When my wife and I roamed the streets of Frankfurt, Germany, in August this year, we stumbled across the birthplace and museum dedicated to the works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Oh, was I excited, but I could not remember why. I knew he was important for some reason. We went into the foyer of the museum and were reminded that he was the author of the famous play, Faust.
Faust is the story of a disgruntled intellectual seeking happiness, at least pleasure, in his life, but unsuccessfully. One source describes Faust, the man, as “debilitatingly narcissistic and self-regarding.” The play begins with Faust’s self-description:
I have, alas, studied philosophy,
Jurisprudence and medicine, too,
and, worst of all, theology
With keen endeavor, through and through—
And here I am, for all my lore,
The wretched fool I was before.
Called Master of Arts, and Doctor to boot,
For ten years almost I confute
And up and down, wherever it goes,
I drag my students by the nose—
And see that for all our science and art
We can know nothing. It burns my heart.
He found “no satisfaction in all his studies”. He “lacked all delight”, “knew nothing”, was poor with “no worldly honors” or “earthly pleasures”. “No dog would want to live longer this way!” So, he turns to magic, the occult.
Faust was able to conjure up the metaphysical character Mephistopheles, who, for all practical intents and purposes, is the devil. And the devil offers him a deal:
Here you shall be the master, I be bond,
And at your nod I’ll work incessantly;
But when we meet again beyond,
then you shall do the same for me.
This is the story that literarily introduces us to the whole idea of selling one’s soul to the devil. I see in it the notion of selling something of great value for a momentary pleasure. It hardly seems like the right thing to do. So, why do we do it?
Adam and Eve did something like this in the Garden of Eden. Esau did it when he sold his birthright. The writer of Hebrews describes him as “immoral or godless” (Heb 12:16). Judas did it when he sold out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
If you search the internet, you will even find a wiki page dedicated to helping you sell your soul to the devil in 5 easy steps.
- Determine what your soul is worth
- Plan very carefully what you will do with the money.
- Know how to contact the devil.
- Set out your terms for the Prince of Darkness to consider.
- Celebrate your achievement!
Is such a thing possible?
Most people sell their soul to the devil long before they ever know it, or think it possible. Jesus’ work was and is intended to redeem us from the devil. The very word “redemption” means to purchase back. The Lord has redeemed people from every tongue, tribe and nation. They are the “redeemed from the earth” (Rev. 14:3).
John writes, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
The writer of Hebrews states, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (2:14, 15).
Whether the loss of our soul is accomplished in the manner set out in the Goethe’s play, exchanges like the one we read in Genesis 3 happen all the time.
Goethe’s Faust is included in the Great Books of the Western World for good reason. It raises questions centering on some of the great ideas of Western Civilization. It raises questions set straight in Scripture.