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Giving the Devil His Due

“…do not give the devil a foothold.”
Ephesians 4:27, NIV
A confession here – I am a Halloween fan. With the first cold snap of fall, the first few leaves, the shorter days, my mind turns to happy memories as a child of decorating my home, dressing in a Spiderman costume or donning a sheet with a few holes cut out for eyes, and hitting the streets with my sisters and friends to load up on more candy than any person has a right to consider consuming. Over the years, I have enjoyed watching classic horror movies (for the record – “classic,” not the gore-ridden modern slasher movies). As a child, I built Aurora monster models based on those classic movies. If there is a haunted house at the amusement park, I’ll take my place in line. It may be the excitement of the spooky settings and stories –I cannot fully explain it.
As a child of the south, there was a thick dividing line amongst Christians and Halloween. Some took it all in good fun; others saw a clear and direct connection to evil; and still others fell somewhere in between.
A bit of historical context first: Halloween or Hallowe'en (a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening, also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows' Eve, or All Saints' Eve) is a rather ancient celebration traditionally held on October 31st, the night before All Hallow’s Day or All Saints' Day, one of the Principle Feast Days of the Church. Throughout the history of the Church, it was traditional for some believers to hold all night vigils before major feast days in the Church – for instance, Christmas Eve before Christmas Day, Shrove Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and Holy Saturday before Easter Sunday. The all-night vigil before All Saints' Day was also observed in this way when some western Christians by night visited the graves of loved ones and offered prayers of thanksgiving and memory. It is not a stretch for one to see how this practice evolved into the purely secular practice of Halloween.
However, in the late 1960s, the Satanic Church announced that Halloween was, in fact, one of its major holidays. (Noteworthy – December 24th is also one of their holidays.) Yet, evil, demons and the devil are not modern innovations. For Christians, it is important to know something about evil.
In the preface of his keenly crafted work on evil, "The Screwtape Letters," C.S. Lewis wisely counsels:
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors...”[1]
We have certainly witnessed both throughout history. The Spanish Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials are examples of satanic obsession gone awry. You and I practice a hold-over from the past every time we say “God bless you” to someone who sneezes – for the origin of that blessing was the belief that you had just expelled a demon with your sneeze!
Yet, we can also easily underestimate the reality and power of evil. As Lewis suggests, to ignore the reality of evil is to empower it. After decades of pastoral ministry, I have personally witnessed this power – particularly in and through the lives of those who have been abused in any way. Would anyone look on the horrors of Auschwitz, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, or the vicious torture and executions carried out by ISIS since its birth in 1999 and say these are not, in some way, the fruit of pure evil?
Of course, when evil is this blatant, it is easily identifiable. As Christ-followers, it would behoove us to remember that the devil has but one goal—to keep us from knowing the love and saving power of Christ. Toward that end, evil is not always as easy to identify as something that goes bump in the night.
Back to Lewis for a moment. "The Screwtape Letters" were, in fact, a fictional collection of letters crafted by C.S. Lewis as the words of a senior demon counseling a junior demon in the craft of temptation. While fiction, the book holds some solid truths. At one point, the senior demon, Screwtape, writes to his apprentice, Wormwood:
The fact that "devils" are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.[2]
What’s the point here? The point is to not give the devil his due. However you wish to interpret the devil and evil in the world, it is likely not going to be found under the masks of a congregation of costumed children with open bags waiting for a bit of candy! It is, frankly, more likely to be found in very unexpected places—dressed in whispers that are hiding gossip, judgment in the disguise of righteousness, greed in the costume of consumption or even terrorism carried out in the name of God. Peter wisely warned the early Christians, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV)
As Paul warned the Christians in Ephesus, don’t give the devil a foothold. Be wise. Be watchful. Don’t be afraid to name evil for evil and, more important than that, don’t be afraid. We know how the story ends. God turns evil on its head. Maybe that is one reason evil—spelled in reverse—is live.
A Prayer
Lord Jesus You taught us to pray, “Deliver us from evil.”
So, I do….
deliver me from evil in all its forms…
deliver me from ignoring evil…
deliver me when I have aided evil…
deliver me when I succumb to evil…
deliver me when I have been evil…
deliver me from fear of evil…
and finally, Lord, in Your Mercy…
protect and defend me…
     and those I love…
           and those you love…
                 from evil…
In the power of Your Name, Jesus, I pray.
A Prayer by the Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr.

[1] C. S. Lewis, "The Screwtape Letters" (New York: Bantam Books, 1982), xii.
[2] Ibid., 19-20.
The Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr.
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