I had coffee with a new friend yesterday, Phil Stevens of Bed Head Media – (you should go check out his work, it’s awesome). Phil was part of my mission team in Kenya, and we became fast friends. I can sometimes suck at building friendships, so the opportunity to connect with him on this side of the Atlantic was welcomed.
Since Gwinnett County, where I live and have grown up, is a small world disguised as a large metropolitan county, Phil and I naturally ran into some folks that we knew.
(Actually, it’s more accurate to say that Phil ran into people he knew and I was along for the ride, but whatever.)
One of the folks we saw was Brian Johnson, another one of our mission teammates from Kenya. Brian is a firefighter and a good man; we had some great conversations on our bus rides out to the Segera during our time in Kenya. Because of those talks, it was no surprise to me when Brian said something that really captured my attention:
“It’s amazing how overt the devil has to be in Kenya. He has nowhere to hide – the people there aren’t nearly as distracted as we are here. Here, we get lost in phones, emails, work, life…we give the devil countless places to mask his work in our lives, and then dismiss it as just normal.”
I actually stopped Brian, restated his statement, and asked him if I could have permission to write about it. He said yes, so I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon and evening thinking about it.
It’s amazing how true that statement is, assuming, of course, that you believe in the existence of a real devil. Some people have decided – much to Brian’s point – that there is no such thing as “the devil”. Often, the argument is that people are capable of enough evil on their own that they don’t need the help of a supernatural being. And on many days, I’m inclined to agree with at least part of their assessment – people don’t always need help being horrible.
But I do happen to believe there is a devil. In fact, when it comes to the devil, I think the quote from The Usual Suspects sums up what I believe about him: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” Our culture has reduced the enemy to a cartoonish clown in a red suit, or a misunderstood mischief-maker worthy of deeper character exploration, or figment of fevered and superstitious minds.
The Bible makes it clear there is a devil. What it makes less clear is how he operates in our modern world.
And that brings me back to Brian’s thought. I do think the devil is at work in our culture, and not in the ways culture warriors often assume. I think the devil’s greatest aim in our culture is to separate us from one another. To make us believe our greatest flourishing comes from being an independent agent instead of a member of a community.
A quick look at your Facebook feed will tell you just how well he’s doing. Mine is filled with posts about “I’m with her!” or “I’m with him!” or “You’re all morons and I wish the world would explode!”
(Yet all of those posts are, ironically, on a site meant to connect people. I’m telling you, you can’t make this stuff up.)
If you don’t Facebook, then just watch people at your local mall this holiday season. How many people are staring at their phones? How many are losing their minds over traffic? How many are rude in the aisles, or on line at the register? How many abuse the customer service or sales reps in the store?
How many people walk by the Salvation Army bucket without so much as a look?
While we were in Kenya, there was very little of this type of isolation. And that’s what it is – isolation. We can call it individualism, we can call it independence, we can call it self-sufficiency, but at the end of the day we are lonely, isolated people who feel the disconnect in strange ways.
We are hiding from the very solution to so many of our ills. And the devil, as always, is in the details. As my pastor, Kevin Myers, says, “The devil isn’t responsible for the busy-ness of your life; the devil is the busy-ness.”
The devil is pretty good at hide-and-seek. He’s like the kid that hid during the first round and never came out of his hiding place for the rest of the afternoon. After a while, you decide he’s not even playing anymore – until he pops out at the last minute and makes you realize he was there all along.
So maybe the reason we don’t see the devil anymore is because we quit looking for him.
That makes him the king of hide-and-seek, but only by default.