Details and the Devil

31 10 2012

The darkest lies are those that are mostly true.

There’s a force in the world that actively and passively works against our best interests. The entire field of psychology is built upon this premise. And this force works on the rational and moral orders — in other words, in the world of things as well as persons. Scientists call it entropy, psychologists call it any number of things (repression, depression, psychosis, neurosis). Christians call it sin.

One of the best sermons I ever heard on the subject was by Darrell Johnson, who made the point that 7 was considered the perfect number in biblical parlance, the number of completion and wholeness, so that 777 represented a triune perfection, or God. If 7 was perfect, then 6 was almost perfect, but not quite. This personal force, called the devil, is attached to the number 666 in biblical prophecy, indicating that what looks evil is actually very close to looking perfect. Just not quite. The devil, in other words, is in the details.

Which is why the most insidious evil rarely looks it. In fact, it often looks impressive, beautiful, even good. Think of the fruit in the Garden of Eden. We are told it was both beautiful to the eye and good to eat. The only trouble was, it represented an end in itself (as opposed to a way of communing with God, which was humanity’s first purpose) and, as such, it was an idol. And look what happens in that seemingly innocuous exchange, which represents the fall of man and all that’s truly wrong with us; namely, our desire to live for our own sakes, to see life as merely here to serve our own purposes, ends in our own demise.

This life of ours, as I see it, is one big cosmic experiment created for, among other things, the purpose of determining who can see beyond themselves to others, and who can work for the benefit of others and the world around them. Of course, we don’t have the requisite moxie to do it on our own (we must battle against our hard-wired and primal instincts towards survival of the fittest), but that’s where Christ comes in, and the Spirit of God, who breaks us/molds us/makes us new (to quote John Donne) and who opens our eyes and leads us into all truth.

The scariest thing about evil is just how how impressive it looks and feels. Will Shakespeare wrote:

When the devil wills/the blackest sins put on/he does at first/with heavenly shows

So much for our instincts and intentions. We are an easily deceived people, particularly as we move faster and faster through life. But today is Halloween, which can serve as a fitting parable of this ancient truth: that things are not what they appear to be. We shouldn’t be fooled by the surface of things.

Trick or treat? All depends on how closely you’re looking.

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