Stop Blaming the Devil: You Can Do Bad All By Yourself

The first time I heard someone blame Satan I had just graduated from college. Hurricane […]

Sarah Condon / 6.21.19

The first time I heard someone blame Satan I had just graduated from college. Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and my parish priest and I were standing in an elderly woman’s backyard helping her clean out a freezer. There were crawfish. She had not had power for weeks. It was August in Mississippi. You can imagine the smell.

As we all braced ourselves for the opening of the appliance door the woman yelled out with great conviction, “That is the devil!” to which my priest replied gently, “No ma’am. That’s just crawfish.”

I have become fascinated with our need to call things the fault of the devil. Or to blame a kind of grand evil scheme. Or to look at any other option than ourselves. There are entire church systems that rely on this kind of the-devil-is-in-charge mentality, and they make me very uneasy. They live in denial of their own participation in wrong doing and sin. And they create individuals who enact profound harm all under the defense of false righteousness.

I begin to wonder exactly who these systems and people believe the devil is? Surely he is not the one that Jesus fearlessly called out of Peter. Surely he is not the one who Luther said one little word would fell.

While there are certainly days that it feels like the devil is in charge, this is not a thought I welcome. I hope we cling to that comforting image of a sovereign God who rules with a mighty hand: “Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a skillful psalm.” When folks talk so much about the devil being after them and their churches, I begin to wonder who exactly they are singing praises to. 

Also, this attitude that Satan has us on his s-list is oddly self-important. It conveniently places whoever is not on our side on the side of the lord of the underworld. It’s like 8th-grade behavior with hotter weather and higher stakes. As vitally important as we all think we are, the devil is not using people to plot against us. He’s using us to plot against us.

Recently I heard someone say that we are all the body of Christ but sometimes you end up being the asshole.

Y’all heard me.

The devil does not need other people to mess with us. He just needs us. And worrying about other people plotting against you is really a #bestlifenow scenario for Satan. Envy, fear, accusation, and self-importance are his favorite things.

Certainly, in a house with as much church as ours, we will occasionally wonder if the devil is after us. When our church community has suffered job loss, death, and flooding in a matter of weeks, we are all calling Satan out. But if my husband and I have yelled at each other, been rude to co-workers, or taught our children the world “relentless,” then that is actually our own sin. 

(“Mama, what is ‘relentless’ and why do you keep saying it to me?”)

We don’t need outside evil to turn us into asshats. We can do bad all by ourselves.

In Kathleen Norris’s stunning Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, she writes about words that have challenged and confounded believers. Her passage on the Antichrist is particularly good. She was asked to lead a class at church about this word and went to her pastor for help:

He quickly summarized and dismissed the tendency that Christians have always had to identify the Antichrist with their personal enemies, or those in power whom they have reason to detest. It is an easy temptation: in our own century, the Antichrist has been equated with Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, and given the current state of political hysteria in America, no doubt Bill and Hilary Clinton as well.

What the pastor said was so simple that it will remain with me forever. “Each one of us acts as an Antichrist,” he said, “when we hear the Gospel and do not do it.” 

Accountability is not a word we use a lot here at Mockingbird. But I’m going to use it now. We are accountable to the One who came to save us. And I do not mean this as a behavior modification or a means to make you feel guilty. But I mean when things are not going your way, then perhaps your gut response should not be to blame the devil. Instead, call on the One who made you whole. And recognize why He had to do it.

Jesus had to die on the cross for our sins just as much as for anyone else’s. When it feels like people are against you, maybe you are really just against yourself. Maybe, as all of us do from time to time, you have forgotten Jesus has been for you all along.