In modern times, when most people look at supernatural beings as pious myth, the idea of a devil, a tantalizing force that lures us into doing things we’ll soon regret, seems just another way for people to shed accountability for their own actions. “The Devil Made Me Do It” was part of 1970s comedian Flip Wilson’s classic “schtick”, poking fun at the human failing of falling victim to temptation, and blaming something out of our control. It was funny, because it was so very real. Just as real as the devil itself.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that there is some invisible evil beast in the world that can take control of our hearts and minds against our will. That would be a dangerous under-estimation of the devil’s true power, which is far more subtle and cunning, and far less obvious a force than that. The story of Jesus’ temptation tells us how insidious the workings of the devil can be.
Watch how the devil works in his efforts to seduce Jesus away from his call to serve God. It’s not an attempt to directly control Jesus’ behavior, but to lure Jesus by using his humanity to exploit what the devil saw as weakness. The devil seeks first to capitalize on Jesus’ physical hunger, then to invite Jesus to test God’s power and promises, and finally to suggest that Jesus could be the most powerful being in the world, if he would deny his place as the Son of God. In each case, Jesus foiled the devil’s temptations and remained faithful.
And, the devil will use anything available to corrupt our minds and turn us from the promises of God – even God’s own Word – especially when God’s Word is used to divide, rather than unite God’s people. Challenge God, the devil said to Jesus. See if God will send angels to bear you up when you fall, just like it says in the Psalms. But Jesus didn’t take that bait, and repelled the devil with the truth and fullness of God’s Word enfleshed in his own life.
Maybe saying “The devil made me do it.” is the ultimate cop-out and denial of our own responsibility for the darkness that exists in the world and the divisions that exist throughout God’s creation. Perhaps there is no devil, and we simply conjure the devil up any time we don’t want to be responsible for our actions. Or perhaps, it is just as 19th century writer Charles Baudelaire proposed “The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist”.
And so we pray “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”, knowing the devil, that “father of lies” sits and lurks for that opportune time to pounce and prey on our weaknesses. Devil, or not – be careful out there!
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Devotions for the week of March 5, 2017
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Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.