At a camp planning meeting a while ago, I suggested that the devil might go alongside a list of people who is thought to have control in the world. Gordon Brown, George Dubya Bush, Osama Bin Laden and the British Police were other likely candidates. One planning group member said “do we really want to mention the devil? We don’t want to upset the kids.”
Not upsetting the kids is a fair concern, but it seems we talk so little of the devil today that we’re frightened to speak of him at all. I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone speak from the pulpit about the devil. I don’t often mention him myself. There is the fear, perhaps, of being thought of as irrational or over spiritual, slightly loony-fringe.
William Still had a phrase he used frequently in the pulpit, “keep your eyes fixed on Jesus but make sure the devil’s in your peripheral vision. Keep Satan in the corner of your eye.” That seems about the right balance, to stop the devil taking centre stage but being aware of his work and making others aware of his presence. It seems to me that for most Christians today, the devil has vanished from our vision and he’s delighted to be able to work undetected.
Familiar gospel outlines might play a part in this. Two Ways to Live, for example, usefully over simplifies the gospel but it can also shape the way we speak about salvation. “We need to be saved from the righteous judgement of God” is true but is less than half the story. If we repeat the phrase enough times, however, it is soon all we say.
What else does Jesus save us from? Surely, ourselves, the destructive power of sin in our life and from the clutches and oppression of the devil:
He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 1 John 3:8
So, bring back the devil! Don’t let him work undetected.