Sin’s Dirty Little Secret

Back in the 1970’s comedian Flip Wilson built a whole comedy routine on the phrase ‘The devil made me do it’ and even if you weren’t around back then, I’ll bet you’ve said it. Ever since Eve blamed Satan, we’ve tried to escape accountability. Adam was worse; he blamed God saying “that woman you gave me.” Yes, we are sorry but sorrier that we got caught, and the remorse we feel is from the consequences of the mess we are in.

Here’s the dirty little secret – seduction requires collusion.

From Goethe’s Faust to Kierkegaard’s Repetition literature is filled with dealing with the Devil. The heart of every sin is idolatry because it all comes back to us trying to be our own god. Sadly, the real desires we are working to fulfill are God-given and come with a perfect path of fulfillment, but we usually aren’t willing to either wait or follow direction. Augustine said temptation has three stages – suggestion imagined pleasure and consent. We get into trouble with step two.

The sociologist will tell you that everyone is capable of crime given the right motivation and opportunity. Friend, you will have a lot of opportunities today, so you better check your motives. The hardest question to answer in life is simply ‘What do I want?’

If you earnestly want to be in a loving relationship with God, He’s ready and able to help. If you would rather shut God out and serve yourself, there’s a darker voice who will encourage you to open the cracked door. Just remember, it’s your choice. As Nietzsche said, “when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”

Just don’t blame God when the demons come out.

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James 1:13–15

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

 

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


The Devil in Literature

 

The English word devil derives through OE deofol and Lat. diabolus from Gk. diabolos, meaning “slanderer” or “false accuser.” The Greek term is the LXX translation of Heb. śatan, “adversary” or “obstructer.” The devil is to be distinguished from the demons, identified in Christian tradition with the angels who followed Lucifer in his fall, and from other lesser evil spirits. The devil has been given a number of names by tradition. Most commonly he is called Satan or Lucifer, but he sometimes takes the name Beelzeboul or Beelzebub, Belial, Azazel, Mastema, Satanail, Sammael, or Semyaza, all of which names derive from the OT and Intertestamental literature. In modern times he also bears the name Mephistopheles. Legend and literature sometimes assign these names to different characters, usually for dramatic purposes; thus frequently in medieval and modern literature, Satan, Lucifer, Belial, and others play different parts.

In the OT, śatan was originally a common noun (e.g., 2 Sam. 19:22), but gradually it became the title of a particular being. Early biblical references picture a creature of God who prompts evil (1 Chron. 21:1), accuses the righteous (Job 1–2), or even opposes God’s will (Zech. 3:1–2). From these passages there developed the more fully defined rebellious angel of later tradition. Two key OT passages which were not originally intended to apply to the Evil One came to be associated with Satan. The serpent of Eden was not identified with the devil until the Intertestamental period (see Rom. 16:20). Isa. 14:12–15, which relates the fall of “Lucifer, son of the morning,” refers explicitly to the king of Babylon, but this passage also (and the name Lucifer) became associated with the devil during the Intertestamental period. The Isaiah passage is attached to the devil in 2 Enoch 29:4-5 in the apocalyptic Life of Adam 14.16 and apparently in Luke 10:18, but the identification was not clear and definite before the writings of Origen (A.D.185-251). On the whole, the OT devil is still a shadowy and inchoate figure.

In the postexilic period, the suffering of the Jews under Greek and Roman rule prompted an intense concern with the problem of evil and the powers of evil. In 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, Jubilees, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a portrait of the devil began to emerge in which he is the head of a band of evil angels in rebellion against God and enmity against humanity. The Qumran community, with its intense dualism, envisioned scenarios in which Satan led an army of evil angels and evil humans against the divine host, and the NT reflects similar Jewish traditions.

The temptation of Christ in the desert by Satan (Matt. 4 and Luke 4:1–13) is the most dramatic NT episode involving the devil, but his sinister power is referred to frequently (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:5; Eph. 5:10–16; 1 Pet. 5:8). The essential function of the NT Satan is to obstruct the kingdom of God; one of his strategies is possession. Christ’s exorcisms and cures are blows struck against the devil’s power and signs of the imminent victory of God’s kingdom over Satan (Matt. 12:22–32). The devil is “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) but his lordship is being broken by Christ (1 Cor. 15:20–28), a process culminating in the eschatological triumph of Christ and his elect (Rom. 16:20; Rev. 12:7–12).

Patristic diabology can be best understood in the context of the struggle against Gnosticism and, later, Manicheism. The Gnostic-Manichean view combined apocalyptic diabology, Iranian dualism, and Greek Orphism to produce a mythology which posited a cosmic struggle between a good God of spirit and an evil god of matter, the latter being equated with Satan. In its strongest and most coherent forms, this dualism denied monotheism and was therefore unacceptable to Judaism and the Christian community. Early patristic writings such as The Epistle of Barnabas, and works by Didymus, Hermas, and St. Ignatius of Antioch, show both a reaction against gnostic dualism and some influence from it, the influence manifesting itself in a doctrine of a strong dichotomy between the followers of good (often identified with the Christian community) and the followers of the devil (often identified with pagans and heretics). The power of gnostic dualism was evident still in the writings of Lactantius (ca. 245-325). The classic elements of Christian diabology, however, were established by Origen and St. Augustine (354-430) and were popularized in the West by St. Gregory the Great, especially in his Moralia in Iob.

In Gregory’s account, God created the angels good and gave them free will. Lucifer, one of the highest angels, sinned through pride and envy, choosing his own will over God’s, and he led many of the other angels after him (these became the demons). Envious of God’s love for humanity, Satan used the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve to transgress his divine ordinance. God punished fallen humanity by leaving it in the devil’s power, though this power was ultimately limited by God’s sovereignty. In his mercy, however, God the Father sent God the Son to liberate humanity from this slavery to Satan. The Incarnation and especially the Passion of Christ restored human freedom. Those who accept Christ form the community of the saved, “the city of God.” Those who do not accept Christ are cut off from salvation and form “the city of this world.” From the Incarnation until the end of the world, some will be continually added to the kingdom of God through faith in Christ; Satan continues to attempt, however vainly, to block that saving work. In the last days, Satan and the Antichrist will make a last pitched battle against the Christian community but will be foiled by the Second Coming of Christ, who will bring his kingdom to fulfillment and utterly destroy the power of Satan (cf. St. Ephraim Syrus, Nisibene Hymns; Hymns of the Nativity).

Through the influence of Gregory the Great and the other Fathers, such views were firmly imprinted on OE literature, most clearly in the homilies of Aelfric and the poems Genesis B, Christ and Satan, and in the “harrowing of hell” narrative. These works offer a powerful extrabiblical rendering of the history of the struggle between Christ and the devil, to which further details were gradually added by folklore. Medieval theology reduced the patristic emphasis on the devil by tending to replace the ransom theory (which saw the act of salvation as God’s payment of a ransom for mankind to Satan) with Anselm’s satisfaction theory in Cur Deus Homo? (which made it a sacrifice offered by the incarnate Son to the Father and put Satan in the background), but literature on the whole preferred the more dramatic ransom theory.

The devil is a powerful figure in Langland’s Piers Plowman, usually behind the scenes but sometimes overtly, as in his attack on the Tree of Charity in C.16 and in the harrowing of hell (B.18; C.20). Chaucer, for the most part, prefers to present the devil satirically (Monk’s Tale; Friar’s Tale and Prologue), an approach taken also frequently in the morality plays. His most dramatic appearances in ME literature are in the York, N-Town, Towneley, and Chester mystery plays, especially in the plays centered on his fall, the temptation of Adam and Eve, the Annunciation, and the harrowing of hell. Sometimes frightening in these plays, he is more often a fool, as the playwrights exploit the audience’s knowledge that all of his posturings against the kingdom of God will be foiled. By the 14th cent., then, the devil had, in literary treatments at least, become more often comic than fearsome. This trend was reversed, however, during the 15th through 17th cents., the period during which Satan’s power was perceived to be at its height.

The leading Protestant Reformers, especially Luther (who came to the subject with strong Germanic convictions about the existence and power of demons), returning to what they saw as a biblical emphasis upon the power of Satan, added to the new fear of the devil. The legend of Faust, homocentric, pessimistic, and individualistic, reflected this view; it also produced, in the German Faustbook of 1587, the first use of the name Mephistopheles. Marlowe’s adaptation of the legend in Doctor Faustus (1588 or 1589) produced the first major diabolical portrait in modern English literature in the character of Mephistopheles, here Satan’s agent, rather than the devil himself. Spenser shows the devil in human guise (e.g., Archimago, Orgoglio) and in the form of a dragon. Shakespeare presents humans demonized by their sin (Aaron in Titus Andronicus, Richard in 3 Henry 6 and Richard 3, Angelo in Measure for Measure, Edmund in King Lear, and Iago in Othello), though in both Hamlet and Macbeth the devil’s evil, destructive power can also be felt more directly.

Although belief in the devil’s power was almost universal among both the elite and the uneducated during the early 17th cent., English philosophers such as Francis Bacon (1561-1628) and John Locke (1632-1704) laid the basis for skepticism regarding both witchcraft and the devil. English writers, as a result, were divided over whether to treat the devil seriously (as in Barnabe Barnes, The Devil’s Charter [1607]), or satirically. The comic Satan of Ben Jonson’s The Devil Is an Ass (1616) clearly indicates Jonson’s skepticism; John Webster’s The White Devil (1608) and Thomas Middleton’s The Changeling (1623) emphasize the evil in humanity. Sir Thomas Browne argues in Religio Medici (1.30, 31, 37; cf. Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 1.10, 11) that the denial of supernatural evil is tantamount to atheism, that the devil, being the father of lies, often seduces people into a skepticism concerning his own existence in order to pursue his diabolical ends.

John Bunyan, in his characterization of Apollyon in The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and Diabolus in The Holy War, presents a potent Satanic presence. But the most vivid (and influential) portrait of the devil in English literature is unquestionably that of Milton in Paradise Lost (1667; rev. 1674) and Paradise Regained (1671). Milton added a wealth of detail, color, and texture to the traditional story, but the two most important effects of his poems on diabology were first to set the story in language so powerful and memorable that it was henceforth fixed in the literary imagination in Milton’s terms even more than in the Bible’s, and second to portray the devil’s character in a “heroic” vein. Critics still argue whether Milton made Satan more heroic than he intended; whatever one’s critical position, it is undeniable that Satan, “High on a Throne of Royal State, which far / Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,” can be seen as a figure of immense majesty (PL 2.1-2).

The deism and skepticism of the 18th cent. undermined belief in the existence of the devil, the key philosophical text being David Hume’s “Essay on Miracles,” the tenth chapter of An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748). Daniel Defoe’s The Political History of the Devil (1726) affirms orthodox belief in the devil’s existence, but his interest in the subject is not apologetic but “aesthetic”: stories about diabolical encounters are intrinsically fascinating. By the end of the century, traditional beliefs had eroded to the point that Satan could scarcely be taken even as a credible metaphor. “Gothic” writings degraded the “sublime” to produce horrors and thrills by portraying the grotesque, the decadent, the wild, and the monstrous. Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796), Robert Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), and Walter Scott’s Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830; 1884) exemplified this attitude, using demons alongside ghosts, corpses, and witches for the purpose of inducing horror.

The French Revolution acted as a catalyst for a radical revision of the concept of the devil. English writers perceiving the Revolution as a just rebellion against a tyrant king recharacterized Satan as heroic rebel against the tradition and authority of the evil tyrant, God. Thus William Blake (1757-1827) reinterprets Milton’s devil as a hero in the struggle against tyranny, church, and convention. Satan is good, and Jesus is Satanic because he acts from feelings rather than rules and breaks the commandments out of mercy. But Blake’s Satan is also evil, representing hardness of heart, insensitivity, lack of love, and obstruction of the creative processes of art. The evil of both God and Satan are underscored in The Book of Urizen (1794), where Urizen represents Jehovah, the blind tyrant of rules and laws; Orc struggles for liberation from Urizen’s tyranny, but Orc’s violence and hostility make him evil as well. On the whole Blake tends to perceive God and devil, heaven and hell, good and evil as elements of a shattered whole which seeks reunion, centering, and integration. Real evil lies in anything which obstructs that process of integration.

The Romantics perpetuate Blake’s ambivalence toward the devil. Lord Byron’s Cain (1821) asks who is the more evil, Lucifer, who gave Adam and Eve knowledge, or Jehovah, who drove them out of the Garden to exile and death? But Lucifer also is blind and selfabsorbed, rejecting the only possible creative road, his integration with Jehovah. In his treatise On the Devil and Devils (1821), Shelley argues that Manichean dualism affords a valid insight into the divided state of the human soul. For Shelley, Milton’s great insight lay in his making his God no better than his devil. In Prometheus Unbound (1820) Shelley recognizes the difficulty in making Satan a hero and so shifts the qualities of heroic rebellion to Prometheus, who is free of the aggressive, stingy, unloving elements which make Satan an inappropriate hero for the Romantic ethos. Meanwhile Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) took a great step in shifting the focus of terror from the demon to the monster and from the supernatural to science fiction, presenting a character who was made a monster by a humanity which first created and then abused him. The early Romantic experiment with making the devil a symbol of good was gradually replaced with the tendency to divorce the devil from serious discussions of good and evil. He is frequently made the subject of light or humorous stories such as Thackeray’s “The Devil’s Wager” (1833) and “The Painter’s Bargain” (1834), reviving an earlier folklore motif concerning battles of wits between the devil and humans over a bargain which had been struck between them (cf. Max Beerbohm’s “Enoch Soames” [1917], Stephen V. Benét’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster” [1937], and more recent stories, some collected in Basil Davenport’s Deals with the Devil [1958]).

In 19th-cent. America the tendency to center evil in humanity rather than in the supernatural was even more pronounced than in England. For example, in stories of real horror Poe always eschewed Satan; his devil stories, such as “The Devil in the Belfry” (1839) and “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” (1841), are humorous. The devil appears incidentally, however, in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” (1835) and his presence is evident in Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) and The Confidence-Man (1857), the latter of which presents a demonic trickster who makes fools of the passengers on the riverboat Fidèle.
The revival of the occult at the end of the 19th cent. produced some late Romantic sympathy for the devil (Marie Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan [1895]) and the explicit Satanism of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), but ironic treatment remained the norm, as in the “Don Juan in Hell” section of Shaw’s Man and Superman (1903). The attack on traditional views by Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud had demolished the old concept and opened the door to a nihilism seen at its bleakest in Mark Twain’s work on “The Mysterious Stranger,” which appeared in three main versions, the latest of which was No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger (1982). At its conclusion the devil announces that there “is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a Dream, a grotesque and foolish dream.”

The horrors of the mid and late 20th cent., which have contradicted liberal optimism about the essential goodness of human nature, have prompted the revival of serious treatments of the traditional devil, as in C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters (1942) and Perelandra (1944), Dorothy Sayers’s The Devil to Pay (1939), and Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away (1960). John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick affords a recent noteworthy devil-portrait, one which has also found its way into film, alongside The Omen, The Exorcist, and other “popular” tales of diabolical horror.

Bibliography 

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David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).