Theodicius

Good. Evil. Bratwurst.

Giving the devil too much credit

Posted on by arlen

Had some contact recently with a person who exemplifies one half of a disturbing dichotomy that is rising among church members.This person was nearly fixated on the devil as the cause of everything that went wrong, both in their own life and in everyone else’s.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised by this attitude; in a way it’s simply a religion-specific example of a more general attitude of shirking responsibility among the public. Whatever goes wrong is always the fault of an outside force; it’s never the repsonsibility of, or even within the control of, the person it afflicts.

Are you overweight? It’s not your fault, it’s the fault of McDonald’s for having things on their menu that make you fat. Can’t get a job? You’re being discriminated against, either because of gender, color, ethnic group, or whatever. Sure, sometimes the issues you’re struggling with aren’t your fault. There certainly do exist outside forces which impact all our lives from time to time. Just not every minute of every day.

I can see the attraction of this position. If you’re just a helpless pawn, you absolutely can’t fail. Nothing that goes wrong can or should be held against you. It’s OK if you just sit there and don’t do anything about your troubles; it wouldn’t matter if you tried, anyway, so why waste the energy?

But Christians in particular lack this convenient excuse. A belief in the existence of the devil is a necessary part of Christianity, true. But the belief that he is somehow the active force behind every bad thing that happens not only is not necessary, it runs counter to the witness of Scripture itself. Yes, Jesus cured some people by casting out demons. But he also just simply cured people. The blind, the lame, the leprous, and many more, were cured by Jesus without any reference at all to the affliction being demonic in origin.

We do wrong, to others and to ourselves, all the time, without the active assitance of the devil. Paul, writing in Romans (chapter 7 verse 15) said: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Paul’s point is that the fallen nature of humanity itself drives us to do evil; it’s a natural habit that we must unlearn as we walk with God; and He will help us to break free of it, which we cannot do on our own.

Note Paul does not say “what I hate, the devil makes me do.” He admits, as should we all, that we do it freely, of our own will, such as it is. Someone I know has been doing a lot of research in various sources, including occult, trying to rid herself of an “unwanted psychologocal influence” that exhibits itself in almost exactly Paul’s words, as written above. I wish her luck on her search, but I know she won’t find it where she’s looking. I’ve pointed that out, politley, but to no avail. Some people just don’t want to listen to the idea that it really is themselves, and not some evil external force, that is causing their problems.

We too often give the devil credit for what we ourselves do. I think it’s past time we stood up and took the credit, and the blame, for our own deeds. The devil works enough evil on his own, he doesn’t need to add our own deeds to his resume.

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March 2005
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