Does the Devil Exist?
The Devil Appears
I heard the unearthly creature before I ever saw him, scraping his ancient legs across the top of the pew. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed movement in an otherwise still church. About three feet to my right, advancing toward the end of the bench, was the largest, filthiest cockroach I had ever seen. Now, I grew up in the Carolina Lowcountry, and we have plenty of these “palmetto bugs," as we like to call them. But this fellow was behemoth. Adding to his unholy presence was a thick layer of dust that he wore like a sheepskin. If he wasn't straight from the depths of Hell, he was from some kind of dark evil dwelling you would never dare enter.
As the sermon continued, I could not take my eyes off the creeping Goliath. What gripped me was not so much fascination as the fear that he would make a sudden lurch toward me. I breathed a sigh of relief as he slowly disappeared from my territory into the main aisle. Now the fun began. I’m pretty sure he had a bit of an audience at this point, but the show may have been just for me. As if injured, he painstakingly hobbled his way all the way up to the front of the sanctuary. For a minute, he seemed to hesitate, but then suddenly met his final doom as a teenaged acolyte carrying the processional cross unintentionally crushed him with his sneaker.
Devil in Disguise
I was a newcomer to that quaint Episcopal church on that morning twelve years ago. Though I had been raised in the church, I had strayed during college. I never sipped the red Kool-Aid or learned any spells of witchcraft, but almost as bad, I became a philosophy major. I transformed into an atheist almost overnight as my young mind explored not only philosophy, but astronomy and other religions of the world. My transgression was short-lived, though, as I was called back to the church when I married and decided to have children. Actually, my goal that morning was to scout out a new church in preparation for our plans to start a family.
I was already uncomfortable that early autumn morning in a lovely, but rather formal, Kasper suit. Any other Sunday, I would have fit right in, but this day turned out to be Clean the Churchyard Sunday. The entire congregation was wearing shorts and tee-shirts. The cockroach not only added to my discomfort, but actually made me feel unwelcome, as if I was being warned away. At first, I thought maybe it was a sign that this particular church was not a good fit. But, as I considered the unnatural chill that permeated from that insect, I realized that I had encountered the devil. He was pushing me away from my new goal to reconnect with the church.
Was That You, Lucifer?
Is it possible that this repulsive bug was actually Satan, or a demon puppet hurled up from the fire pits of Hell? How did you gain entrance into this house of God, you disgraced angel? Your wretched appearance was muted by your weakness as you ventured into this holy place. Was it difficult to breathe under the scrutiny? Does the devil really exist in this way, as a conscious being able to affect our lives? Was there actually a gorgeous angel named Lucifer who fell from God's grace and was expelled from Heaven?
Many Christians believe the Biblical villain is, in fact, authentic, along with the Holy Spirit, the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ. Satan was there in the Garden of Eden - the cunning serpent who successfully tempted Adam and Eve. He challenged God in the Book of Job, and he tempted Jesus in the desert as described in the Books of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Does Satan share our existance, and can he crawl into our lives in an attempt to lure us away from God?
Is the Devil Real?
Some Christians do not believe in the devil, and claim that Satan is simply a metaphor for all that is evil in this world. They say "evil" is just an adjective describing the bad things or people in life, though some see Evil as a force of nature, as in the battle of Good versus Evil. That cockroach must have been Satan, it was so horrible and evil. But not literally Satan - he is just a fictional character, after all! What would he be doing in a church, anyway? And as a roach? Come on now - have you been reading Kafka's Metamorphosis or something? Well, no, not recently.
Why are some Christians reluctant to believe in the devil? A 2009 poll by the Barna Group indicates that about 60% of American Christians doubt the existence of Satan. Interestingly, though, 77% of Americans in general do believe in angels, according to a recent poll by AP-GfK. It must be easier to believe in the beautiful gentle angels that will protect you, rather than the creepy disgraced buggers that may follow you into church one day to distract you from the sermon.
Does God Exist?
Does Satan Exist?
Is Satan Real?
My encounter with that cockroach was more than a dozen years ago, but it made a significant impression on my life. Is it just a coincidence that he was even in the church that day, on my specific pew, on such a pivotal day in my spiritual life? Is it just happen-chance that he was impaled by the holy cross of Christ? Or maybe someone jump-started the church cleanup that morning with a little dusting, disturbing this poor insect from his bed. Could it be that simple?
The concept of a devil or demon has been around for a very long time and has crossed many religions and cultures around the world. We find the devil in mythology, folklore, myths, legends, tales, stories, literature, movies, and of course, religion. He has been named Hades, Pluto, Pazuzu, Set, Tash, Dark Lord, Woland, Mara, Rahu, Beelzebub, Lucifer, Shaitan, Iblis, AntiChrist, Satan, just to name a few. He is all around us, yet he is difficult to pinpoint. Many doubt his existence, because they have never seen him or felt his rank breath.
I am reminded of an interesting message that was coined in 1864 by French author Charles Bauldelaire, and immortalized in a quote by character Verbal Kint in the 1995 movie, The Usual Suspects. You may have heard this one before:
"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."