The devil made me do it
Many people, including residents of Southern York County--at least us “older” ones--can remember Flip Wilson, a seventies comedian who was at times hilarious. One of his routines was his rendition of Geraldine, who would explain her indulgences--say an expensive shopping spree--by saying “The devil made me do it.” It was a very funny routine, but of course she was not a real person, and not to be taken seriously.
Today you seldom hear anyone say “the devil made me do it,” but back in the seventies it was a common lighthearted way for people to explain minor excesses or other foibles. On the other hand it’s not all that uncommon for Christians to attribute difficult situations and adversity to the devil. Church leaders will also sometimes talk about how Satan is trying to disrupt and destroy the church (which he is), and attribute all of their challenges to his evil efforts. But is it always the devil at work? Often it is, but there are other possibilities.
I think that sometimes we Christians have a wrong concept of Satan. We attribute to him god-like capabilities, such as omnipotence (unlimited power) and omniscience (unlimited knowledge) that belong to God alone. Satan is merely a fallen angel--the prince of angels to be sure, but nonetheless he was created by God and is inferior to God in every way. Furthermore, we can see by reading the book of Job in the Bible that Satan is subject to limits placed on him by God. I’m not in any way saying that we don’t need to worry about Satan and those angels who fell with him (often called demons). They are more powerful than we are, and Scripture urges us to put on God’s armor to resist Satan’s attacks since God’s strength is infinitely greater than Satan’s [Ephesians 6:10-20]. True opposition to our faith in Christ is ultimately from Satan. As Christians we must take this seriously and prepare ourselves for battle.
Yet sometimes we find it convenient to blame Satan when we ourselves are the real problem. I fear that the devil’s work is often as simple as just watching us exercise our sinful human nature. In other words, he doesn’t have to do a thing. Consider for example when two or more Christians find themselves at odds with one another. The Bible provides clear guidance for dealing with such situations [Matthew 18:15-17], but we often don’t do what God instructs us to. Or we may say or do something that hurts a fellow believer deeply, yet not really accept blame, instead believing that the hurt individual is overly sensitive or has misunderstood our obvious meaning. In our pride we convince ourselves that we are innocent, or worse that we are the victim. And perhaps because we can’t really bring ourselves to blame someone who is hurting, we blame Satan. That gets everyone off the hook.
Whatever the specifics, the problem with blaming Satan wrongly is that it allows us to ignore our own sin. In fact, it creates a smoke screen that can obscure any inkling of our own contribution to a situation. By overlooking our own guilt we do Satan’s work for him, regardless of how well-meaning we may be. Being a Christian means we’re forgiven, not perfect. Being a Sunday School teacher, a deacon, an elder, a missionary, a worship leader, a youth leader, or a pastor means nothing. None of these things exempts us from sin. In fact, the more prominent our leadership position the more severe the consequences of our sin--sin that is frequently, at its core, a result of our pride.
The solution to both our own pride and Satan’s influence is found in James 4:6-8: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
We should not give the devil credit (or blame) where no credit is due. You and I need to humbly acknowledge our own sinfulness and submit ourselves to God in obedience, knowing that it is only through Jesus Christ that we have any standing before God at all. Why do Satan’s work for him? Make him and his minions do their own dirty work!