Later this morning I will be delivering a lecture on the problem of evil. In that lecture I will point out to my students that the author of the textbook we’re using for the course indicates that at least some blame for the evil that is in the world has to be directed at a malevolent spiritual being at work in it.

I will go on to indicate that this evil spiritual being is referred to fairly often in the Bible (NIV) as: Satan (54 times), the devil (36 times), the evil one (12 times), Beelzebub (7 times), the prince of demons (4 times), and the prince of this world another (3 times).

I will also draw attention to the fact that some pretty smart, spiritually savvy biblical characters evidently took the reality of the devil seriously. I am speaking of such folks as Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, James, Jude, and the author of the Letter to the Hebrews.

Though what the Bible has to say about the origin of the devil is, in my mind, somewhat murky, its various descriptions of his activities seem to indicate that the most basic, fundamental, unwavering orientation of this evil spiritual being is toward the destruction of the human race. As the evil one, he is anti-life, and anti-love. In another words, his essence is diametrically opposed to any sort of human flourishing, either in this age or the age to come.

We really can only speculate about what the devil’s deal is—what makes him so thoroughly committed to evil. C. S. Lewis was careful to point out that evil really possesses no ontological status of its own. It’s not that there are two equal rival powers at work in the universe competing for supremacy (i.e., metaphysical dualism). Evil is rather goodness gone bad.

Whatever the origin and motive of the devil, I will encourage my students later today to take him seriously, as the Bible suggests we should.

According to the Apostle Paul (a pretty smart, spiritually savvy fellow), we should be careful:

  • not to give the devil a foothold in our life (Eph 4:27);
  • not to put ourselves in a position to be tempted by him (1 Cor 7:5);
  • not to allow ourselves to be outwitted by him (2 Cor 2:11); and
  • certainly not to turn away from the faith and follow him (1 Tim 5:15).

Furthermore, says Paul, the way to accomplish all of this is by being careful to put on the full armor of God so as to be able to stand firm against his schemes (Eph 6:11).

Can we give the devil too much attention? Of course. But we can ignore him to our detriment too. Doesn’t the prototypical prayer Jesus provided us contain a petition that says “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one”?

In the movie The Usual Suspects a character named Verbal Kent says: “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.” Indeed, it has been my experience that it’s when we stop taking the devil seriously, it’s when we fail to remember that it’s not just us and God in the universe—that we have a spiritual enemy whose main goal is to “steal and kill and destroy” (see John 10:10)—that we allow the evil one to get close enough to us to eat our lunch.

So, in my lecture today I will encourage my students to give the devil his due. This does not mean we should fixate on and obsess over him. But it does mean that we should be careful to take him seriously and resist him in the ways referred to above.

It also means that we should not be so quick to put immediate blame on God for absolutely every evil event that transpires on this fallen planet.

As for why there is a devil and human freedom, while I will address these issues in my lecture today, they will have to be the topic of future blog posting, so stay tuned.

How’s that for a tease?