Satan, Lucifer, the Devil, the Father of Lies – many of us, we grew up hearing one or more of these names. But how much do we really know about this fallen angel?
What image comes to mind when someone mentions the Devil or Beelzebub? Do you imagine a big red guy with horns, a forked tail and a pitchfork? Or maybe you picture Al Pacino as John Milton/Satan in the film The Devil’s Advocate? Or Tom Ellis in the TV show Lucifer who lives in L.A. and fights crime?
There are many different ways we view Satan. Many hardcore and death metal bands glorify him and his evil deeds. And some people don’t even believe the Devil exists at all. Some think he’s no more than a figment of the imagination or a ghost story to keep ornery kids in line. For the longest time, I even found myself buying into that lie.
Growing up Catholic
Growing up in Catholic school, as a kid, I heard the stories of Satan tempting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, or Jesus casting out Legion into a herd of pigs, or Jesus being tempted as He wandered in the desert for 40 days. At the time, I did what I could to avoid sinning, but, seriously, what kind of trouble can a ten-year-old kid get into? Trying to get out of going to Mass on Sunday? Or yelling “shut up” on the playground?
As time wore on and I turned into a teenager, sinning didn’t seem to be something to lose much sleep over. So what if I stayed out a little too late every so often. Or maybe I disrespected my parents in front of my friends. No big deal. At the time, like so many teenagers, I felt I was just expressing myself, and that “nobody understands me!” Someday, I thought, I would finally get out into the world and live my life my way, completely free from all the restrictions my parents and the Church placed on me.
My high school teen years were some of the most exciting, yet nerve-racking, and confusing times in my life. I still believed in a vague kind of evil, but nothing as concrete as “the big scary Devil.” But that all changed during my first year in college.
Classes had been in session for several weeks and I had just finished a “Beginning Acting” class on a beautiful Tuesday morning. Since my next class was being held in the same place, I was rooting through my backpack, getting my books ready. I happened to look up to see Robin, a friend of mine, walking in looking very forlorn. Another friend of mine, Katie, asked her what was wrong. To which Robin uttered, head down the whole time, “The world is ending. A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center. Thousands are dead.”
Like many people, my beliefs were shaken to the core on that day. While watching the live coverage on the news, I witnessed the second plane crashing into the Twin Towers. I was devastated by the events taking place. I knew there was evil in the world, but to witness the sheer brutality of it, to see people choosing to commit such atrocities left me feeling hollow and empty. For a while I didn’t know if I even wanted to go on living.
I was conflicted with rage, fear, anxieties, and confusion. I wanted to shake my fists at a God, who in my mind had also become little more than a figment of my imagination. The temptation to seek revenge by running off and joining the Army, to fight and if need be die on the battlefield against the terrorists was overwhelming. And then I subsequently hated myself for being cowardly and not doing so.
Satan at work
It’s taken me close to fifteen years, but I’ve worked through many of the emotions and feelings surrounding that turbulent period in our country and in my life in particular. Thinking back on it now, I could almost hear a voice tempting me and prodding me, and even tearing me down. I did not realize it back then but these were attacks on my spirit.
In the last four or five months, since starting my youth ministry job, I’ve begun to notice an increase in such spiritual attacks. Situations have arisen that brought with them despair and heartache. For example, I was asked to be a worship musician for a church program but then, within three weeks, and seemingly out of nowhere, the planning team decided to drop me from the program. And, more recently, I had a rather perplexing conversation with a man who flat our told me to “Get a REAL job.”
Satan has many different tactics at his disposal, but there are a few I’ve come to recognize that he seems to like to use on me in my own life. One of the biggest ones he’s used against me is discouragement. Normally, I’m not a person who lives on the praises of others, but like most people I do like to be recognized and appreciated for the work that I do. So, when someone overlooks my efforts or downright criticizes them, it can be disheartening for me. Certain words or phrases cut right to my heart and I can now usually identify them as an attack by the Devil. For instance, the phrase “Get a REAL job” really spoke to me.
Another tactic Satan uses with me is to take a grain of truth and then twist it with worry and fear. For instance, I may recognize the truth that “At this moment, I don’t have enough money for blah-blah-blah.” But Satan goes one step further by crowding my head with worry and sometimes even outlandish plans on how to get the money. He tries to make me despair with thoughts of “I’ll never EVER have enough money, and no-one will like me, and blah-blah-blah.”
A third tactic that Satan uses on me is temptation. Now, that may seem obvious, but it can’t be overstated. When going through a tough period of time, the Devil will often tempt us with false hopes and dreams of the easier life. It doesn’t help when, in a moment of weakness, I may muse or fantasize about how things could be better.
With all three of these tactics, and probably dozens more I have yet to identify, I’ve found the best way to combat them is to pray and turn to God even more fervently. If I’ve given into sin, going to reconciliation is also a big help. And praying the Rosary has helped me immensely in overcoming spiritual attacks.
A friend of mine, named Jeff, recalled a time he asked a priest “What can the Devil really do?” The priest replied “The Devil can only do what the Lord allows him to do. But remember, no matter what the Devil can do, even though he’s opposed to God, he is still under the command of Him.” In other words, the Lord will never allow us to endure more from Satan than what we can handle. So take heart and know that the Lord will always have the final word.