By Marc Whitehead
Geraldine Jones, the alter ego of 70s comic Flip Wilson, responded to criticism of her sometimes suggestive attire by claiming, “The Devil made me buy this dress!”
Whether or not the devil can make us do anything, is something of an open question within the Bible. However, what is certain, from Eve’s encounter with the serpent in the Garden of Eden, to the struggles endured by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, is that we are often tempted to act in ways contrary to God’s will for us and the world.
In the Bible, the devil is often depicted as the “Tempter” who whispers possibilities in our ear that we might not have considered, and who encourages us to please ourselves rather than be the selves God created us to be. The Tempter appears in many different guises, and in many different ways. Jesus even refers to his friend Peter as “Satan” when Peter attempts to dissuade Jesus from taking his final stand in Jerusalem in an attempt to save his skin, if not his mission.
According to some legends, the Devil, was once the archangel “Lucifer”, (which means Lightbearer” or “Morning Star”) and was most beloved of God. There are many different tradtitions about why Lucifer fell out with God — some say jealousy, some say envy. One interesting take on the story says that it was on account of the creation of human beings. Having created us in the divine image, God wanted to give humans stewardship over the earth. Apparently, Lucifer thought this was a big mistake, and that human beings would only betray God’s trust in us. According to this understanding, the devil tempts us in an effort to prove his point with God.
Be that as it may, we know that many times we are tempted to wander away from the path shown to us by Jesus to follow other ways. For that reason, it is not surprising that our journey through Lent begins on Ash Wednesday with the story of Jesus teaching his followers how to pray, ending with the words, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.”
Even if we leave the Evil One out of it, there is no doubt that we will face temptations to go our own way. But to face them is not the same thing as giving into them. From the beginning of his ministry, to its end, Jesus overcame everything that would distract him from his course, and rose above every temptation. In his living, Jesus demonstrates not so much human frailty as human faithfulness. In his dying and rising, he makes it possible for us to do the same.
It’s helpful to remember that while the Devil might be out there tempting us to “buy that dress,” the Risen Christ is also there, helping us cover our ears, and walk on by. We may never be able to avoid the Tempter, but by God’s grace, the practice of prayer, and the company of faithful companions, we need not give heed to his words.
And even if we should, all is not lost, for Christ is with us to help us find our way again. We are made in the image of God, and if that image sometimes becomes distorted, we need only look to Christ, the “Son of Man”, the “Human One” to set the distortion right.