Did the devil make me do it?

devilI’m on a roll with these little books. Yesterday, I hid from the rain and cold by reading another edition in front of a raging open fire in our lounge room. Nice! This time it was Mike McKinley’s Did the devil make me do it? And other questions about Satan, demons and evil spirits. I must admit it’s not my normal fireside reading. While I’ve read all the Harry Potter series, I don’t much care for horror thrillers or teenage vampire love stories. So why this book?

Quite simply, because it’s an issue where there’s so much speculation and confusion among Christians. While the Bible speaks unashamedly about these things, it seems that many people are more informed by movies and novels than the Scriptures when it come to the understanding powers of evil.

McKinley acknowledges the polarity of opinions about the devil that exist. C.S. Lewis wrote in his classic book, 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. (quoted on p7)

As a product of our scientific, naturalistic age, my tendency is toward the former. I’m the one who is likely to be taken in by the classic line from the movie, The Usual Suspects:

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

I raise a few eyebrows when I start speaking with friends about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, miracles, resurrection, and the like. But if I start discussing angels, the devil, demons, evil spirits, and spiritual warfare, then people will know I’ve lost it. There are probably many Christians who feel the same.

However, I’ve also met the opposite—Christians who seem totally obsessed with everything to do with evil spirits and the like. They’re forever speaking against, strategising against, incantating against, at war against, some power of evil. Some look for skeletons in the closet of family trees—your great uncle was a mason so you have to be released from the masonic stronghold that oppresses you still. Some suggest that every negative factor in a person’s life has some close connection to demonic forces—the spirit of alcoholism, or addiction, or doubt, or fear.

Did the devil make me do it? is a breath of fresh air. It’s not cynical or dismissive, but neither is it speculative or superstitious. This book directs us to the Bible for our answers. It engages with the text of Scripture to remind us that there is a created being called the devil, and we must take him very seriously. Jesus did. It also encourages us to remember that he is only a created being, and we needn’t be overwhelmed by him. Jesus wasn’t.

The centre-piece of this book isn’t the devil, or the demons, or the havoc they seek to create. It is, in fact, JESUS.  Jesus entered into our world to overcome the power of the devil. He came to destroy the devil’s work, to disarm him, and to rescue people from his influence. Reading any of the gospels reveals how Jesus’ life and ministry was a confrontation with the devil. Examining his crucifixion and resurrection shows the power of his victory over God’s enemy. The way ahead for Christians is to focus on Jesus, not on the enemy of Jesus. It’s to listen to Jesus, not the lies, deceptions, or accusations of the devil.

One of the things I appreciated about this short book, is that the author gets us to reexamine what the Bible teaches on these topics. He quotes and discusses and applies the Word of God. The book itself is an example of how we should address any topic of concern—by examining what God has to say on the matter. Again, and especially for occasional readers, the brevity of this book is a bonus. Yet, it’s also a weakness. There are times when I would like to be pointed to the source of ideas in the book. There are other times where I’d like to be able to explore issues in greater depth than 80 pages will allow.

Perhaps, the publishers could consider adding a Further Reading section in each of these books to help people move from introductory to intermediate study on these topics. They could highlight books they believe to be reliable and helpful. Maybe, they could even consider an index of important Bible passages for further reading and study.

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