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D.C. Collier: Is the Devil Real?

“You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.

“But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

Bob Dylan, “Gotta Serve Somebody”

A particularly corrosive trend among all too many Christian churches is to de-emphasize — if not deny altogether — the presence of virulent evil in the world.

The notion of Satan as a person who is actively perpetuating evil seems so far-fetched, even to Christians, as to be relegated to the dusty shelves of theologians and mystics, and best left out of the public discourse for fear of being viewed as “weird.”

Yet here we sit every night, helplessly watching CNN parade an endless cavalcade of murder, mass slaughter, mayhem, global chaos and apocalyptic threats — and we assign it all to mere human dysfunction and political vagaries.

What is behind this state of institutional denial? In an article in The Wall Street Journal, entitled, “How to Beat Islamic State,” author Maajid Nawaz offered valuable insight:

“I call this the Voldemort effect, after the villain in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Many well–meaning people in Ms. Rowling’s fictional world are so petrified of Voldemort’s evil that they do two things: They refuse to call Voldemort by name, instead referring to ‘He Who Must Not Be Named,’ and they deny that he exists in the first place.

“Such dread only increases public hysteria, thus magnifying the appeal of Voldemort’s power.”

Often, in the face of unexplainable evil, our only defense is denial, which plays right into the Devil’s hands:

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist,” said con man Kint Verbal (Kevin Spacey) in the movie, The Usual Suspects.

The Devil isn’t about to manifest as a fire-breathing dragon, that would be too obvious. He hides behind seemingly innocuous constituents of ordinary life that we are accustomed to and trust. And nowhere is this strategy more potent than in the field of ideas.

The Astonishing Power of Ideas

In his book, Streams of Confusion: Thirteen Great Ideas That Are Contaminating Our Thought and Culture, Brad Scott, a professor of English, humanities and communication, traces the roots of modern ethical relativism back to 13 influential thinkers, and shows how their philosophies and ideologies have led to our modern moral chaos.

“What if,” he posited, “most of our modern philosophical and literary authorities aren’t heroes but villains, not benefactors of humanity but destroyers of civilization?”

Armed with that question, Scott examined the key ideas of Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, B.F. Skinner and Aldous Huxley, as well as a group of contemporary theologians, to see how they have influenced the modern mind.

The result is a jeremiad rooted in the history of ideas that focuses on “trickle-down ideonomics” — the effect of these philosophers on how modern people think about their lives and values. The brooks formed from their flawed ideas merge together to form “the mighty river of ethical relativism.”1

These become streams of confusion and ultimately turn into roaring waters that drown out the voice of truth and overtake the world. Over time, these ideologies have not only changed the Western world but also have taken on the status of unquestioned assumptions.

Do you doubt the power of ideas? Go all the way back to the beginning. philosopher Dallas Willard once observed, “When the Devil approached Eve in the Garden of Eden, he didn’t hit her with a stick, but with an idea.”

The Devil’s ghastly notion was sown in the fertile mind of Eve that God’s intentions were not good toward her and that she had better protect herself by learning all she can about good and evil. After she brought Adam on board with that whopper of a lie, the actions followed in lockstep. That’s all it took to redirect the course of human history, and it’s been that way ever since.

When the Adolf Hitlers, Karl Marxes and Pol Pots of the world embark on a campaign to control a country, their first targets are the thought leaders who might stand in their way.

Isaiah Berlin warned, “The first people totalitarians destroy, or silence are men of ideas and free minds.” Joseph Stalin made no secret of his beliefs in this regard when he said, “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas.”

Is it any wonder then that the Devil’s great workroom throughout history has been academia, youth culture, politics and government, where the leverage is strongest to manipulate and shape the minds of the idealistic and naïve? This war of ideas has been going on for a long time — all the way back to the Garden of Eden.

Resist and Stand Firm

Peter the Apostle gives this advice: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”2

You are not alone in this! But remember, the day will come when the Devil will be ultimately defeated and thrown out for good. In the meantime, he prowls around looking for someone to devour.

How About You?

Still don’t believe the Devil exists? Jesus certainly did. Early in his public ministry, Jesus encountered Satan face-to-face.

After being offered many great things, “Jesus’ refusal was curt: ‘Beat it, Satan!’ He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and only Him. Serve Him with absolute single–heartedness.’ The Test was over. The Devil left. And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of Jesus’ needs.”3

Resist the Devil, turn to God, and watch the blessings flow.

D.C. Collier is a Bible teacher, discipleship mentor and writer focused on Christian apologetics. A mechanical engineer and Internet entrepreneur, he is the author of My Origin, My Destiny, a book focused on Christianity’s basic “value proposition.” Click here for more information. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

1. “Religion Book Review: Streams of Confusion: Thirteen Great Ideas That Are Contaminating Our Thought and Culture by Brad Scott, Author Crossway Books.” PublishersWeekly.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2015.

2. 1 Peter 5:8-10 New American Standard Bible

3. Matthew 4:1-11 The Message

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