The series on “What’s the Deal with the Devil” is nearing it’s end. The next-to-last topic will take last week’s post about the spiritual war through culture during the time of the Bible and fast forward to talking about the spiritual warfare through culture, including popular culture, that we fight today. But before we get there, there’s a topic that has to be addressed first. Perhaps two topics, but I’m making them one. First, what’s the downside to skepticism about the topic of spiritual war–which I’m calling “anti-pearl-clutching”–and second, what benefit can we gain from thinking about What Would Satan Do (WWSD)?
You know that aunt or great-aunt who reacts in horror, drawing in a deep breath, eyes wide in shock, at the mere mention of Harry Potter? Or the mention of many other things? She may or may not have any literal string of pearls to grasp as her far-too-easily-triggered shock reaction is set off, but you get the idea. She may not be your auntie (who is perhaps very cool), but she’s somebody’s aunt or mother or grandmother and if you don’t personally know an example you at least know of the idea of someone who over-reacts to certain kinds of things. She and women like her–and yes, men like her too (indeed there are male “pearl-clutchers,” albeit almost always sans pearls) set the eyes of a certain group of people a-rolling. Sure, Auntie, whatever. Or perhaps: OK, boomer.
Who is the certain group of people I just mentioned? Let’s call them “anti-pearl-clutchers” and what they do when rolling their eyes in skepticism, “anti-pearl-clutching.”
Anti-pearl-clutchers perhaps have read Harry Potter or have played Dungeons and Dragons or maybe even messed with an Ouija board briefly and they are pretty sure Satan did not rip off the top of their skull when they did so and come to permanently reside inside their brain. They’re also pretty sure that claims about Satan/the Devil are grossly exaggerated in some circles, like, to the point of being ridiculous. To the point of making human choices seem unimportant, because so much evil is attributed to Satan. In contrast, we know for certain a lot of evil comes from things people decide to do, things people would perhaps do at least at times if Satan wasn’t even around.
By the way, the line I dropped into the paragraph about about messing with an Ouija board and nothing bad happening is not meant to be an endorsement of Ouija boards. That’s not where I’m going at all, since playing with the Occult is something the Bible very clearly forbids–but it is possible to goof around with a Ouija board and/or Tarot cards and similar things without anything noticeable happening. (Not that “anything noticeable” is always the same as “anything.”)
Since speculative fiction deals with topics that pearl-clutching avoids, like magic or aliens, it’s probable that the vast majority of readers of Speculative Faith are aligned with the anti-pearl-clutching crowd. At least a little bit. It could be in fact be the case right now that someone is reading this article and thinking concerning my comments here: OK, boomer (I’m actually an older Gen X member, not that when I was born is actually important to this topic). Or something similarly dismissive. There’s a reason for that.
You’ll shoot your eye out!
The movie A Christmas Story famously evokes Ralphie wanting to have a BB gun but being warned by all kinds of people that he shouldn’t have one because if he does, the risk is “you’ll shoot your eye out.” This idea is over-exaggerated to the point of being silly, this hypothetical risk that everyone clings to as if it were a fact showing a classic example of pearl-clutching in a story.
We in fact may know people who used BB guns or pellet guns or airsoft guns for years, perhaps even people who used them recklessly, who suffered nothing more than skin welts. Nothing serious happened to them. So clearly BB guns are safe, right?
Er, no. According to an article Google pulled up for me when I searched “BB gun injuries,” over 23,000 kids went to an emergency room in the nineties because of injuries sustained from a BB or pellet gun in the USA. In 1990 alone in the United States, 12 kids died from injuries sustained by BB guns. Died. (For the medically curious, my brief research on the topic found point-blank shots at the eye with a BB gun may go around the eye, through the eye socket, and into the brain–where is a potentially fatal wound if the BB or pellet hits a major blood vessel inside soft brain tissue.)
So in the case of BB guns I just touched on, while it may in fact be laughable to avoid them at all costs because of their dangers, there is actually middle ground between pearl-clutching forbidding any use of air rifles and freewheeling you-can-do-whatever-you-like-son. You can allow them to be used, but recommend caution. Maybe, quite seriously, some eye protection is in order. At least at times. Certainly kids need to be informed that a point blank shot at yourself, especially at your face, represents real danger and should be avoided. (True story, one of my children shot himself point-blank with an airsoft rifle in the face, punching right through his skin with a plastic pellet. He should have known better, but it happened anyway.)
To be clear, what I’m talking about with this What’s the Deal with the Devil series is not me endorsing pearl-clutching. It’s a call for realistic safety and realistic awareness of actual danger.
The Danger of Anti-Pearl-Clutching
We can perhaps compare anti-pearl-clutching to an adolescent phase in a person’s thinking. As a child, you know there are dangers and perhaps might be paralyzed by them. As an adolescent, you might laugh off danger and do some really risky stuff. This is especially common for testosterone-laden young men driving cars (among other things), but some young women are major risk-takers, too. Though of course not all adolescents are risk-takers, but for those who are, after they’ve been in some fender-benders or worse because of a lack of caution, as adults, they come to understand there’s such a thing as healthy fear. Not fear that paralyzes you so you can’t do anything, but a touch of fear that makes you more alert than you would otherwise be. A fear that causes you to put on your seat belt and slow down when road conditions are bad.
Since so many people have over-exaggerated the dangers of certain cultural influences and have over-exaggerated Satan’s power, the natural reaction to that is to go the opposite direction and think the Devil is a chump whom we can safely ignore. That we don’t need to think about Satan at all, that putting any emphasis on the Devil at all is a sheer waste of time, since we know that the cross of Christ has defeated Satan.
Yes, Satan is defeated, but from what the Bible actually says, as quoted throughout this series, he’s still active and still dangerous. My post on how to face the devil in combat (part 1) mentioned that the main thing we need to do to defeat Satan is live for God fully and truly.
Yes, that’s also true, in addition to Satan’s fate being already determined–but how we pray for other people (and ourselves) is affected by the realization that spiritual warfare is real, that Satan is real, that he is actively leading into sin and deceiving whomever he can. Satan is actively ruining the lives of some people and is a significant influence in our culture–we need to be aware of that and alert to the possibility of our own vulnerability. For own safety and the safety of others. Not in panic, but with alertness, trusting God to deliver us when we need him.
So What Would Satan Do (WWSD)?
I’m of course playing off the dead-now craze of WWJD, “What Would Jesus Do,” that for a time adorned bracelets and was on the mind of many Christians. (I’m not saying WWJD is totally dead, but I can’t recall the last time I saw a WWJD bracelet.)
By the way, I never personally bought into WWJD because I keep seeing Jesus’s disciples being surprised at things Jesus did–such as meeting with the Samaritan woman, or driving money changers out of the temple, or even when he mentioned “the leaven of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6-9), they thought he was talking about provisions for a trip. He surprised them and can surprise us too–though if thinking WWJD is helpful to you, don’t let me stop you from doing so. I’d say though that one of the reasons the Holy Spirit was given to Christians was to guide us into what Jesus wants us to do–as opposed to us using our imagination to guess WWJD.
Note that while writing this article for Speculative Faith I found four titles on Amazon for What Would Satan Do? One is a satirical novel that seems to glorify Satan, one is a set of comics full of dark humor that I made into the featured image for this post, one seems to be a serious book of theology about the Devil, and one is an odd bit of wacky theology and a story combined. So I’m not even close to being the first person to say “WWSD.”
But my reasons relate to military thinking. US Army doctrine includes sketching the terrain around you to identify what is there in a fixed position in a combat zone (part of a “range card”)–so if something changes, you’ll be aware of it. Military doctrine also encourages a person to consider probable “avenues of approach.” As in, “if an enemy is going to attack me here, what’s the most likely way they would get here?” Army operations orders include a section on enemy activity that lists both the most probable action the enemy will take and also the most dangerous action the enemy could take.
I don’t want to lead a descent into paranoia by suggesting Christians continually worry about what Satan would or could do–I’m saying this intended to shore up the “Realistic Safety” point I made above. A person who is going to be realistically safe is going to consider what could go wrong at appropriate moments and then take steps to avoid the worst, if at all possible. And if you have an active enemy trying to hurt you, it might be worthwhile to consider what the enemy would do under the circumstances, what the enemy would think–or in the case of spiritual warfare, WWSD.
Lest you think the idea of considering What Would Satan Do is unbiblical, note that in the context of discussing unforgiveness among Christians, the Apostle Paul (as inspired by the Holy Spirit) mentions an awareness of the schemes of the Devil (2 Corinthians 2:11). The context clearly suggests that being aware of the kinds of things Satan does helps a person avoid falling for Satan’s schemes.
So perhaps we ought to consider what is Satan could do in any given situation we face. Certainly the “Billy Graham rule” practiced by some Christian leaders in which male leaders refuse to meet with a woman alone would seem to account for WWSD. Because Satan is not only capable of provoking sexual temptation to sin when a man and a woman are together without anyone else around, he’s capable of putting it into someone’s mind to accuse the Christian leader of impropriety, even if he’s done nothing.
The Billy Graham rule or variations thereof should also be considered when dealing with other people’s children. Just sayin’.
Great advice, but do you “practice what you preach?”
In truth, I’m actually mediocre at WWSD thinking. At major points in my life I have failed to anticipate how I could come under attack by Satan. Or how other people would be attacked by the Devil, people I should have been praying for. I have as a result made some major mistakes and have been a sucker for common sins at times. And have failed to help other people the way I should have. (But I don’t always fail, thank God. 🙂 )
I talk about caution and thinking about what the enemy could do not because I’m a natural for pearl-clutching, but rather because I’m a natural risk-taker and have seen how my natural lack of caution has hurt me at times. In some aspects of my life, even though I talk about anti-pearl-clutching as a danger, I’m a de facto anti-pearl-clutcher. So what I’m writing is for me–even though I have learned to apply more caution to my spiritual life than I used to, I’ve still got to do better at applying what I know to be true. Some other people might not need to think along these lines any more than they already do–but what I mention here is important for me and people like me.
What about you? Do you ever think about the worst Satan could do in various situations (WWSD)? Do see a value in such thinking? What have I not mentioned that perhaps I should have? Other thoughts?