Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Devil's Distraction Game

The enemy of your soul can use the very fact of breaking news to derail you. There are many important things that need to be discussed and examined after Friday's Supreme Court decision. But there were many important things you were already doing when the latest news hit. What kind of balance have you been able to strike between them? Have you ended up missing your daily time reading the Scriptures because you were trying to get through the articles and comments on same-sex marriage? (Guilty.) Have you spent more time worrying about what's happening or getting angry at what other people have said than you have spent praying for everyone who is affected?

There is a dangerous tendency to think that if we have the right take on something, then we are doing well spiritually. No matter whether what you believe is good or bad, or whether you're on one side or the other, the devil may still undermine you by leading you to obsess about what you believe. Even good ideas and convictions can become a stumbling block or temptation if you allow them to take up so much of your attention that other necessary disciplines are ignored. The devil does not have to get you to sin in order to hurt you; he only has to get you to take your mind off God and the good work God gave you to do. C.S. Lewis made this point very well. He also identified a similar problem in The Screwtape Letters. Lewis imagined what a supervising demon might use in explaining the art of deceiving humans to a novice demon (hence the speaker refers to God as "the Enemy" and the human as "your patient"):

"You complain that my last letter does not make it clear whether I regard being in love as a desirable state for a human or not. ... Can't you see there's no answer? Nothing matters at all except the tendency of a given state of mind, in given circumstances, to move a particular patient at a particular moment nearer to the Enemy or nearer to us. Thus it would be quite a good thing to make the patient decide that "love" is "good" or "bad." all means let him decide against love. Instill into him an overweening asceticism and then, when you have separated his sexuality from all that might humanize it, weigh in on him with it in some much more brutal and cynical form. If, on the other hand, he is an emotional, gullible man, feed him on minor poets and fifth-rate novelists of the old school until you have made him believe that "Love" is both irresistible and somehow intrinsically meritorious. ... In the meantime, get it quite clear in your own mind that this state of falling in love is not, in itself, necessarily favorable either to us or to the other side. is, from the point of view of the spiritual life, mainly raw material [which we exploit.]" (Chapter 19)

In short, the devil can use the very thing that is good - like love or knowledge or music - as a weapon against you if you are careless about keeping your spiritual priorities organized. Certainly there is a "right" answer on many of these subjects, and Screwtape's cynical and diabolical implication that nothing is either bad or good is meant to be sinister. But the point is that the devil can use the right answer to distract you as well as the wrong one.

On the other hand, if you discipline yourself to put your time directly focusing on God as the first priority each day, through Bible reading, prayer, worship, and whatever else clears the clutter of life from your mind so God can have your full attention, then other priorities can take the spaces God has allowed for them. The spiritual disciplines keep you from being distracted by the 'weeds and thorns of this life' (Mark 4:18-19) which choke out the Word and hinder doing good works, but they also keep you from being distracted by the good works themselves.

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