Late last night I was thinking about a phrase we use quite often without truly understanding what it means. No, not “between a rock and a hard place.” There doesn’t seem to be much to analyze or discover in that straightforward idiom. I’m referring to “between Devil and deep sea,” often used to mean the same thing, but with a flair for dramatic alliteration (which I absolutely adore).
If there is a Devil, then, assuming we maintain that strictly Judeo-Christian world view (nothing classically antique), there must also be a God, and consequently, a Heaven. Let’s stick with this oversimplification for now (the first of many). If there exists a Heaven, which is as pleasurable and beautiful and tranquil as is described in Paradise Lost, then surely it must be every man’s goal to attain it. Thus, if one is a good man, and confident that he has done enough good deeds in his life and is also a believer, then he should dive in deep sea. That last bit is important because if he does not believe in a higher power, it is possible God may play a trick on him, and send him instead to the very same grey, oblivion that he expects to find after death, i.e., the unconscious void. This would be cruel indeed (if the atheist was a saint), but not as cruel as flaying him in Hell. It’s also possible that said non-believer may believe in God the moment he sees a Devil, and if he lived, up until then, a good life, then whatever bonus points / karmic boost (which we shall subsequently ignore) he gains for rejecting temptation may send him up and not down. It’s also important to note that there’s a liklihood that cold, calculating decisions in such moments, like the pseudo game theoretic one (“what game theory?” you might ask—we’ll get to it soon) we are indulging in presently may not conform well to the kind of blindly devotional “leap to faith” possibly expected, because it betrays the fact that you are acting out of self interest. God, of course, would be cognizant of the fact that most men act so. The good man should dive into deep sea because he will immediately be saved by the grace of God, and the penalty for suicide wouldn’t even apply (he’s resisted the Devil himself, which requires great will—God would welcome such a man with open arms, and maybe even promote him up the ranks!).
There are two actors in this game: you (who wants to transcend to Heaven), and the Devil (who wants your soul but has imperfect knowledge, i.e., knows not the details of your life or disposition—in fact, all the better if you were destined for Heaven!). The Devil will thus offer you, cowering in craven terror, uncertain of whether you are destined for Heaven or Hell, a contract, an iron-clad one, mind you, for the purposes of this argument (Hell has all the best lawyers afterall), that grants you the certainty of an exceedingly hedonistic life, the one you’ve always dreamt of, for a couple decades (this is nonideal, but what’s a decade or two to an immortal being?), in exchange for your soul. If you’re a terrible person, then you ought to sign it. Otherwise, ignoring the karmic boost of not succumbing, you’re sent immediately to Hell, whereas now, you get a few decades more time (perhaps to turn your life around, and appeal to God’s grace—though depending on the version of God—Milton’s or Goethe’s?—he may not be so forgiving of the fact that you sold your soul to the Devil). If you’re an average person (which I strive not to be—you never want to live an average life!), then take the leap into the deep. This God may just be forgiving enough.