, fictionalized retellings of biblical narratives, and pastoral wisdom, JR. Forasteros invites us to consider the perspectives of familiar and not-so-familiar villains of the Bible. Empathy for the Devil performs a kind of 'listening between the lines' for the desires, motivations, and rationalizations of even the most despicable characters and their (mis)deeds. The point is not to elevate them, but to humble us. Their stories, carefully considered, expose similar tendencies and twistedness lurking within our own hearts. Every reader will benefit not only from JR.'s insights into these cautionary tales, but from the exercise of entering empathetically into their stories and allowing the Holy Spirit to shine the flashlight into the darkest corners of our souls."
"Identifying society's villains may be the amusement of our day. We rally outrage (usually via social media) and direct it toward our enemies, distancing ourselves from their errors and evils. In Empathy for the Devil, JR. Forasteros beckons us to reconsider our judgments. With beautiful prose and solid biblical exposition, Forasteros kneads empathy into readers' hearts as we see our common need of rescue from evil—a rescue God graciously provides in Christ Jesus to villains like you and me."
"Written with the biblical knowledge of a scholar, the incisive wisdom of a prophet, and an imagination worthy of the Inklings, Empathy for the Devil expertly shines a spotlight on the 'bad guys' of the Bible so as to illumine the bad guys within our own hearts. Be ready for a page-turner that takes an inventory of your soul."
"Empathy for the Devil is book that gives a fresh take on the villains of the Bible. I still remember reading the chapters on Judas and Satan for the first time. The 'frog' in my throat got bigger the more that I read it. Not only does this book give a fresh perspective, it also invites the reader to walk a mile in each villain's shoes. After walking that mile, you might ask yourself: Is there a little bit of villain in me too?"
"JR. has a history of slaying giants. As a fellow 'weird pastor' I've always loved how JR. tackles the subjects all of us want to hear about but typically don't have the nerve. He mixes sharp scholastic skill with wit. He communicates not as someone who emulates popular culture but as one who truly lives and creates culture. In Empathy for the Devil, we get fantastic exegesis that cuts each of us right to the core. We realize evil is something truly different than what Western Christianity has created over the last few decades. I'm glad JR. wrote this book. It is one we all need to read because it teaches us about the humanity we all have. But even more than our humanity, it teaches us the power of deep, beautiful, reckless divine grace."
"At first glance, you might be thrown off by the title. But I'd say stay with it! What Forasteros has laid out here is a popular culture ortho-theology. The era we live in is nothing less than out of the ordinary. So we need even more out-of-the-ordinary theology. This is exactly what Forasteros has done in this magnificent text. He has helped us to grasp transcendence from the margins—a theology for those who don't fit. Yes. Finally. He's given us a manifesto for our current sociocultural setting. Bravo!"
"With creative genius, JR. invites us to open the floodgates to our imaginations and see things like never before. This is a thought-provoking and mind-bending book. JR. is a brilliant and articulate storyteller, and you won't be able to put this book down. So get cozy, grab a cup of coffee, and immerse yourself in this book!"
2. You Wouldn't Like Me When I’m Angry: How Anger Might Be an Invitation to Life
3. Delilah and Samson
4. I’m Not Like Everybody Else: When the Light of the World Goes Dark
6. House of Cards: Power, Fear, and the New American Gods
7. Herod the Great
8. Between Rome and a Hard Place: Living in a World of Impossible Choices
10. The Cat's in the Cradle: The Fingerprints Our Families Leave on Us
12. What Death Smells Like: The Betrayal of Faithfulness
Interlude: The Monster at the End of the Book
14. Running with the Devil: On Devils, Older Brothers, and Pharisees Then and Now
Epilogue: Empathy for the Devil: What to Do When It Turns Out You're the Villain
The monster slept, quiet as a baby, in Delilah’s lap. Her slave slipped silently into the room, bearing her iron shears, blades freshly sharpened, then retreated just as silently. Carefully Delilah began to cut through the first lock.
It was not only that Samson was Hebrew. True, they were a backward people—a nation of shepherds, their pottery crude, their metal soft, their tales not even a millennium old. But they were a hospitable people, and Delilah had gained some wealth trading with them the fine Greek dishes she made. Besides, Delilah’s own grandfather had been a shepherd.
The Hebrews may have been barbaric, but they followed the way of their god. Samson didn’t fit even among the Hebrews. He kept none of their laws—eating from corpses, lying with foreign women. Samson was neither Philistine nor Hebrew. He belonged to a different age, one when the lines between things were blurred. Perhaps what the people whispered was true. Perhaps he was a demigod—Heracles himself stepped out of legend.
Delilah grimaced in disgust at the stench of Samson, earthy and unwashed. If he was half anything, most likely he was half beast. Men were creatures of reason, of thought and planning. This brute was a slave to his desires. He could do nothing but what his body demanded of him from moment to moment. It was fitting she sheared him as she would a beast. How fortunate he proved easy to domesticate.
Delilah tossed the first lock gently aside, then lifted the second.
Samson stirred. Delilah went still, not breathing, but he only turned and settled back into her lap. Delilah exhaled slowly. Her strongest wine had dragged Samson deeper into slumber.
The shears were sturdy iron, the blades honed to a keen edge. Despite their age, they were free of rust. Delilah kept the blades well oiled; they were all she had of her grandfather, of her childhood. She remembered the day they’d left Mycenae, the few animals that remained of her grandfather’s once numerous flocks sold off to pay for their passage. But he had refused to sell the shears. Her grandfather had always boasted they were the first shepherds to use iron shears in their region.
But iron had not saved them from poverty. Delilah was in her seventh year when they came to Canaan. Her grandfather had not survived the journey, and her father had found the grapes growing in the Sorek valley. It turned out a Greek shepherd knew enough about winemaking to offer a vintage far superior to the native Hebrew fare. By the time Delilah became a woman, her father was wealthier than they had been in Mycenae.
Delilah had taken to their new vocation. She preferred the slaves who trod the winepress to the leering shepherds who had been in her grandfather’s employ. She was happy to learn her father’s business, happy to take it over after he followed his father into death. Wealth, she had found, outweighed womanhood in many matters, including wine.
Her lip curled into a sneer as she thought, Wealth reveals what fools men are. Take it away, or have your own, and see them revealed for the petty, foolish creatures they could be. Wear no veil. Let them see a bit of your flesh and imagine your curves, and they can think of nothing else. You may take all you wish, and they will thank you for it. Rob them blind, and they will boast to their friends that they have the famous wine of Delilah’s vineyard. Let them drink from beautiful Greek cups, and they will hate the crude mugs their wives and mothers made. They will insist you sell them cups too, and you will grow yet more wealthy, more powerful, by selling civilization to barbarians.
Delilah regarded the iron shears again. Wine that doesn’t taste like vinegar they can have. Well-fired cups adorned with larks and storks they can have. But the secret of iron the Hebrews must not learn. Some among them are fearsome warriors—even those without the strength of gods. If they had iron swords and shields, my people might be chased out of our new home more swiftly than we fled Greece.
Even as a child, Delilah had heard of Samson. His village was no more than a morning’s walk from her father’s vineyards, and tales of his great strength circulated even then. He made a reputation as a brute—loud, selfish, thoughtless. He stole bread and sometimes vandalized a Philistine home. It was said he once carried off four sheep and held a feast for his friends. The lords of Philistia called him a troublemaker, though Delilah heard he troubled his own people as often as he did hers. He was a local legend, yet a minor, if irritating, annoyance.
But that was before his wedding.
Samson met his wife, Kala, on a journey to Timnah, the Philistine village closest to Hebrew territory. Her father owned the oldest vineyard in the valley. He had helped Delilah’s father begin making wine, giving a gift of some of his own grapes. Both men made excellent wine and had developed something of a rivalry. Take as proof that their relationship remained friendly the fact that Samson had invited Delilah’s father to provide some of the wine for Kala’s wedding.
Delilah had grown up with Kala. Unlike Delilah, Kala had no nose for business; she hoped only to wed—perhaps one of the fine sons of the lords of nearby Ekron. When Delilah heard that Kala had met Samson, she could scarce believe it. Even less could she believe Kala’s father would agree to the marriage. It was not as though he needed more Hebrew buyers for his wine. And surely he knew they detested the mixed marriage as much as his own people did. Could he be impressed with Samson? Delilah wondered. She had heard nothing of Samson’s wit—only of his great strength. Only at the wedding did it occur to her that he must have agreed out of fear.
The wedding was seven full days of feasting. If the Hebrews did anything well, it was celebrating. Samson had arrived alone but for his parents, who looked shamefaced throughout the feast. He walked as though he owned the very earth and sky. And he was attractive—Delilah could not deny that. It was a raw, primal thing, the sort of appreciation she found for a beautiful stallion. Even freshly washed as he was, he still smelled of sweat and animal, as though he had scrubbed away civilization, leaving only his base self.
At Samson’s arrival, Kala’s father went out to greet him. Samson offered him no embrace and only demanded, “Where is my bride?” It was then Samson noticed the lords of Ekron—thirty in all. Though he noticed their swords, he only laughed and insisted the festivities begin. Wine was poured, and the feasting began. Delilah had never experienced a celebration more tense.
Near the end of the first night, a drunken Samson staggered to his feet and approached the men of Ekron. Several grabbed their swords, but Samson only laughed, harsh and cruel. “Put away your swords,” he jeered. “I wish to make a wager. You Philistines think you’re so wise, so solve my riddle for me. I’ll give you till the end of the feast. Solve it, and I’ll give you each two garments—one of linen and one so fine you’ll wear it to the next wedding you sully with your vulgar presence. You fail, and you give me thirty of each garment. What say you, wise men of Ekron?”
Silence reigned for several moments before one of the eldest rose to the challenge. “The gods never thought to create a day for a Hebrew to confound Philistines. Give us your riddle, Samson. We’ll give you enough time to enjoy your new wife before we solve it and leave you poor as a beggar.”
Samson smiled. Drunk, he looked more fox than man. “Very well. Here is your riddle. Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet. What am I?”