“The devil made me do it.” This is just one popular phrase that we use these days involving the devil. “The devil’s in the details”, is another phrase, which calls to mind roles played in movies, played by some of the most famous names in Hollywood. Comic portrayals by Elizabeth Hurley, and Bill Cosby, as well as more dramatic performances by Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino, have all come to the big screen at one time or another. But let’s take a careful look at the idea that the “prince of darkness” is really to blame for our troubles.
When using the phrase, “the devil’s in the details”, we’re usually referring to a large project of some kind. For instance, when the idea of the Gateway Arch (in St Louis, MO) was first proposed, the idea seemed like a great one. The difficulty lay in the fact that no one had ever built a free standing arch of that size before. Entirely new construction techniques had to be devised. Thus, it was easy for those with the vision to imagine the finished arch, to create drawings depicting the structure. But when it came to dealing with the reality of constructing the arch, the devil was definitely in the details.
This statement will make better sense, if we do some of our word detective work. The first factor to look at is the fact that in today’s language, the words devil and Satan are synonymously interchangeable. Considering the name Satan, one of the disciple Peter’s experiences comes to mind. When Yeshua explains that He must go to Jerusalem and be crucified, Peter rebukes Him, telling Him that it shouldn’t be that way. Yeshua stops Peter with the words, “Get behind me, Satan…” (Matthew 16:23a) So was Yeshua calling Peter the prince of darkness? No!
The word Satan comes to us from the Greek word “satanas”, which is defined as an “adversary”. When we understand that, it becomes clear to us that when Yeshua was calling Peter “Satan”, it was because Peter was reacting to Yeshua’s statement with opposition. At that moment, Peter was being an adversary to God’s will.
Relating all of this word detective work back to the Gateway arch, we can see that if the construction of the arch was to be successful, then the architects were going to have to be meticulous in their design work, and the engineers were going to need to plan the construction work carefully. If even one of the pieces of the arch, or steps in the construction process; were missing or miscalculated, the outcome might have been a disaster. We can say then, that their adversary was in the vast amount of preparation, and the large number of unique pieces and details which needed to fit together perfectly, for the Gateway Arch to be a success. The devil was in the details.
That brings us to the other statement, the title of this article. When someone talks about something they did, which they knew better than to do, they will often say, “the devil made me do it”. This may be more accurate than they realize. In the series of pieces entitled “What is Sin?”, we looked at a reality of human existence called “natural man”. We made recognition of the fact that in our natural state, humans are selfish individuals. Now, while our goal is to learn how to serve God, (see “The Purpose of Life”,) we can only serve God well, as we learn to become spiritually centered. We begin to become spiritual centered when we learn to put the needs of others above our own personal needs and desires. The natural man is in direct opposition to the spiritually centered man. This point is underscored by Yeshua in his response to Peter’s rebuke. The verse I quoted from earlier is verse 23, from the 16th chapter of Matthew. The verse reads: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (NIV)
In this moment, Yeshua has helped us understand that the natural man sees the world differently than the spiritually centered man. Therefore, it would be correct to suggest that the natural man, whose tendency is to think selfishly of themselves, is the adversary of the spiritually centered man. As we recall that the word for adversary is Satan; we realize that when we say, “The devil made me do it”, we’re really talking about the selfishly motivated desires (of the natural self), which we ourselves have given in to.
The next time you begin to jokingly admit that “the devil made you do it” ... stop ...
...take it a little more seriously than you intended it, and then use it as a starting point to try to do better.
Grace and peace to you all,