Thursday 17 July 2014

Better the Devil You Know

Los and Paul debate the removal of the horned man in the smoky house from the (alternative) baptismal liturgy of the Good Old C of E.

Let's be clear. The Devil of mediaeval conception is not one we find in the Bible. For starters it's actually Jesus who is associated with using an agricultural fork;

"His winnowing fork is in his hand to clean out his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire.” (Luke 3:17) - Meek and mild, eh?

In fact, the Dark One's relatively few appearances are quite diverse. First up there's the talking snake trick in Genesis - setting up that great truth in moral affairs - he can suggest, he can cajole, he can draw wonderful pictures of the future. But whether we sin is, on a case-by-case basis, down to us.

In Job he appears to be God's chief scientist, responsible for carrying out quite outrageous psycho-theological experiments on the most moral people to see at what point they crack. With, I should point out, God's express permission. I mean, fair enough, God's gaff, God's rules. But - well; I mean, what?

Then in similar vein, in the New Testament, he's doing much the same to Jesus. Offering all sorts - that aren't really his - if Jesus will worship him.

And you could say that this is a dialogue in Jesus's head, as he works out what sort of a Messiah to be. And you could be right. But, as Dumbledore points out to Harry Potter in the heavenly Kings Cross Station, that doesn't mean it's not true.

Because this, when all is said and done, is what Evil does. It makes promises it can't really keep. It offers things it doesn't really own, and which won't last. It tells you that you are the mistress of your own soul, that you can have all things, while in reality it desperately needs to feed on human souls to survive itself. It will crush a million lives so one person can grasp power.

But it's only ever derivative - no more an equal enemy of God than you and I could be if we wanted to put our minds to it.

Satan's fourth great set-piece appearance (for there is, contrary to popular opinion, no Biblical evidence that Jesus danced with the Devil on his back on Good Friday) is in the Revelation. And, after much false worship and much bloodshed, he and all his mates are thrown into a pit of fire. And that's after Michael - an angel, not the Divine - has thrown him out of Heaven. Embarrassing when you're aspiring to Supreme power, eh? And the message is hammered home. He's pretty mighty. He can attain great power on earth - if humans will bend the knee to him. But his time is short, and his power is secondary. His time will always pass.

That's the illusion. Whether it's Jadis, the Hooded Claw,  Voldemort or Sauron, the power only appears unlimited. It feeds off the obedience it can extract. But the Deep Magic of love and sacrifice - Aslan's, Lily's, Sam and Frodo, the Ant Hill Mob - will always defeat it. That's ground into our souls - the evil witch will lose, the dragon will be slain. Close up, evil looks very big. On an eternal scale, love wins.

So no pitchfork, no red tights. No goat's foot, no hipster beard.  An insistent, whinging, cajoling, tempting, inveigling voice and a power that can only destroy what it feeds on - the souls of women and men. And that experience of being tempted, lied to, encouraged to lust for power that's not mine, for possessions I shouldn't have because I'm damaging others' lives in taking them - that's a sense so strong, I can personalise it. That voice that tells me I'm so useless that everyone, including God, hates me - that's so definite that I can recognise it and put a name on it. And that name means "accuser".

Do I believe the Devil exists? Yes I do. Will I resist his lures, lies and false promises? With the help of God, I will.


  1. And Amen again - and 'Hallelujah, for the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns'. Please may I 'borrow' this (and one or two of your other wise posts) to pass on to our congregation at suitable times (I'm a Reader)? With suitable attributions, of course.

    1. I'd be delighted. Thanks for calling. Skip the Moon Gibbon stuff, though,

    2. Of course! It probably wouldn't make any sense to our average (mainly elderly) congregation!!

  2. I am so very glad to be an atheist.

  3. I've always thought of the devil as a maggot, squirming away with no power except what we grant him. We can never say 'the devil made me do it' because that's beyond him.

    On the other hand, my sister (who attends a small and vivid pentacostalist church) tells me that the devil rules the material world and consequently the world of flesh is inherently sinful. Is that not Zoroastrianism?

    I find the concept of the devil quite difficult, as though every sin we commit is his fault, not ours. We have to take responsibility for everything we do.

    I blame Milton!

    love Mags B x

  4. The only time I was ever slapped in school was for telling the nun "the devil made me do it" when she caught me eating sweets in class. I've never used that excuse again (so far). Bless you forvthat, Sister Patricia, although that's not what I thought back then.


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