It’s a natural thing, it seems, for the people in the gym I go to to survey the mats when they enter. They want to see who is training. Some of the more prideful people want to see who they might be able to beat and submit and some of the people who want to better themselves look for the people that will give them the biggest and best fight. Sunday morning is when all the killers show up. It’s a time for all the competitors and pro fighters to gather and train harder than they can any other time of the week. And usually, as we are all stretching out on the mat and loosening up our joints and stiff backs and necks and taping up our injuries, the general banter is how we wished it was snowing so we could have made excuses not to show up and put ourselves through this self inflicted torture.
But every now and then on Sundays a man named Charlie is already on the mat waiting for everyone. Charlie is well over six feet tall, thin as a rail—but I assure you you’ll be hard pressed to find a stronger person. Everyone jokingly calls him the Avatar because he looks like a non-blue version of that species. And before the morning starts all the pro fighters and the baddest and toughest people in gym are in the locker room whispering, “Do you guys see who is out there? Charlie is out there…I should have stayed home today. This is going to be horrible,” and it is clear that Charlie is their boogie man. He is who professional fighters check under the bed for at night before they go to bed. And when you train with Charlie it hurts to chew food for a week and your elbows are sore and need to be iced. He is the boogie man.
But he also becomes a pretty good scapegoat for our in training later that week. If we get submitted we can go, “Yeah, I’m out of it still, I rolled with Charlie yesterday and I’m still feeling it,” and everyone accepts that and the pressure is off of us for any short comings in our training.
Charlie is not Satan, but to me the comparison fits. I feel that there is such an emphasis on Satan and blaming him for any mistakes we make. Bad decisions, dark thoughts. Giving into temptation. And in making him this boogie man that always gets the best of us, in a way, seems to me to be a form of Satan worship.
We do it because it’s easy. And because it’s acceptable. Because we’re scared of judgment from our peers and pastors and worship leaders. And the pastors and worship leaders have such pressure on them to be more than human that any mistake is safer to just point a finger and go, “He did it! The boogie man made me do it.” Because who will question that? Who can question that. If everyone is looking under their bed scared of the same boogie man, who would dare call you out on that excuse?
Since the dawn of creation humans were quick to blame someone else. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent and an innocent deer had to be killed to cover them. And the cycle never stopped. Actually one can make an argument that our whole belief system is based on a scapegoat saving our souls from…well, from Satan. So it’s our natural state not to accept blame for things we’ve done wrong. For hurt we’ve caused. But the problem is if we never feel that sting of hurting someone, of disappointing someone, breaking a heart, causing those tears…then how would we ever learn to sharpen ourselves and better ourselves so that we don’t do it again. We need that punch to the gut that makes us go, “That…that feels horrible. I never want to make anyone feel like that again.” And if we protect ourselves with this form of Satan worship then we shield ourselves from what we, alone, did to cause this pain.
And yes, I don’t need anyone quoting Scripture about me validating the existence of Satan, and I know very well that we are at war, but the war we fight is not one of flesh and blood but of principalities—yes, I know this. I know Jesus was tempted by Satan and Adam and Ever were, too. I know the stories in the Bible of the demon-possessed people that would cut themselves with sharp rocks—but this isn’t what I am talking about. I am talking about giving Satan this power he doesn’t deserve and that he doesn’t have. I know it’s a lot more comfortable to blame him for the terrible things that we do, and most importantly it’s a lot more comfortable to blame him for things that maybe God himself did.
When we look around and we see things we can’t understand, things that don’t seem possible for an all-loving God to be behind, we want to remove him as far as we can from the equation—maybe it’s our own insecurities with our faith showing themselves and we’re too scared to look into that abyss, for fear that it will stare back at us. So we chalk it up to one of two things: God’s judgment. This works because it give him control of the situation and we can rest comfortably that our faith isn’t tested because that’s a concept we accept. Also, there is the plus that when we feel God is judging someone else, we feel better about ourselves in many ways. And the other thing we chalk it up to is Satan.
God is behind all of it. And it’s not even judgment. What if God does all of it, good and what we perceive as “bad” and he does it all out of…Love. A love that we can never ever understand so that to our human brains it seems bad. Or not in his control.
The problem with giving Satan this power is that even if we don’t realize it—we are not only removing power from God, but also we are giving Satan more control than God. As if he devised something so menacing that even God couldn’t stop it.
I remember having a conversation with someone about a bad thing that happened, to be honest I forget the exact event. But all I said was a I quoted a Scripture from Amos, I believe it was that says, “If a disaster befalls a city, is God not behind that as well?”—this made the person very uncomfortable and stuttering for a more comfortable reaction they said, “Well, I don’t know if God is behind it. Maybe more He is over it.”—I never want to seem like I am poking fun at people faith or trying to weaken it, so I let the topic go. Because in their answer what I really heard was, “No no, God would never do something like that.” And I can’t tell you what the Greek translation of that verse is, or Hebrew whatever it was written in…so I don’t know the real interpretation, but I know that it is written that God is behind it. But why is that scary? Doesn’t that show that nothing is out of God’s control? Instead it shows us that even things that to us seem bad, really are not very bad at all. Because God doesn’t do “bad” things. He is perfect. All-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving. We just have human minds that are trying to make sense of divine things.
When I read—or more talk about Scripture, I admit where I talk about God on a daily basis, my Bible has more than a fine layer of dust on it. But when I dive into it all I really see more than anything about Satan is his short comings. When Jesus cast the demons into the pigs, they rolled down into the sea and drowned. They didn’t have any power not to go into the pigs, or to leave the pigs. When Jesus is tempted does he have to have a physical altercation with Satan and overpower him? No, he speaks. Be gone! That’s it. Like shooing a fly. Or a pest. Michael beats him and his whole army. God removes his legs and makes him slither in the dust on his belly and nothing Satan can do can change that. Michael keeps Satan from obtaining Moses’ body. Just defeat time after time. Without much talk about any sort of a struggle. Satan threw everything he had at Job and accomplished not a single thing. And everything he did was undone. We are even told that when Jesus was his most vulnerable that Satan would attack again. And even a man inches from death, feeling removed from God, still his mere words defeat Satan. So where is this boogie man? Scripture talks of Satan as the serpent being crushed under Jesus’ heel. I don’t know much about reptiles, but I think once a head is crushed under a heel that that snake no longer has any life, power, or venom. Along with this Satan as the serpent idea, let’s look at what I feel is a perfect example of Satan’s power over us. In Acts, Paul is gathering firewood and he is bitten by a poisonous snake. Bitten to the extent that the snake is hanging off of his hand. The crowd waits for him to swell up and drop dead. But Paul shakes it off his hand and goes about his business. As if shooing a fly. A snake with a crushed head is nothing to fear.
What if these are perfect examples to show us that Satan is nothing we have to worry about struggling with. Wrestling with. Maybe we should stop putting our efforts into wrestling with Satan and wrestle with God.
Satan gets shooed off and shaken off with words. God requires something much more. He requires everything we have in us. Every drop of energy. Jacob wrestled physically with God for his blessing. There was no “be gone,” no shooing. But a physical battle that lasted all night. That sapped Jacob of everything he had in him. Grabbing and pulling and tackling. Dislocated joints. Pain, and struggle for blessing and better understanding of the mysteries that are God. To me that speaks that God should get our struggles and questions, our wrestling. Leave Satan under our foot. Dead. Crushed.
But I am very aware, painfully aware, of the fact that I am not a theologian. The things I don’t know about God and the Bible are staggering. But in thinking of where I can look for some answers I was thinking, who is a human, a broken man whom I understand and can look to. And I thought of David. King David. The best place to look. Because he did so many bad things. And real bad, not like he ignored a homeless man asking for money and felt bad. But we are talking losing himself in his own power and legend. Murder. Adultery. Betrayal. Family war. Yet he was a man after God’s own heart. Because of his true and sincere regret and amends and prayers of forgiveness. In repenting and changing his ways. So I asked a friend who knows the Bible better than anyone I’ve ever encountered before if David in any of his writings and prayers and songs ever blames Satan for things he’s done. The-devil-made-me-do-it type stuff. And the answer we discovered was no. He owned it. And when Nathan confronts David about his ways does David get mad? Have him killed? No, not even close. David takes that punch to the gut and that realization of the horrors he’s done. He’s grateful for the truth and sets out to right himself. And we learn another very telling story about that Amos type principle with David in the story of him and his royal caravan walking and being followed by a man shouting curses at him and throwing rocks at him. David’s guards ask him if they should kill this man for his words and actions. But David tells them not to touch him. “If God is having this man throw stones at me for the wrongs I’ve done, who are we to stop and silence him? Who are we to question what God has put in motion.”
Mississippi writer Barry Hannah once wrote what is probably my favorite short story of all time called Water Liars. The long and short of it is it’s a study of how people would rather have a comfortable lie than an uncomfortable truth. The story opens with a man distraught because in a night of too much drinking with his girlfriend he makes the mistake of asking her how many men she’s slept with before him, and she is honest with him. The number as it turns out is equal to the amount of women he’s been with before her. But he is torn up with this truth, maybe he assumed her life didn’t start until they got together. But like many of us he encounters a truth that he can’t handle. And he asked for it. As he is walking trying to clear his head, he meets old men fishing. Each man telling a clear lie about their fishing tales. Fish that jump into the boat, and catching the biggest fish out there without even using any bait. And people are gobbling up these tales. These lies. And one old man tells a story of fishing at night in a bayou. And hearing this horrible noise, a groaning and moaning. Even to the point that he was scared it was a ghost haunting the bayou. Everyone is on the edge of their seats and he tells them in shining his flashlight on the shore that the horrible noises he heard came from his daughter naked in the bushes with some man he didn’t know. And it was a sight that chilled him to the bone. Upon hearing this everyone around him gets furious. “Why would you ever share that? What is wrong with you bringing a story like that here?” and they all leave. And the story ends with a line about both men, young and old, being crucified by the truth.
Crucified by the truth. What a phrase that is. But it’s true. But sometimes it is needed. We have more of a tendency to crucify the insincere tonight as the Smashing Pumpkins put it. So quick to follow a rabbit hole of lies about our actions or the actions of others. Using scapegoats and boogie men to shade and protect us. Give us a loophole and an out. One that people wouldn’t try to negate. But what if…what if, we need more to be crucified by the truth. To be honest with ourselves, accept that punch to the gut. Not be quick to throw up a shield of “the devil made me do it.” But as the Scriptures say to be crucified with Christ. Crucified by the Truth. “I did that. I did you wrong. It wasn’t anyone but me. So who am I to stop you at throwing rocks at me. I deserve it. And I will do what I can to set it right.” We need that. We need that sting. To see that look of pain and not flinch. To let that hurt drive each nail into us. Naked and exposed. So we can go, “This…is…horrible. Let me do everything I can to never ever feel this again from anyone.”
Let’s take the power back. Shoo Satan, let the crushed stay crushed. Let us wrestle instead with God. And know not only is it okay to wrestle with him, but it is encouraged. It’s explained. Laid out for us. No boogie man, just us. Us and our actions. Looking at God saying, “I will wrestle you until I understand this.” And when we are done, we are better and stronger and wiser.