I’m not much of a comic book fan (I know…blasphemy) and I’ve had my fill with cinematic comic book adaptations *dodges rotten vegetables being hurled through the air.* There is one movie, and character, that I’ve always enjoyed, and if you know me or how my imagination works, this will come as little surprise. In my estimation, Ghost Rider is the bee’s knees. You can keep your capes and tights and masks and mutant powers; Johnny Blaze actually transforms into a fire-skulled demon riding the sickest motorcycle ever created and dispatches evildoers with flames and chains. Darker comic book characters like Batman or the Punisher have nothing on Ghost Rider.
I re-watched both movies this past weekend. I loathe the sequel but the first movie was flawed yet fun in a cheesy Gothic western sort of way. It was heavy metal cinema at its finest and silliest. And as all first movies do, it sets up the central conflict for the protagonist. In the case of Johnny Blaze, he makes a deal with Mephistopheles to save his father from cancer, only to have his father die in an accident. While Mephisto isn’t exactly the devil, he is pretty much the devil (played by Peter Fonda, a great choice considering the motorcycle theme of the movie). Johnny doesn’t find out the true cost of the deal until several years later, when he horrifically transforms into a fiery spirit that acts as the devil’s bounty hunter. In the presence of evil, he changes into the Ghost Rider and wreaks vengeance upon the wicked. Johnny doesn’t enjoy this, of course, and he views this power as a curse rather than a gift since he is unable to control it himself (something he later learns how to do but still doesn’t celebrate).
The notion of making a “deal with the devil” is a familiar plot device in stories throughout the ages. Classic stories such as Faust and The Monk are more rooted in theology while modern characters like Spawn and Constantine and movies such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Devil’s Advocate provide quite a variety of devilish deal-making, usually with tragic results.
What does the Bible say about Satan as the infernal used car salesman? Even in the first chapters of Genesis, we see him employ the old “if you do X, then Y will happen” trick. If you eat the fruit, you will become like God. In Job, God and Satan strike a deal for Job’s torment, though Satan can’t kill Job. The goal is to find out just how deep Job’s loyalty to God goes. In 1 Samuel, Saul makes a deal with a witch that she will not be punished if she conjures up the spirit of Samuel. And of course, the most audacious deal that Satan ever attempted was to try and convince the Son of God Himself to worship him in exchange for the adoration of the world (Matthew 4).
Satan does not have direct power over us, not in the same way that God does. However, he is a master of trickery and psychological manipulation. He knows how to exploit our weaknesses and make temporal things seem more important than eternal things. Compared to eternity, our greatest earthly suffering is but a puff of smoke, but in that moment of our desperation, he seizes upon our yearning for salvation and instead twists it around so that temporary relief results in eternal damnation. I am currently working on a book where the protagonist disbelievingly dabbles in witchcraft in order to achieve success in his sport, but he will soon discover the disastrous consequences. In fiction, no one ever congratulates themselves on making a deal with the devil. They always regret it in the end.
In real life, few people make an outright deal with the devil (and if they do, Satan is probably laughing at them). But what does happen is seeking help apart from God when our own strength fails. The reason we are given trials and tribulations is to remind us of our weakness and turn our spirits towards God. That is exactly what Satan doesn’t want, and he will do anything to stop those prayers from reaching heaven.