A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Devil Made Me Do It

Bill Farrelly

by Bill Farrelly

I AM tempted to suggest that the devil has put me up to today’s exercise but that would be too clever by half because what I want to talk about is, in fact, the devil.

Do you ever struggle to believe in the devil? Does it make any sense to you that he can be happy? Have you ever wondered why he has almost always been depicted as male? Is all evil the work of the devil? Is any of it his sole responsibility?

I’ll deal with the penultimate question first; for me it’s the easiest, but we should begin with a definition of evil. The Macquarie Dictionary describes it thus: Evil. violating or inconsistent with the moral law.

So, is the devil to blame for all of it? No. If he was, then, by definition we would not have free will and, as I often delight in saying, free will is the greatest gift God has given us.

OK, back to question one. The fact that I raised this suggests that I do wrestle with it.  It all began, we are told, with the ancient struggle between good and evil in heaven and, as I have mentioned previously, I have difficulty believing that some of the angels would get so carrried away as to challenge God. For a start, to do so they must have had free will – something I believe they no longer have.

I am not saying I don’t believe, I’m saying I struggle sometimes. As I write, something is just now occurring to me. Each of us has God within us. Do we similarly have some element of the devil within us? Might that explain how we are capable of such horrendous evil? It seems to me that this is plausible. On the other hand such a hypothesis suggests that, as God is our creator, he would have created us with that element and that is far more challeging to accept.

Next question: Can the devil be happy? We were taught as children that the devil relished evil-doing. It is possible to feel good, even very good, doing wicked things. Again it strikes me that relishing something or feeling good is not the same as being happy. So what, if anything, does the devil feel? We cannot know, of course, but in the human sense of the word it seems to me he cannot feel happiness.

Question three, why is the devil invariably depicted as male, notwithstanding Marty Robbins and his popular song hit Devil Woman? The angels, after all, are neither male nor female – and he is a fallen angel. I can’t even guess at this one but I suppose it is part of mythology that he was/is male. That reference might suggest I am putting the devil into the realm of myth. I’m not.

An aside: society in general and the church in particular have been patriarchial for centuries. It’s a wonder they/we haven’t feminised the devil. On the other hand, women invariably get blamed for being the temptress.

And finally, the most difficult question of all for me: is the devil ever solely responsible for  evil? My immediate response would be no; that he cannot work unless he works through a human being who must then consent to be used. But how would I explain someone being possessed by the devil and the subsequent necessary exorcism?

Conclusion: Yes, it seems he is. That is an extraordinarly terrifying possibility. 

It seems to me that the most important thing to remember about evil is that we almost always have a choice. I am not saying we cannot be influenced by the devil – on the contrary. There are occasions when it seems impossible to resist temptation but my own experience mostly is that I have at some point allowed myself to be put in temptation’s way. What initially seemed inevitable was not really so inevitable when I reflected on what had happened.

Incidentally, to understand the reality of evil I commend to you the book People of The Lie by M. Scott Peck, author of a much-loved book many more will already have read, The Road Less Travelled. The former is fascinating, challenging and disturbing.

And one final point: have you ever wondered at some of the conversations that God had with the devil. The most obvious are the devil’s taunting of Jesus in the desert and the bet – a bet, for heaven’s sake –  between God and the devil over Job’s ability to remain loyal to God despite all that the devil could throw at him.

Job won, of course – as God knew he would.

By the way, does that mean that it wasn’t a fair bet, that the devil had no chance of winning?

Sorry, God. The devil made me say that.

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