I’m gonna put on a iron shirt and chase Satan out of Earth
I’m gonna put on a iron shirt and chase the devil out of Earth
I’m gonna send him to outer space to find another race…
So goes the old Reggae song by Max Romeo, though the version I’m familiar with was recorded by Madness for their Dangermen sessions album.
I’ve never been entirely sure what to make of Satan or The Devil. Is he real, or just a metaphor for an evil we clearly experience but cannot seem to to understand?
I ask this because of because my wife Jennifer, as we deal with our current difficulties (because when hasn’t it been difficult?), has reminded me very pointedly several time that this ministry I do with abused kids — the young people who have gone out of their way to contact me and tell me their stories in the hope that they can find something, even if it is only a hand to hold and the words “you are not alone” — is something the Devil doesn’t want done. And Jennifer quotes Paul from Ephesians 6
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10–13 ESV)
“How else can Satan get minions?” She pointedly asked me one morning. “The Devil doesn’t want any of these young people saved. He doesn’t want you to be light. The Devil wants you to despair. That way, the work you do won’t get done.”
Yeah, Jennifer said this. And she’s right. We fight against powers and principalities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness. The Devil is real, and wanders the Earth, seeking the hopeless, the desperate, the frightened. And that, too often in the last few years, has included me.
I had a vision a few months ago. A desire, a desperate desire to sell my soul to Satan for some comfort, for some financial security, for a home, for some success. I imagined the Devil standing in front of me, listening to my pleas, and then laughing at me.
“Why should I make a deal with you? You already gave me your soul for nothing!”
And yet … the Devil and all his works are empty. He has been defeated by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who gave us the power over the Devil. (And it was Satan who wanted to give Christ power over the world while Jesus fasted in the wilderness!) Last Sunday’s gospel reading told us all we needed to know. We can command demons. Jesus told us that Satan fell from heaven.
He is defeated. He has been defeated from the beginning. We fear his victory, the permanence of hatred and violence — of evil — but forget that the moment he rebelled against God, Iblis (as he is known in the Qur’an) was condemned. And he knew it.
All he wants is minions — souls that in despair and fear and rage fight for a cause lost since time began. In Surah Al-A’raf, Iblis (from the Greek Diabolis) promises to lie in wait and distract human beings from the straight path. “You will not find most of them thankful,” he tell God, who then promises to fill Hell (الجهنم jahennam, the fire, from gahenna) with whoever will follow Satan.
There is a short prayer at the very end of the Qur’an, the very last Surah, that is one of my favorite prayers:
Say, “I seek refuge with the Lord of mankind,
The King [or sovereign owner] of mankind,
The God of mankind,
From the evil of the whisperer who withdraws
Who whispers in the breasts of mankind
Of jinn and men.”
That verb whisper — وسوس waswasa — even sounds like a whisper. (Say it!) And the Devil — Satan, Shaitan, Iblis — doesn’t shout, doesn’t scream, doesn’t glad hand. He slinks and he hides in the shadows. He whispers. Into the hearts of human beings. He takes our hopelessness and our fear and works on us, kneading them into despair and rage.
But the only power he has is the power we give him. Yes, he lies in wait, to distract and mislead us, to whisper into our hearts, but we … we have to listen. And while it’s easy, we know — we know — that he as been defeated. There is no truth and no hope in the places he wants us to follow him to or in the stories he tells us. But he has already lost, and he knows that too.
Take heart, Jesus tells us in John’s Gospel. “I have overcome the world.”
I will try to remember. I will try.