Psalm 37 suggests that living in a right relationship with God provides sure and certain protection against the ravages of evil that surround us. John’s first letter struggles with the dichotomy of living a harmonious life of Christian love amidst a world under the control of the evil one. As a result, a good many Christians have been taught since Sunday School that the devil is the ruler of this world and that we are in a constant battle with him, the outcome of which is in doubt. If one can confess Jesus as personal Lord and Savior in just the right way and really, really mean it, then life will become just peachy all the way round.
I find these images troubling on two fronts. First, the whole of scripture simply does not lend much credence to those views. There does not seem to be any evidence that a right relationship with God is an insurance policy against bad things happening or the presence of burdensome challenges. Second, Satan, if anything at all, is depicted as little more than a master of deception who has no real authority and who cannot stand in the presence of God in Christ or anyone who calls upon the name of Christ.
In fact, it is deception itself that lures Christians to excuse their behavior with some version of “The Devil made me do it.” That bald faced denial of personal responsibility permits a sort of bifurcated life with a devil on one shoulder, an angel on the other, and the helpless human between being tugged this way and that, but always able to avoid any personal responsibility for what happens whether for good or for bad.
As I see it, the great source of evil that surrounds us is of our own making, a product of our selfishness, quarreling, greed and contempt for the lives of others. As followers of Christ, it is our responsibility to boldly stand as agents of God’s love where there is none, God’s light where there is darkness, God’s reconciliation where there is no forgiveness, and God’s peace where there is strife. Moreover, we are called to be forthright when we fail to live up to those standards by confessing our own sins, accepting full responsibility for them, and seeking each other’s forgiveness and God’s. Finally, we are to be even bolder in proclaiming that whatever battle three may be between God and the forces of evil has already been won, decisively and permanently, on the cross and at the open grave.
Obviously this train of thought is incomplete, but you get the direction. Where would you take it?