Don't Fear the Reaper

A few years ago, The Barna Group released a study that indicated 60% of American Christians agreed (in varying degrees) that the devil was more like a symbol than a person. As I recall, this terrified most of the church folk I knew at the time. They had suspicions that the country was taking a religious nosedive, but statistics like these confirmed their biggest fears. It was bad enough that America's morality was in decline, but one could only imagine what would happen to the church if its own patrons became oblivious to their bifurcated enemy.

photo credit: 19melissa68 via photopin cc
The very fabric of the faith would be torn asunder as Christians everywhere would fall prey to the most insidious of heresies. Church morality would plummet faster than the 2008 recession, and the pulpit would be tasked with telling those belligerent masses exactly what they wanted to hear. Because without a roaring lion to keep us on our toes, we're vulnerable and weak. We need an enemy. We need the fear. As my sarcasm begins to sink in, consider this question: has perpetuating a fear of the devil had any negative side effects?

Growing up, I was always keenly aware of my spiritual state. Especially when I became a teenager during the infancy of the internet. Try as I might through the tearful prayers of adolescent hormones, I found my sanctification failing more often than not. And who was always there waiting to kick me when I was down?


Because even on those good days when I didn't have to erase my internet history, I knew he knew. I knew that Satan knew what I really wanted to do. I couldn't hide anything from him because he was in my head. He knew my thoughts. So no matter how "good" I was, he was always there, feasting in glee on my private lusts.

Now for a culture that's so concerned with a proper view of the devil, it comes as a surprise to me how bad a job the church has done with it.

We rail on films that portray good and evil as equal forces, but we've neglected the fact that a lot of kids grew up believing Satan was omniscient and omnipresent. And for those who aren't acquainted with such terms, it means many ended up believing exactly what the church was trying to avoid: the devil was Jesus' evil twin. More importantly, we were terrified of him. He was the all-knowing, all-powerful Satan: master of this world and a predator of pubescent children. Basically Freddy Krueger.

Once I realized all this was bunk, it struck me how little Satan probably cares about wet dreams. For all I know, he's busy chasing penguins in Antarctica. In fact, I think he exists largely today as a scapegoat to theodicy. Regardless, I wasted so much time and fear battling an all-knowing foe that never existed instead of recognizing that my own worst enemy is me. I'm not saying that we play dumb to the spiritual puppet masters behind this mortal tapestry. But I am saying that we need to remember that the devil is not the one to be feared:
Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
Biblical illiteracy may be a growing problem. But the last thing we need to worry about is how important the devil is to Christians. Because in the end, Satan's just a loser. And the only person getting in the way of the love of a fearsome God is me.