If you enjoy comedians from the 70’s, perhaps you have seen YouTube videos of Flip Wilson and met one of his most popular characters, Geraldine Jones. The tag line of this character was “The devil made me do it,” which became a national catch phrase. Whenever Geraldine Jones does something she knows she should not have done, the blame is put on the devil.
Recently I ran across a blog from Fr. Dwight Longenecker about the reality of the devil and the subtleties of Satan. When we think of demonic possession we often think of a display that is so horrific it’s hard to mistake it for anything other than evil. But more often than not, the influence from the devil is subtle and benign and maybe even fun such as Flip Wilson’s character Geraldine Jones.
One of the most recognizable Bible stories about evil is the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We’ve heard this story often …
Now the snake was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He asked the woman. “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” The woman answered the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’” But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.”
~ Genesis 3:1-5
In the Bible story, the snake was physically present to Eve and even spoke aloud the temptation for her to eat of the forbidden tree. It’s hard to believe that she could not have realized that a talking snake was an evil presence, but the devil is the father of lies and it is hard for us to recognize him when he tempts us.
The evil we experience on a day to day basis is just as dangerous as the temptation in the Garden. In the same way Satan tempted Eve, he transforms himself into a modern-day serpent and slithers his way into our lives, under the guise of consumerism and fun and what we deserve.
We are perpetually bombarded by the notion that what we have is not enough and we need (and deserve) more and more and more. Have a perfectly good cell phone? But now the most recent model is available and we just have to have it! Clothes clogging your closet? But there are new styles available and we just have to have it! Do your children have more toys than they can play with? But there’s a new character in the latest movie and the children just have to have all the character stuff that’s available! Don’t have room for your car in the garage? That’s OK nobody puts their car in the garage or they would not have room for all their stuff. And if the garage is full, you can rent a place to keep your stuff.
It seems like there is this pressure in our American culture to encourage us to have more, buy more and still want more. We’re constantly in competition by trying to keep up with someone. The Christian author, Larry Burkett, once said that “We spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need in order to impress people who don’t care.”
That sneaky serpent of selfishness is constantly whispering in our ear, and it is so easy for us to listen to that small voice telling us “You deserve it … You earned it … You can afford the payments … Go ahead … Buy it.”
We listen to the serpent when we:
- Fall into the trap of overspending on our credit cards because there was something we just could not pass up and we fail to consider the additional money we’ll waste in interest payments.
- Convince ourselves that 6 years of payments for the new car is worthwhile and those monthly payments are manageable, without thinking through the amount of depreciation that will occur as soon as we drive the car off the lot.
- Hide purchases from our spouse so we don’t have to listen to them complain about our overspending and we forget they are looking out for the financial health of the family.
- Give our donations grudgingly or not at all and forget everything – absolutely everything – we have is a gift from a gracious and loving God.
- Convince ourselves we are saving money when we buy something on sale, and ignore the fact that our savings account did not actually increase by the amount of money we supposedly “saved.”
We listen to that devil when we fall prey to the temptation to want more than we have without being grateful to God for all the things he gave us that we have not even asked for. We may not be possessed by the devil, but we can certainly be obsessed by his influence.
So although Geraldine Jones is a very funny character, her message is clear – the devil can make you do things you may not want to do deep down inside, but only if you let him.
Instead of Geraldine’s line, “The Devil made me do it,” use a better line, “The angel told me not to do it.”