Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: (1 Peter 5:8)
As an Evangelical Christian, I believed in a literal Devil (Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, Serpent, Dragon, Evil One, Prince of Darkness) who, along with devils and demons, waged war against God and his church. I believed the Devil:
- As a walking, talking snake tempted Adam and Eve to sin against God (Genesis 3, Revelation 12:9 , 2 Corinthians 11:3)
- Waged war against God and lost (Revelation 12:7-13)
- Was a fallen angel (Luke 10:18, Isaiah 14:12)
- Was the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4)
- Was the spiritual father of all non-Christians (John 8:44)
- Could possess non-Christians (Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:16)
- Walked about on earth seeking to destroy Christians (1 Peter 5:8)
- Had the power to tempt, afflict, and cause great misery to Christians if God allowed it (Job 1 and 2 and 2 Corinthians 12:6-8)
- Had the power to take advantage of Christians (2 Corinthians 2:11)
- Could present himself in the church as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:12-15)
- Had the power to hinder me from doing what I wanted to do (1 Thessalonians 2:17-19)
- Would some day be cast into the Lake of Fire to be tormented forever (Revelation 20:10)
As a follower of Jesus I had to:
- Submit to God and resist the Devil (James 4:7)
- Put on the whole armor of God so I could stand against the Devil (Ephesians 6:10-18)
- Witness to the lost so they could be delivered from the spiritual darkness of Satan (Acts 26:17-18)
For most of my life, I believed the Devil was very much a part of the natural and spiritual world. I believed that I was in a death struggle with the Devil, and only by fighting, resisting, and holding fast, would I overcome him. After all, the Bible said, he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
After reading books like This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness (Frank Peretti), along with a plethora of books about demonology and spiritual warfare, I was sure that there was a spiritual war going on all around me, some of it visible some of it not. While I was not so extreme that I saw a demon under every bed, I did think that the Devil was to blame for the evil that went on in the world. I also thought that much of the theological compromise and moral failure in the church was the direct result of the Devil causing Christians to fail. In other words, to quote Flip Wilson, the Devil made them do it.
As I look back on this now, I see that blaming the Devil was a way for Christians, pastors, and churches to escape culpability for their actions. If only the Devil hadn’t tempted them, led them astray…. Countless churches have excused the debauched behavior of pastors, deacons, and lay people by saying that the Devil took advantage of the person when they were spiritually weak.
As an atheist, I know there is no such thing as a Devil or demons or God for that matter. I have no one to blame but myself when I behave poorly. I am accountable for what I do each and every day. It is my life, my choices. No Flip Wilson moments, no blame. If I ever had an affair it would be my fault. If let my emotions get the best of me and I lash out at someone, it is my fault. When I look back over my almost 57 years of life, I see many transgressions and failures. While many things contributed to these lapses in good judgement, I alone am responsible for these things.
This is the one area of Christian thinking that irritates me the most. When a Christian “falls” into sin (seems like a lot of Christians run, not fall, into sin), acts like an asshole, exercises poor judgment, commits a crime, or behaves poorly, there is always some excuse for their actions. Weakness, the flesh, temptation, lack of prayer/Bible reading, lack of the wife putting out, lackadaisical church attendance, and it is the Devil that lurks in the shadows of all these excuses.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if Christians owned their behavior. Imagine how different and safer the world would be if churches called a spade a spade. Instead of circling the wagons and calling the lawyers, imagine a church calling a press conference to let the world know:
Yes, our pastor was arrested for molesting children. We immediately reported him to authorities when we found out about it. We want him to be legally punished and we will do everything in our power to make sure he never pastors again. We accept full responsibility for what he did on our watch. We apologize to everyone who was hurt by our pastor’s actions. We have set up a multimillion dollar fund to help his victims. While this can’t take away the pain of what he did, we hope, in some small way, this will help those whose lives were devastated by his vile, wicked actions.
All of us understand how it possible for an authority figure to take advantage of others. As awful as it is, it happens. Outside of the church, we use the legal system to punish such people. Unfortunately, in the church, as the Catholic and IFB abuse scandals clearly show, excuses are made, evil acts are covered up or denied, and victims are forced to sue in order to get their pound of flesh. Far too often, the abusive, predatory pastor, deacon, or church member evades being held accountable for their actions and later moves down the road to start their new life in Christ.
If I could preach one sermon to Christians it would be…stop making excuses. Stop blaming the Devil for bad or criminal behavior. Stop turning church members into weak, frail children who just can’t help themselves. Stop blaming Devil inspired women, with their short skirts, tight pants, and push up bras, for the lust and moral failure of Christian men. They chose to look, they chose to touch, they chose to have an affair. No one is to blame but them.
How about you? Did you believe in a real Devil? Do you think believing in a personal Devil allows some Christians to have a the devil made me do it excuse when they behave poorly or morally transgress? Please share your devilish thoughts in the comment section.