The Unfashionable Belief in the Devil
Do we believe that the Devil is real and, indeed, personal? A lot of people claiming to be Christian have given up that belief.
In the BCP 1662 (the Book of Common Prayer - old but still a standard for Anglican doctrine) there is a Catechism. It is subtitled "an instruction to be learned of every person before he be brought to be confirmed by the Bishop". And the first doctrinal question asks about what was promised, on the candidates behalf, by "your Godfathers and Godmothers". The answer is to be: "First, that I should renounce the devil and all his works." However, when a revision of the Prayer Book was discussed in the mid 20th century, "the devil and all his works" were omitted from the revised Catechism. Thankfully this revision was never included in the revised 1980 Alternative Services Book. In that book there was still the encouragement in the Baptism service to "fight valiantly under the banner of Christ against sin, the world and the devil". However, in the latest revision there is a reference to the devil that may (or may not) be used.
At our July Day of Prayer, I was asked to say a few words on financial needs. My first point was that we must be thankful, as "in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving" we are to "make our requests known to God" (Philippians 4.5). So I said we must begin at JPC by thanking God for the amazing giving for St Joseph's over 2013-2014; however, as at the same time our regular giving for JPC decreased over that same period, we still need to pray for significant financial resources. But I concluded with two references to the Devil:
"I know that many will have already given sacrificially over this period. They can't give any more. But they can pray … I am sure the Devil wants us to lose our focus just when things are about to happen for God's glory and this city's good. He wants us to forget that our God … "is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us" (Eph 3.20). And the Devil will want us, therefore, to forget that simple principle in James 4.2-4: "you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions [or selfish desires]."
Modern doubts and Jesus' confidence
But do we really believe that the Devil will be attacking us because we are working and giving for going multi-site for the sake of the gospel? I have been thinking about the Devil recently in regard not only to JPC but the wider world; and I am very conscious of the intellectual and theological fashions that make it difficult to persuade people of the reality of the demonic. So what are these fashions? According to A Dictionary of Christian Theology that was published in 1969 (and more conservative than many, I may say) it said this in its article on "Satan":
"Until the age of Enlightenment [17th and 18th centuries and the so called 'Age of Reason'] belief in an objectivized personal Devil and his minions was all but universal among theologians. Today, however, it is generally recognized that belief in Satan, the leader of the fallen angels etc. is not a satisfactory answer to the problem of evil: it still leaves us asking the question how evil got into the world which God created and saw was 'very good'. But as a pictorial way of representing the existence of superhuman evil forces in the universe, Satan and his hosts call our attention to a very important question for theology."
And that view still seems the case among many clergy. For 30 years later, the encyclopaedic Oxford Companion to Christian Thought (published in 2000) says this in its article on "The Devil": "If there is no 'personal' devil, as most modern Christian thinkers would probably claim, what, others enquire, are we saved from?" However, the article's author, Adrian Hastings, concedes "that the 'devil', shorthand for evil at its most potent, truly exists."
But Jesus is so clear on the personal nature of the Devil. When in dialogue with hostile Jews who were seeking to kill him, he said (John 8.42-45):
"If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He [emphasized by a Greek masculine personal pronoun] was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me."
Of course, care needs to taken when thinking about the devil and demonic activity. As C. S. Lewis famously wrote in his preface to The Screwtape Letters:
"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight."
The Catechism of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA)
So what should we believe about the Devil? Let me quote from the new ACNA Catechism entitled "To be a Christian". It says the following regarding the Lord's Prayer and the Seventh Petition, "But deliver us from evil". This is helpful:-
What is evil? Evil is the wilful perversion of God's good will that defies his holiness and mars his good creation (Genesis 3.1-19; 4.1-8; 6.1-8).
If God made the world good at its creation, why does he permit evil? God made rational creatures free to worship, love, and obey him, but also free to reject his love, rebel against him, and choose evil – as the human race has done. (Genesis 6.5; Ecclesiastes 7.29; 1 Timothy 1.20; Revelation 2.18-29)
Did evil exist before the human race embraced it? Yes. Satan and the other demons with him had already opposed God and chosen evil. (Genesis 3.1-5; Job 1.6-12; John 8.44)
What are Satan and demons? Demons, of whom Satan is chief, are fallen angels. Satan rebelled against God and led other angels to follow him. They now cause spiritual and sometimes physical harm to mortals, and they sow lies that lead to confusion, despair, sin and death. (Luke 11.14-26; 8.29; 9.39; John 8.44; 2 Corinthians 2.11;4.3-4; 11.3; 12.7; Revelation 12.7-12)
How did Satan and his angels turn to evil? Satan and his angels were overcome by envy and pride and rebelled against God. (Luke 10.18; 1 Timothy 3.6; Revelation 12.7-12)
What are angels? Angels are spiritual, holy beings created by God. They joyfully serve him in heavenly worship and God appoints them to act as messengers, bringing words of guidance and assurance to the faithful, and assisting and protecting them. (Psalm 148.1-6 ; Hebrews 1.14; Luke 1.19, 26-33; Acts 8.26-28; 12.7-11; 27.23-24)
How did God address evil in this world? God, in his love, sent Jesus Christ to gain victory over all the powers of evil by his death, resurrection and ascension. Victory and authority over sin and evil are granted to the faithful in their daily lives through the Holy Spirit by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. God will finally overcome all evil, including death, at the end of the age. (John 3.16; Colossians 2.13-15; Luke 10.17-20; Philippians 2.10; 1 John 4.4; Romans 8.28, 35-39; Revelation 21.1-4)
Is God responsible for evil? No. The free choices of his creatures do not implicate God in evil in any way. (Galatians 2.17; James 1.13-15)
How does God redeem evil? Though the evil deeds of his creatures may cause great harm and suffering, the almighty and all-wise God can use them to bring about his good purposes, both in the world and in my life (Genesis 50.20; Romans 8.28)
From what evil do you seek to be delivered? I desire, first and foremost, to be delivered from Satan our Enemy, the Evil One, and all demonic forces that seek to destroy God's creatures. (Matthew 16.21-23; John 13.27; 1 Peter 5.8-9)
From what other evil do you seek deliverance? I ask my heavenly Father to protect me from the world and the flesh, and to deliver me from the dangers of the day and night; from sin, sorrow, sickness, and horror; and from everlasting damnation. (The Great Litany, BCP 1662)
How does God deliver you from evil? God's Holy Spirit transforms my soul to see and hate evil as he does; then he further delivers me either by removing my trial or by giving me strength to endure it gracefully. (Psalms 1; 23; 1 Corinthians 10.13; 2 Corinthians 12.9-10; Philippians 4.13)