Many of us have heard the Wolf Tones sing the song ‘Some say the devil is dead’. It goes ‘some say the devil is dead and buried in Killarney. More say he rose again and joined the British army’. So what do we think? Do we believe in the existence of evil or think the devil is dead and does not exist? When we look at the world today, it is hard not to believe that there is some force of darkness at work that is the opposite of good. Wars, violence, lives destroyed by drugs, human trafficking, the destruction of family life, the list goes on. We have even seen evil in recent years in the Church with the abuse crisis that one Bishop called ‘the Devil’s masterpiece’. Here I identity four ways that the Evil one operates and tempts us too – by the four D’s – deception, division, diversion and discouragement.
First by deception. In the first reading, the devil sows doubt and confusion into the minds of Adam and Eve about what God did or did not say – ‘Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’. Here is a classic tactic of the Evil one – to blur the lines of distinction between what is true and what is false. For us Christians, Jesus is the truth and his Words are true. This was the truth that the early disciples lived and died to proclaim. This was the truth that changed everything. Jesus is risen and because he is, the truth of his teachings and ways have risen with him. It is about seeking the truth of all things and ‘rejoicing in the truth’ (1 Cor. 13:6) when we find it. In contrast, Jesus described Satan as ‘the father of lies’ (Jn. 8:44) who seeks to deceive us and direct us away from the truth of the Gospel.
Second by division. The Devil drives a wedge between us and God and one another. He is the great divider. In the garden of Eden, Satan tempts Adam and Eve to cut loose from God. In the Gospel, he tempts Jesus to turn away from his Father. The devil’s work is to turn us away from God, to decide for ourselves between good and evil, right and wrong. God then becomes our competitor and a threat to our freedom. The devil’s work is to tear asunder what belongs together. God’s work is to unite. Therefore doing God’s work is living in the Spirit of unity and communion with God and everyone.
Third by diversion. We see this with Jesus’ temptation in the desert as the devil tries to divert him away from obedience to his Father with the lure of pleasure and power.All of us are prone to this temptation – to be distracted and lose our sense of purpose and sense of mission. This happens when we lose focus on Christ and his Kingdom, getting overly preoccupied with ourselves. Diversion can also occur by absorption in our tasks – the success of my projects becomes the priority rather than a joyful witness to the love and mercy of Christ. In contrast, with the Spirit we courageously bring the power of the Gospel out into the world. It is the Gospel of the Kingdom that has already triumphed over the kingdom of Satan. The gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Fourth by discouragement. The Evil one tries to convince us that we are not worthy of God’s love or never good enough. He can convince us that being Christian is useless and pointless. This can easily result in a loss of hope. But at times like this, we always remember that we are never alone. The promise of Jesus remains – ‘Do not be afraid…I will be with you always, yes, to the end of time’ (Matt. 28:20). At times of discouragement, the Lord encourages us to hold fast, stand firm and never give up when trials come our way.
Deception, division, diversion and discouragement - four strategies of Satan as he tries to prise us away from God and weaken our commitment to our faith. Every time we raise the Lord’s prayer and say ‘lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil’, we do so with Jesus himself who knows our struggle with Satan’s efforts to deceive us, divide us, divert us and discourage us. As we share his struggle, we share his victory. I conclude with the old prayer to St Michael the Archangel that used to be said at the end of Mass:
‘St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defence against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.’