1 Peter 5: 8-9 “Be on your guard and stay awake. Your enemy the devil is like a roaring lion, sneaking around to find someone to attack. But you must resist the devil and stay strong in your faith.”
Peter the Apostle was writing to the churches in Asia Minor that were experiencing persecution.
John 8: 44 “Your father is the devil and you do exactly what he wants. He has always been a murderer and a liar. There is nothing truthful about him. He speaks on his own, and everything he says is a lie. Not only is he a liar himself, but he is the father of all lies.”
In the book of John, Jesus is confronting His questioners who are expressing doubts that He was sent from The Father. He retorts that these people are under the devil’s powers.
Since August 12, I have posted seven times on where God is when bad things happen, a chapter in Adam Hamilton’s book Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White.
It is a struggle to understand the role of God when sickness arrives at our doorstep, financial disaster occurs or sudden, unexpected death enters our daily world.
For many Christians, they just brush away the notion that God is involved in the bad things. Others see God involved and working out His plan for our good [despite the tragedy that is right in our midst]. Many see the tragedy in life as a direct result of accidents that happen, while others see our choices in life as the main cause of much of our woe. They don’t see God as the cause as much as man.
But are we leaving someone out?
Because I started this post with direct references to the devil, I am going to ask this tough question: does the devil play a role in the “bad things” that happen to us?
I believe he does.
Pastor Billy Graham says it so well in these words “God is not responsible for the evil in the world, nor will He ever do anything evil or wrong. The Bible says ‘His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He’” [Deuteronomy 32:4].
Given this, God is not the tempter. God does not make us do wrong.
Again Graham states “Ultimately evil comes from Satan, who is absolutely opposed to God and everything good. Sometimes Satan’s works are very open and obvious—but more often he works behind the scenes, deceiving and manipulating people and events in ways we may not realize.”
This is a very negative and scary thought. To admit the existence of Satan is more than many people can bear. Recent polls bear this out. Close to ninety-five percent of Americans claim to have a faith in God, heaven and angels but these same people struggle to admit that there is a Satan in this world. The Barna Reseach Group reports that two-thirds of Americans don’t believe that Satan exists.*
Today we have pushed the idea of ultimate evil out of our consciousness as much as possible.
Not so in the past. In medieval times, monks began to illustrate Bibles with pictures of Satan. Dante popularized the devil with his famous work The Inferno. Indeed the devil became a “real” personal being roaming the earth, creating havoc in disaster after disaster. People wanted to blame someone, so they very quickly blamed the devil.
What has happened to our ability to admit to the devil’s existence today? Why do we struggle with this theological construct?
Maybe it resides in the expression the comedian Flip Wilson popularized in the 70’s “the devil made me do it.” He said it but we did not believe it. We laughed. He said it but it became a joke. Of course it is absurd to blame today’s lack of serious regard for the devil on a comedian’s popularity but maybe Flip’s joke just illustrates how we want to be distracted from how the devil works.
He works in you and he works in me.
Wow that is hard to admit; it is even harder to write.
Here is the “bottom line.” When I do evil it is because I have turned my back on God. I have become selfish and I want to go my own way, not God’s. Admitting the devil exists is an admission that I have personal failures. Focusing on a silly made-up devil as the agent of evil distracts me from the hard work of confronting my own wrongdoing. Focusing on the idea that the devil does not exist deludes me from the work I know I need to do to become a better person. Focusing on the idea that the devil is a figment of my imagination makes me easy prey for the devil. Remember “the devil is like a roaring lion, sneaking around to find someone to attack.”
When we say “the devil made me do it”, we take a very serious idea and make it funny.
It is not funny. The delicious apple is on the tree. The devil has put it there. I pick it and I eat it.
This is why I need Christ, for only He can forgive my sins and give me the strength to do what is right.
Do you need Him?
*Gustav Niebuhr as reported in The New York Times, “Is Satan Real? Most People Think Not”