The father of lies

Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House

One of the biggest problems I have in talking with individuals about life in the Spirit is that they have no concept of ‘spiritual conflict’. A person’s emotional and cerebral life might be full of conflict and confusion, and when I sometimes suggest that the cause may be of a spiritual nature they look at me as if I am a witch doctor. There is a great reluctance by many mainstream Christians, particularly those who have had a theological education, to acknowledge the notion of the devil and all his works.

This display of ignorance (or arrogance) is given rationale by much contemporary writing about the spiritual life. In Gerard Hughes’s popularisation of the Ignatian exercises, Surprised by Joy, he describes the process of discernment of spirits as ‘awareness of moods’ – the devil doesn’t have a mention, which is certainly not the case in the Spiritual Exercises.

Faced with denial of agnosticism about the devil, my starting point is to remind my subject of the teaching of Jesus, and Jesus’ own description of his ministry: T come to destroy death and the one that has death at his command, that is the devil.’

This can be followed up with a summary of ministry and mission as seen in the New Testament, ending up with a revision of the rite of Baptism. It seems to me, after all this, that there is not much of a leg to stand on for those who would have Christian life without some acknowledgment of the devil.

The difficulty many people have in acknowledging the existence of an objective force for evil is two-fold. The first is an intellectual one: not only does the twentieth century obsession with ‘cultural relativity’ still work its worst in scriptural interpretation, there is also profound ignorance about the wisdom of the Christian Tradition about this subject, with its wiser approach to the whole biblical witness.

The second is a lack of spiritual experience. This may seem a harsh judgement but often what is presented to me as spirituality is very tangential to a living encounter with God. If to quote Paul ‘we speak spiritual truths to those who live in the spirit’ I find I often speak spiritual truths to those who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. But, perhaps that’s my problem.

The orthodox view on the devil is quite simple. We believe in God the Father Almighty who has made all things visible and invisible. Within the invisible creation there are orders of beings (some of which we know as angels), one of these higher beings known as Lucifer.

The Prince of Light has been in rebellion, drawing other forces into conflict with the purposes of God. It is these ‘principalities and powers’ that Paul writes to the Ephesians about, and it is these that are a pervasive influence in the life of the world and the Church.

The devil as ‘father of lies’ encourages the distortion of revealed truth in the Incarnation and the whole saving work of Christ, obscures the light of Scripture, and disrupts the work of the Holy Spirit.

The best advice in dealing with this I had was from an Irish nun. ‘Spit in the bastard’s eye,’ she said. That’s what I always recommend myself.