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The Devil’s Wily Ways

The Devil’s Wily Ways


I’m not sure I believe in the devil. At least not in a literal Satan, and certainly not in a red fellow sporting a pointy tail and holding a pitch-fork. Yes, I do feel the weight of the devil (or something) on my shoulder from time to time, pulling oppositionally at the angel hanging out on my opposite shoulder. But a literal person, the devil?  No, I’m just not sure I believe in the devil.


I do, however, believe that being a Christian means conflict. With others.


Sometimes I initiate the conflict, often stupidly. Just as often, someone else initiates the conflict. Conflict is inevitable, regardless of source. Mother against daughter, father against son. Negotiating peace sometimes results in peace, but sometimes it results in war. Or estrangement.  A personal expression of kindness can just as often attract hate as it does appreciation. Just ask Jesus. And his disciples. 


Jesus warned Peter ahead of time that Peter was going to die in the name of Jesus. (See John 21: 18, 19) Love the world, die for Christ. Take up your cross and follow me … for whoever would lose his life will gain it. 


Quite the slogan, that: Join Jesus! Lose your life! 


Many people suffer, not just Christ-followers. The little red fellow – or whatever the caricature represents – is active. Evil personified, sliding its wily self as a vapor into and around so many areas of the globe. Boko-Haram in East Africa; Bashar al-Assad overseeing mass murder this decade in Syria; Uyghurs detained by the Chinese authorities in refugee camps. 


But earth’s darkness expands beyond physical violence into emotional violence, or perhaps vice versa. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words often hurt worse. Oh, the way we treat one another. 


In both our western political and Christian worlds people wield words as swords; darkness stretches its tendrils to strangle us. Conflict that appears necessary quickly becomes oppositional and emotionally violent. People who hold honorable positions often do so at the expense of the dignity of others. So-called “just” positions become an excuse for – bad manners, to be sure – but cruelty and shaming. Derision. Condescension. Superiority. All the contra of love. 


Of a love that does not demand its own way. That treats the other as more important than self. That abides as the greatest of the three.


Lose your life. Which, of course, does not mean living a milquetoast existence. A person ought to stand-up for what she believes. The complexity of living the Christian life is in being able to take a firm position on issues while standing in the geographical bounds of love. 


I still don’t know. Maybe there is a literal devil – sometimes it seems like it. Maybe not, and what seems to be the devil is just the cunning nature of evil. Regardless, there is only one way to win. Love. By refusing to think more highly of oneself (and one’s own opinions) than one ought. Or as the old bumper sticker says, Don’t believe everything you think.


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Grant W Barber

I find Walter Wink’s multi-book project on Naming the Powers to provide a helpful framework. Takes evil seriously without creating a Manichean-like understanding.

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