Why the devil needs violence

The devil, as presented in the Bible, is a deceiver.  He’s not an “evil god” in an arm wrestling match with the good God.  He has to get people fixated on finite, carnal stuff to distract them from eternal, spiritual reality.

Violence is useful to this end.  It hurts, it shocks, it’s loud, it pushes fear buttons, it amps up our anger.

Most of all, it distracts from the gentle but decisive coming of the new heavens and new earth.

The Prophet Isaiah set up the expectation of a Savior who would come in gentleness, vulnerability and suffering:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching. (Isaiah 42:1-4 NRSV)

While we are SCREAMING AT ONE ANOTHER and blowing stuff up in our assertions of “justice,” the righteous kingdom is spreading to “the coastlands” – the ends of the earth in Old Testament speak –  by means of a voice barely heard, a passing scarcely felt.

Jesus’ first followers began to recognize him as the fulfillment of this prophecy.  But the devil was always distracting them, trying to enlist them in violence and special effects rather than the gentle persistence of Jesus,

When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?”  (Luke 9:54 NLT)

Most ancient manuscripts tell us only that Jesus “rebuked them” for this.  But some later manuscripts insert this warning  about spiritual deception, contrasting the saving work of the Holy Spirit with the violence engendered by the devil,

 But He turned and rebuked them, [and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”] And they went on to another village.  (verses 55-56, NASB)

Centuries before, Isaiah described the saving work of God as gentle, life giving rain rather than fire from the sky.

Let justice descend, you heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the clouds drop it down.  Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let righteousness spring up with them!  I, the LORD, have created this.  (45:8)

The gentle way of Jesus should not be confused with wimpiness, although the devil will convince many if not most of us to perceive it that way.  Far from a milquetoast, Jesus brings justice to the wicked and salvation to the righteous, he doesn’t grow faint, and he’s making the whole universe new.  He teaches us that those who renounce (and probably suffer) the devil’s deceptive violence in order to walk Jesus’ gentle, vulnerable and persistent path will share in the eternal joy of his results,

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:

And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

(Matthew 5:1-12 KJV)





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