To see how subtly the devil works on us, we’ll take a little look at the process as it is dramatized in C.S. Lewis’ novel Perelandra. It is a kind of retelling of the story of Paradise and the temptation of the first woman, but it all happens on another planet—and unlike Eve, this one does not fall for the temptation!
If the devil can easily tempt us with coarse and base lusts and heinous evils, he will, but most of us probably can successfully ward off temptations to the worst of crimes—in fact, if there’s no real attraction, it can’t rightly be called a temptation at all. So he has to appeal to something other than a raw lust for evil if he is going to succeed. And for this he has many tricks up his sleeve.
The first hook is that there is almost always a bit of truth mixed with the devil’s lies. That’s where we begin to get interested in the bait, because whatever he shows us or suggests is presented as something good. He’s especially successful when he presents an indisputably good end (like the material sustenance of your family) and offers a bad means toward it (like embezzling from your company—just small amounts that will never be missed, of course, and besides, they hardly pay a living wage, etc, etc).
The matter is often simple enough. God gives certain commandments which we are to obey if we are to please Him and to find the deep and lasting fulfillment that comes from loving fidelity to his will. But God sometimes seems far away, and the demon tries to get us to complicate what ought to be simple matters, so that he can get us to think that disobedience is somehow nobler than obedience. He will make appeals to freedom, to a creative, pioneering spirit, even to love (his own distorted version of it). The more we reflect on all that, the wiser it seems, and God’s wisdom seems a bit simplistic and even selfishly authoritarian (keeping the secrets of “being like God” for himself and forbidding us to explore). The heroes and heroines of independent conviction, who suffer for taking a “courageous” stand against restrictive rules are offered as the ones to emulate.
The devil (who appeared not in the form of a serpent, but in that of a man) said to the woman on the paradisal planet Perelandra, concerning something God had forbidden her to do: “But He has never forbidden you to think about it. Might not that be one of the reasons why you are forbidden to do it—so that you may have a Might Be to think about… If you refused to learn things from me and kept on saying you would wait for the King, would that not be like turning away from the fruit you had found… He is making you a full woman, for up to now you were only half made… This time, when you meet the King again, it is you who will have things to tell him… You could become more like the women of my world [i.e., the fallen of Earth]… They are of a great spirit. They always reach out their hands for the new and unexpected good… Their minds run ahead of what [God] has told them. They do not need to wait for Him to tell them what is good, but know it for themselves as He does. They are, as it were, little [gods]. And because of their wisdom, their beauty is much greater than yours…”
According to the devil, God’s secret desire is that we exercise our free will, even in our “no” to the divine command: “He longs…to see his creature become fully itself, to stand up in its own reason and its own courage even against Him. But how can He tell it to do this? That would spoil all… Do you think He is not weary of seeing nothing but Himself in all that He has made? If that contented Him, why should He create at all? To find the other—the thing whose will is no longer His—that is [God’s] desire… But He cannot tell you. The nearest He can come to telling you is to let some other creature tell it for Him. And behold, He has done so. Is it for nothing, or without His will, that I have journeyed through Deep Heaven [i.e., outer space] to teach you what He would have you know but must not teach you Himself?”
Pretty slick, huh? Observe for yourself the same type of reasoning in any situation in which there is a clear command of God, out of which the tempter is trying to help you rationalize your way. His lies are subtle, his reasoning attractive. How did that first Perelandrian woman defeat satan? She clung to the word of God. After all his trickery and subtle appeals, her conclusion was, in effect: "Your offer seems interesting, but I can't follow it, because that would mean doing what God doesn't want me to do. And I want to do what He wants me to do." Her simplicity and her love for her Creator were stronger than the attractive complexities of the devil's seduction.
Thus there is only one defense against all appeals to your independent and adventurous nature (which is really your slavish and self-serving weakness): simple obedience to the simple command. God says “Thou shalt not”; therefore do not. Don’t second-guess God’s motives or intentions; don’t think He doesn’t understand the complexities of situations or the labyrinth of your own inner reasonings. Don’t think He’s going to reward you for “courageously” stepping over that precipice. You know what is right and what is wrong. You know the commandments, the Gospel, the teachings of the Church (you ought to by now, anyway).
Stand firm against all specious reasoning. It is all seduction. The devil can even quote Scripture if it will serve the purpose of his deception. You should know Scripture better than the devil so you know what really applies to your situation and what is a demonic misuse of it. Don’t give the devil the opportunity to work you over. My elementary school religion teacher used to say, “Don’t dilly-dally with the devil,” and that advice is as good today as it ever was. If you have a desire for what you know is wrong, you may wish there were some convincing justification for it. The devil is always ready to provide one, to your ruin.
So don’t even get interested in any other way but the Lord’s, or in any interpretation of what He has said that is in effect a pandering to your sinful desires. Simple and steadfast obedience to God is the best defense and security against the encroachment of the father of lies. I’ll share more about fighting the good fight and recognizing the devil’s tactics tomorrow.