I’d like to thank Timothy Nelson for his thoughtful letter in response to my religion column of Nov. 7. I appreciate his questions.
I share my thoughts on faith in the hope that, like me, others may wonder and question. Sometimes, though, a short column is space enough to only start a conversation.
We learn by hearing other perspectives, even provocative ones, thinking about them, relating them to our own. And that’s my reason for questioning “the devil.”
As Timothy says, we’ve had a concept of the devil for a very long time. Yes, we have, and I hope that it has changed and grown as we have. Like many images and stories in the bible, we tend to leave them as they are and explain the meaning in its original context. Then we try and make them relevant to today. But I don’t think that was the intention at the time. The point of an image or metaphor is that you understand it because it’s already meaningful to you. It doesn’t need explanation. Jesus, I think, was good at that. He taught with metaphors and parables that would be understood by those to whom he was speaking in those days. I think he might use different images today. One of the things he’d describe differently is evil.
Timothy also points out that “the devil made me do it” argument hasn’t worked since Adam and Eve. And yet, whether we use the expression or not, I’d argue that we do use the devil as a way of putting a face on evil so that we don’t have to look behind it. We might say that someone or something is evil and then simply respond to the evil rather than wonder why. What led to the choices that were made that resulted in this happening?
We might even say it about ourselves. It’s an outside force, then, acting on us. Instead, we should be wondering about why we made the choices we did.
I think we find it easy to blame a devil when we should be wondering why we didn’t act from goodness in the first place. As I’ve said before, I think we’re inherently good because we are created in the image of God. We also have freewill and can make choices, choices influenced by experience of the world around us. We struggle to do good sometimes.
Of course it’s ridiculously unrealistic to think that we can achieve the perfection of living only from the sense of good within us. That’s for the next life. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage it and, as a pastor, that’s just my point. I’d like to be like Jesus when he says “don’t be afraid.” I’d rather encourage people to live out the good that’s already in them, encourage them to have hope and look for joy. Even the smallest acts of love, kindness and grace make a difference.