is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House
Recently a bishop justified a proposed baptismal liturgy by claiming that ‘the devil is theologically problematical.’ If he means ‘it’s difficult to explain an objective force for evil to the twentieth-century western mind’, I would agree. If he means ‘this is like saying to people there are fairies at the bottom of the garden’, I would respond by saying it is more difficult to believe a bishop would question such an vital element in the Christian understanding of the human situation.
In contemporary practice spiritual direction can overlap with counselling, psychotherapy and other less recognized approaches to interpreting the human psyche, and there is a trend to ‘mythologize’ or ‘allegorize’ the Devil, Lucifer, the Enemy, Beelzebub and all the other names for the one Jesus described as ‘the one who from the beginning was the father of lies.’
One striking example of this is Fr Gerard Hugh’s book God of Surprises which in its popular treatment of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius takes the essential grace of discernment of ‘good and bad spirits’ and renders them into ‘moods’. This I have always thought was rather dangerous. I think the same about the proposed baptismal liturgy.
In my own ministry I have encountered situations that could only be explained as the ‘work of the devil.’ In spiritual direction it has been often the recognition and drawing out of the work of the enemy into the Light of the Christ in prayer and confession that has enabled healing and reconciliation. There is a danger, of course, of seeing demons beneath every challenge and problem, and it is true that one of the powers of evil is its fascination. Nevertheless, it is possible to have a healthy position that is open and sensitive to the possibility of the diabolical without excluding other ways of understanding any spiritual movement or dynamic.
I explain the existence of the power of darkness to those who find it problematical like this. We believe in God, creator of all things visible and invisible; in the invisible creation there are orders of being which are an essential component of creation’s economy – contributing to that which enabled God to see that it was good.
Among these are spiritual powers with the energies and abilities to influence the spiritual and physical life of humanity. One of these, ‘Lucifer – the prince of light’, now works building an alternative purpose for creation in opposition to the Creator.
It was the cumulative work of this enemy that Jesus himself came to destroy: ‘I come to destroy death and the one who has death at his command that is the devil.’ To deny Jesus’ own description of his ministry and mission would take an act of gross spiritual pride. It is in the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen that the deliverance from evil is found, and it is in fellowship with Christ wearing the armour of Christ (Ephesians 6) that we overcome the ‘spiritualties and powers in the heavenly places.’
The very best advice I had about dealing with the enemy was given to me by a Roman Catholic sister who said with great energy and enthusiasm, ‘Spit in his eye, a great big fruity one.’
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