The Devil & Our Struggles

I’ve had countless conversations with struggling Christians – Christians who are experiencing hard and unpleasant things.  I haven’t been able to quantify what I’m about to say with any rigor but I am confident that more than 50% of the conversations I have with struggling Christians involve a common claim. There are obviously variations in wording but the spirit of the claim is consistent across the board. So here it is: when I meet with Christians who are struggling I hear at least 50% of them claim that the Devil is persecuting them in some way.  At some point in the conversation Satan is brought-up and touted as a source of hardship.  I do not question Satan and his army of demons.  I know the Devil and his minions stand furiously opposed to God and his church.  I absolutely believe in demonic oppression.  I also believe that a good number of the Christians I’ve spoken with, throughout the years, have experienced some form of demonic influence in their life.  And, I do believe that our adversary “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pt 5:8).” However, is there a possibility that perhaps Satan and his demons receive a little too much credit for our day-to-day calamities?  And furthermore, is it possible that we’ve turned the Devil into a bit cartoon character?

Please do not hear me underestimate Satan’s power … that would be unbiblical and just plain stupid.  What I want you to hear is a gentle exhortation to think more critically about your struggles. Could we have some perceptions that need to be retooled?  Let’s just be honest: it’s easy to blame the Devil for the crap in our lives.  When things are hard it’s very intuitive for us to say something like, “The Devil is really attacking me right now.”  As a matter of fact, I’d suggest that those of us who’ve grown-up in the church are just as conditioned to say, “The Devil is attacking me” as we are, “In Jesus name, Amen” after we pray.  If we’re being honest with ourselves – which is usually a difficult assent in itself – blaming the Devil for our problems is often as insincere as blaming the dog for eating our homework.  I know I’m upsetting some of you already but just wait because I still have a couple points that will probably upset you even more.

Point 1: Ego-centric drama

Could it be that we’ve turned the Devil into a satire and in so doing created a twisted and theatrical love/hate dynamic?  Ok, maybe not love/hate … but validate/hate for sure. I know this question sounds strange – maybe even offensive – but think about it for a second. Think about how we’ve been conditioned from our earliest memories as children.  My earliest memories involve GI Joes and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  These toys were part of my life for the better part of a decade and when I played with them there was always one hard and fast rule: there are good guys and there are bad guys.  Every good guy needs a bad guy, right?  Every hero requires a villain. This reflects the past 500 years of theatre in the West.  The centuries-old struggle between a valiant protagonist and a vilified antagonist – Othello and Iago … Tom and Simon Legree … Bernardo and Riff … Skywalker and Vader.  With this conditioning in mind, is there any wisdom exploring the parts of our ego that might be validated, in a theatric way, by the existence of the Devil?  In other words, we resist the Devil because he is our adversary while completely enjoying the fact that we are the protagonist.  We could even take it step further and say the Devil is our enemy – he is the cause of our struggle conveniently exonerating us from any responsibility for our struggles.  Have we become the leading-character in our own ego-centric theatre-production?  Have we created a paradigm in which we wear the white hats while standing for truth, justice and the American way while the Devil wears a black hat and is the single source for all of our trials?  Allowing our diagnoses of struggle to be influenced by inflated egos or an affinity for the dramatic is a very dangerous practice.  The Devil certainly plays a role in the “theatre” of struggle but there are some other very large influences to consider as well. As a matter of fact, all our struggles in this life can be traced back to one of four sources as seen throughout the meta-narrative of Scripture.

These four sources include:

  1. Satanic/demonic oppression (Gen 3:1-14, Job 1:7, 1 Chor. 21:1, Mt. 4:1-11Eph. 6:12, 1 Tim 4:1, Rev 9:21, 18:23)
  2. Our own depraved nature (Isa. 64:6, Eph 2:1-5, Rom 3:10-11, 1st John 1:7, 1 Cor 2:14, John 3:19, Rom 8:7, Ps 51:5, Jer 17:9, Rom 5:12 & 19)
  3. The depraved nature of others (see citations above)
  4. God’s discipline and punishment (Rom 12:2, 2 Cor. 5:17, Phil 2:13, Gal 5:22, Mt. 3:12 and 25:41, Luke 16:23, 2 Thess 1:9, Rev 20:7-15)

When we struggle in this life (relationships, health, circumstance, etc) it is the product of one, or a combination, of these four sources. It is important to side-step our egos and understand that sometimes our struggle is the direct result of our sin-nature.  Sometimes our struggle is the direct result of someone else’s sin-nature. Sometimes God is using our struggle to discipline us for greater ministry or correct us when we’re disobedient. And, yes periodically we will experience demonic forms of oppression that create struggle for us.  But, the Devil is not ALWAYS the source of our hardship; we are not Skywalker and he is not Vader.  This is hugely important for Christians to understand because if we don’t we will misappropriate our energy and thinking when we struggle.  In other words, if we think that every bad thing that happens to us has its roots in demonic activity we are going to go bananas and in the process miss the lessons that God is trying to teach us.  These are lessons that we learn when we understand our capacity to sin and God’s discipline and/or correction in our life.  We can very easily spin-our-wheels blaming the Devil for our struggles while God is trying to teach us something different altogether.

Point 2: Healthy respect

I have people tell me that they are “being attacked by the Devil” with the same urgency and voice inflection that I hear from someone ordering a hamburger at McDonalds.  My question for them is: do you know who the Devil is?  Do you really, really understand who this being is and what he is capable of?  Because if you really understand who the Devil is and you truly believe you’re being oppressed by him – or a demon he has commissioned – you are in some tall grass my friend!  You are in some serious trouble!  These are the same beings that will deceive the entire world in Revelation 12:9.  These are the same beings that kicked the crap out of the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19:14.  These are the same beings that wrestled with Michael the Arch angel over the body of Moses in Jude 1:9.  This is the same creature that tormented Job.  These creatures are legitimate monsters and yet I hear people talk about them like they’re a facebook stalker or a boss they don’t get along with.  If you come into my office and you really believe you are being demonically oppressed please don’t expect me talk-through your emotions over a cup of coffee. We’re going to open the Bible and we’re going to fervently pronounce the name of Jesus Christ as authority over your demonic affliction.  The Devil and his army are not clichés to throw-around when life stinks – they are real beings bent on inflicting real damage.  The next time you’re about to say, “I feel like the Devil is attacking me” take a minute and evaluate whether or not you’re about to turn a terrifying super being into a cliché that simply fits your circumstance.

The Devil is a defeated foe.  In 1st John 4:4 it says, “… greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” Satan has already lost and we possess the authority of Jesus in our lives. However, it is still ill-conceived to make the Devil your hobby, cliché or scapegoat. He is a very powerful being and we are not the blameless protagonists we often believe ourselves to be.  Think critically and honestly about your struggles before you assign any blame. 2 Corinthians 13:5 tells us to “examine” ourselves.  This is a great exercise for us, especially when we’re struggling with something. We must open our bible, examine ourselves and pray for the Lord to help us discern the source of our struggles.  I’m confident that when we do this it will prove to grow us in ways that move us into a deeper relationship with God.

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About Matt Brecht
Lead Pastor of NorthPointe Church

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