If you’re anywhere near my age, you probably recall comedian Flip Wilson’s infamous character, Geraldine. Geraldine would get herself into trouble of some kind, and then insist, wide-eyed, “The devil made me do it!”
That always got a laugh out of me.
It’s tempting to blame our bad behavior on someone else — but it can also be a mistake to ignore or downplay the reality of our spiritual enemy.
When it comes to the existence and work of Satan, Christians tend toward one extreme or the other.
On the one hand, we can blame the devil for everything, giving him far too much credit. Here’s an example:
Our family was part of a small church for years. One of the key couples in that church eventually withdrew and stopped attending.
In response, the pastor muttered, “Stinking devil!” In his mind, the reason this couple left is because Satan had somehow fooled them and led them astray.
Looking back on the situation, it is clear to me now that control and heavy-handed leadership had a lot to do with why this couple left. They no longer felt that the church was a safe place.
Maybe the devil was indeed at work — but not in the way this leader assumed.
Had he been willing to do some honest self-evaluation, perhaps this pastor would have gained insight beyond simply blaming the devil. Perhaps he could have faced his flaws, humbled himself, and repented.
Perhaps he could have become a better shepherd.
We can blame Satan for the effects of our own sinful behavior. We can also act as though he is omniscient and omnipresent (attributes only possessed by God).
Some Christians become paranoid about what the devil is up to, seeing a demon hiding in every bush.
Some spend valuable prayer time and energy addressing the enemy, when in fact the Scripture offers very little precedent for such conversations.
Jesus’ conversations with demons were short, few, and authoritative. The apostle Paul didn’t spend much time conversing with demons, either.
When a slave girl who was possessed by evil spirits followed the apostles around shouting, it took many days before Paul rebuked the demon and brought deliverance to the girl (Acts 16:18).
Evidently, dealing with demons was not the apostle’s first priority –preaching the gospel of the Kingdom was.
But there’s another way we can be out of balance with regard to the devil and his role. Keith Green sang a song called “No one believes in me anymore” (Satan’s boast).
We may even agree with the truth that Satan exists, but leave no room in our theology as to what that means for our daily life.
I recently talked with a friend who was struggling with difficult circumstances and negative emotions. I reminded her of another player in the picture besides her and God — an enemy who is actively working to take her out.
This reminder of the truth gave my friend hope. It put things in perspective.
Yes, God is sovereign, and nothing touches me that doesn’t come filtered through his hand –but God’s not mean!
The apostle Peter writes,
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” — I Peter 5:8
When we face hardship, we do well to keep in mind that we have an enemy — an enemy who is real, aggressive, and ruthless.
We also serve a Lord and Savior who is far more powerful than our enemy.
Is the devil real? Absolutely. Can we credit or blame him for every bad thing that happens? Not exactly, Geraldine.
Let’s be alert and of sober mind concerning Satan — but let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.