Satan’s power is represented by the City/Tower.
God’s power is represented by the Desert/Mountain.
Two years before Constantine was born, a man known as Anthony the Great was inspired by the story of the rich young ruler and decided to take Jesus’ admonition to sell everything literal. He sold all he had and moved out into the Egyptian desert to seek God in solitude. By the time of Constantine’s Edict of Milan and Counsel of Nicaea, thousands of Christians had decided to follow after Saint Anthony in order to seek God in the same way (En.11). This migration to the desert was no coincidence.
In the very throes of Christianity being enmeshed into the power of Satan’s nation-state, an alternative Christianity was being formed and preserved in the wilderness.
These early Christian’s seeking God in the solitude of the desert eventually became known as the Desert Fathers, though there were plenty of Desert Mothers as well. They formed small hermit-like communities around an extreme desire to give up all they had in order to seek and know God. As the Church in the City was flourishing under its new power and prominence, the Church in the Desert was preserving elements of what the Church had been before the changes made by Ignatius and Constantine.
The Church before was a community of Christians led by a multiplicity of spiritually mature Elders and Deacons whose primary focus was discipling younger Christians into life with the Spirit.
The Church that was growing in the City was becoming centered on individual Bishops in charge of churches, wrangling for political power over a Church that was fast becoming One Church with One Leader.
The Christianity of the Desert was an alternative to the Christianity forming in Satan’s nation-states. To the average Christian at that time, this new state-sanctioned Christianity wasn’t alternative. It was mainstream, and the extreme dedication of the Desert Fathers was its alternative. What was becoming an alternative Christianity in the Desert was preserving the core ideals of what Jesus intended the Church to be.
God’s counter to Satan’s Plan to enmesh the Church into his nation-states was the Desert Fathers. Does that mean that this new kind of Church in Satan’s City/Tower system was false? No! God never allows Satan to wrangle the Church away from Him. God always knows what’s coming. Satan can’t outsmart God.
In some ways, the Church needed to partner with nation-states in order to survive and thrive. It wasn’t a mistake for the Church to embrace the favor of nation-states. It was a mistake for the Church to emulate and use the power of the nation-state. But God knew this would happen.
God’s Plan for the Church always incorporates Satan’s Plan. That’s why God prompted the migration of a fringe element of Christians to the Desert in the third century, as a counterbalance to what he knew would become mainstream Christianity for much of its history.
Out of the Desert Fathers in the third and fourth centuries developed what we now call Monasticism and Contemplation. As mainstream Christianity developed into Roman Catholicism, it accepted and protected its alternative form in Monastery’s and Convents. God was inoculating the Church against Satan’s Plan, even as it seemed to be growing and succeeding. God was using Satan’s power system to protect and preserve the Church, so it could protect and preserve its alternative in the Desert Fathers. Both forms of Christianity survived and flourished, even as the Church at large was getting convoluted by Satan’s Plan.
God sees a much bigger picture than Satan. Satan can’t outsmart or outmaneuver God. Part of Satan’s mistake is that his very system operates in opposition to the way God made humanity and the world. Satan is always working from the outside in. God is always working from the inside out. Satan’s order is top-down totalitarian. God’s order is a wild, organic freedom. Satan’s idea of order is always a hard sell to a humanity hardwired for God.
Think about the City/Tower system, and what it represents. A city is structured in rows and roads, laid out in concrete, stone, and steel. It’s all metal and brick, hard lines and sharp edges. It’s over-organized and controlled. It has to be. When you compact people in such a confined space, order is the name of the game. Even nature in a city is controlled and confined in boxes. The City harvests and mines nature for its treasures, hauls them into factories and plants, then contorts and crushes them into products that are just as square and hard-lined as the city they feed. The City sets itself apart from nature, because it is. At the very center of the City is a Tower that rises up to the heavens. The City subjugates the heavens and uses all creation to fuel and propagate it’s form of order and power. It contorts creation to a form and function not intended by God.
In contrast, think about the Desert/Mountain system. In scripture, the Desert wasn’t necessarily what we think. It wasn’t all sand and no plants. It simply meant a deserted place, a wasteland untouched by the order of the City. The garden of Eden was like that. The garden of Eden was on a top of a mountain. That’s why four rivers flowed out of it. God’s idea or order is the Desert/Mountain. God is characterized by nature. That’s the essence of what the world was when God created it, before Satan introduced his City/Tower system. The whole world was a wilderness; untamed and free. It was tumble-down rocks spread along river rims running down breathtaking mountain peaks and ridges. It was serene and wide-open blue skies stretching to the horizon, and awesome, earth-shaking thunderstorms with swirling gray clouds and wide-eyed, white lightening. God’s order is wild. It retains the kind of awesome power that cannot be tamed or controlled. To control the earth, we have to confine it into the prison-box of the City/Tower.
The City is safe. The City is a safe prison. The Desert is wild. The Desert is freedom. God made us for the Desert. It’s not that it’s wrong to form human communities in the midst of nature. It’s not about the physical buildings and streets. It’s about forming human communities in opposition to nature.
God intended humanity to live in harmony with his world. Satan wanted to create an alternative to God’s world, in order to subjugate it to his purpose and Plan. The City/Tower represented a way of organizing humanity into a system that feeds Satan and kills us. That’s Satan’s ultimate Plan; to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Satan sets up the world in opposition to God.
God is love and life. Satan is fear and death. Everything Satan does is empowered by fear and leads to death. Everything God does is empowered by love and leads to life. The City/Tower system is a pristine machine meant to harness humanity for the sole purpose of feeding power to Satan, so he can destroy every good thing of God. Humanity is the peak good of God’s creation, and so the peak of what Satan wants to destroy in his lust to be his own god. That’s why a Church invested in Satan’s power system is dangerous. You cannot use evil means to good ends. The results will be mixed.
The Desert Fathers of the third and fourth century understood what was at the core of Christ and his intent for the Church. They went to the Desert to seek and preserve that kind of Church. As a result, they created a contrasting witness to the dire effects of a Church partnering with Satan’s City/Tower system. That was by design. That was by God’s design. God was preserving His Plan through the Desert Fathers.
The Prophet Amos once wrote; “Certainly the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret Plan to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7 NASB).
The Desert Fathers left the City and it’s form of Church. They had a God-given desire to do something to preserve what the Church was meant to be, in order to maintain a witness of Christ’s original intent for the Church. To do that, they got as far away from the City and it’s form of Church as they could. Like so many of the Prophets and holy men of old, they went to the one place best suited to a whole-hearted seeking of God.
They went into the Desert.