How to Beat the Devil
Human history, our history, is the story of two Adams with two very different encounters with the devil.
Some of us are old enough to remember the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. That was some culture war fun. America was doomed. Its kids were in love with the devil. Crazy stories spread about all sorts of weird rituals. Rock and roll capitalized on it. Men with long, permed hair testified before congress. It was a wild time.
Artists have long had fun with the supposed connection between the music industry and Satan. The Rolling Stones had a hit entitled “Sympathy for the Devil.” Their devil is classy and downright polite as they note later in the song. In the opening verse, the devil says to us, “Please allow me to introduce myself / I'm a man of wealth and taste / I've been around for a long, long year / Stole many a man's soul and faith.”
Van Halen’s song “Runnin’ with the Devil” presents a different devil. This one has us on the move and loveless, unwilling to beg or borrow and lonely. They sing, “1. Yeah, yeah, ah, yeah / I live my life like there's no tomorrow / And all I've got, I had to steal / Least I don't need to beg or borrow / Yes I'm livin' at a pace that kills / 2. Ooh, you know I / I found the simple life ain't so simple / When I jumped out, on that road / I got no love, no love you'd call real / Ain't got nobody, waitin' at home”
Mötley Crüe urges us to “Shout at the Devil.” I won’t quote this one. Suffice it to say, they emphasize the sensuality of the devil.
Charlie Daniels proves good ole’ country music can sing about the devil, too. His devil goes down to Georgia and loses to Johnny in a fiddle battle. I suppose that’s not very helpful for our purposes here, but who doesn’t love some good fiddling?
Guns N’ Roses doesn’t sing directly about the devil, but they might as well. Their song, “Mr. Brownstone,” is about heroin addiction, and I think it captures life with the devil well. You can substitute fake righteousness for heroin and the lyrics hit the same: “I used to do a little but a little wouldn't do / So the little got more and more / I just keep tryin' to get a little better / Said, a little better than before / We been dancin' with Mr. Brownstone / He's been knockin' / He won't leave me alone / No, no no / He won't leave me alone / Oh, leave me alone.”
The temptation of Jesus opens our Sundays in Lent each year. Romans 5 connects all this for us. Human history, our history, is the story of two Adams with two very different encounters with the devil. One falls, while the other stands. One loses paradise while the other opens it.
Many of us have a cultural caricature of the devil. He’s red with a pitchfork and pointy tail. He’s angry. He looks mean and evil. That’s not the devil Adam and Eve encountered, though. That’s not the devil most of us encounter. We’re much more used to Lucifer, “the bearer of light,” a fallen angel masquerading as a good one. Perhaps the Rolling Stones are right here.
The devil both Adam and Eve and even Jesus meet seems polite, thoughtful, and rational. And we meet this devil, too. His chief aim isn’t to get us to sin in particular ways, but to make us particularly sinful by confusing sinfulness with freedom. He’s not looking so much to make us Mötley Crüe. He’s looking to make us religious in the worst way.
His chief aim isn’t to get us to sin in particular ways, but to make us particularly sinful by confusing sinfulness with freedom.
This is the great irony of the Genesis account. Satan tells Adam and Eve, made in the image and likeness of God, that they will be like God if they eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He doesn’t call them out of religion but into it, from a true confession to futile practice. He wanted to take saints, the sancti in Latin, and make them sanctimonious. He wanted to turn them from one righteousness to another.
Reddit is a guilty pleasure of mine. I shouldn’t like it as much as I do, but I find it entertaining. I appreciate honest and thoughtful atheism, but Reddit atheism frequently boils down to people memeing their doltish divine daddy issues for the righteousness of Reddit karma. And so when I saw a meme a while ago dismissing the Bible because an omniscient God would never ask where Adam and Ever were, I had to laugh.
Why did God ask where they were when they hid? He asked because he loved them. He didn’t do ask in accusation. He asked because he had a promise to give them, and so he wanted to coax them out of hiding. Yes, there would be curses, but even these curses would point them to the promise, as Christ, born of woman, would be crowned with thorns to save them.
Even more, he didn’t cast them out of the Garden of Eden to punish them. He did it to protect them. He didn’t want them eating of the Tree of Life and living forever in a fallen world, as we still so desperately strive to do, seeking fountains of youth in pills and procedures or eternal consciousness through the transhumanism promised by Twitter overlords. God doesn’t want an eternity here for us because we were meant for so much more, and we still are, even as sinners. God would send another Tree of Life, who would die on a tree that brings us life everlasting, not in a fallen world, but in paradise.
God doesn’t want an eternity here for us because we were meant for so much more.
Never forget that hell wasn’t made for people. Hell wasn’t made for you. When we sinned, God sent a Savior. And so Jesus tells the goats, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Paul tells Timothy, “God our Savior… desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4).
Johnny Cash also sings about the devil in “To Beat the Devil.” He croons as only he can: “You see, the devil haunts a hungry man, / If you don't wanna join him, you got to beat him. / I ain't sayin’ I beat the devil, but I drank his beer for nothing. / Then I stole his song.”
We’ve all drank the devil’s beer. All of us have given him our ear at one point or another. And if we’ve drank his beer, we might as well steal his song. What the devil promises, God actually gives in Christ. In Christ, we call a thing what it is, both good and evil. In Christ, we are renewed in the image and likeness of God. In Christ, we won’t die, but live, and live with God in paradise.
The God who loved Adam and Eve even in their fall, in humanity’s darkest hour, has never and will never stop loving. That God loves you. The devil might never leave us alone, but we are never alone. Christ is God with us, and he always will be. Amen.