When I was young, my mother received a knock at the door one Saturday morning. It was the neighbor’s kid who could not have been more than four years old. “Do you know the Debo?” he asked. Puzzled, my mother asked, “Who?” “You know,” the small boy continued, putting his fingers to his head in the form of horns. “The Debo!”
Thus began my first encounter with theology in the public square. I thought to myself this neighbor kid was much too young to be worrying about the Devil. And in a way, all of us are.
But it is important for us to discuss the Devil — otherwise known as Satan — in order to know how he, and the world of evil he represents, fits into the overall world of Christian spirituality. It is important to know for instance whether evil is something we need to worry about and, if so, in what way.
Housekeeping Note: We are approaching the end of our series on The Christian Soul. I know you are heartbroken, but time and thought must move on! In addition to this post, there are two more planned: Miracles and Mindfulness.
Also, we will be launching a new series on The Christian Mind: Exploring The Christian Faith in A World of Certain Doubt. I am planning to present this as a dialog between a believer and an atheist, or several believers and several atheists — I have not decided. Look forward to upcoming posts!
We should probably start by stating something I have not stated up to this point, and that is: The spiritual life is essentially a life of good and evil. It is one in which we are being delivered from a kingdom of spiritual darkness into the Kingdom of Light.
And this is made possible by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross. Jesus not only made relationship with God possible; He also broke the power of evil in our lives. Scripture says that Jesus came “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3) and that through His death He “disarmed the powers and authorities [of evil and] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2).
We see Jesus’ triumph over evil demonstrated during His ministry on Earth: Wherever He went, He healed “all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10).
And in a way, this is what Jesus is now accomplishing in our own lives. The deep work of God we have discussed several times is a work of deliverance from the oppressive influences of this dark world under Satan’s domain.
Now we have said the deep work of God is God pruning from us all that keeps us from intimacy with Him. This is true. But the other side of the coin is that our lack of intimacy with God implies that we are intimate with something else. The reason for this is because the soul is created for intimacy: It is designed to be nourished and protected by God. And when we fail to go to God with our needs (sometimes for reasons beyond our immediate control), we go to the things of this world instead.
For instance, as a young child you may not have felt protected emotionally. This may have been for legitimate reasons. But whatever the reasons, you came to believe God was not able to protect you. As a result, you found ways to protect yourself. You may have used anger as a way of keeping yourself safe and others at a distance.
Or, through various circumstances you came to believe you were not worthy of love, that God could not possibly accept you as you are. As a result, you found ways to establish your own worth. You used perfect behavior, or perhaps high achievement, as a way of being acceptable to the outside world — and also to God.
In both cases, the result is that you find yourself in intimacy with something of this world instead of God: Anger, perfectionism, unworthiness, control, manipulation — you name it. Now in a world where there is no spiritual reality, these things can be thought of as mere behaviors. But in the spiritual world we occupy, these things have substance. Anger is not just anger but a spirit of anger; perfection is not just perfection but a spirit of perfection. Manipulation is not just manipulation but a spirit of manipulation. We are not only bound to but also bound by spiritual influences present in this dark world.
Our journey in the Christian life, then, is not just a journey toward increased knowledge, or even toward deeper intimacy: It the deliverance of our souls from the things of this world that have held us in bondage. We are, through Jesus, being delivered daily.
This is one reason why Scripture says, “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8). The things of the flesh are the things under the domain of spiritual darkness where death and destruction still reign. And our participation with them means we are still subject to its destructive effects.
It is also why (or at least, one of the reasons why) bad things can still happen in the Christian life, as we discussed at length in our previous post. The Christian life is not one where we have been delivered but one in which we are being delivered from all evil. Thus the Lord’s prayer: “Deliver us Lord from evil.” (or, as some translations read, “Deliver us from the evil one”).
All of this leads us to perhaps a somewhat unsettling realization. Namely, the Devil is closer to us than we think. He is woven into the fabric of our lives. We tend to think of the Devil as a being who only dwells in the extreme dimensions of life, such as satanic rituals or demon possessions of the kind we find in Hollywood. But the Devil is found in the ordinary.
Yet in this unsettling realization is embedded a promise: If what we call ordinary is a world oppressed by the influences of a dark world the Devil governs, then God, who has now broken the power of evil in our lives and is delivering us daily from it, has destined us for the extraordinary. The Christian life is a miracle in action, and we are witnesses of it.
None of this implies that God is not in the business of performing actual miracles in our lives. This is a topic we shall take up in our next post.
But do we know the “Debo”? Yes, we do. For those of us who live in this fallen world, he is all too familiar. But Jesus, the One who has now broken the power of of evil, we know even better.