“The finest cunning of the devil is to convince us that he does not exist.”
In an interview, horror author Stephen King said, “The evil is in us. The older I get, the less I think that there is something like an external devilish influence; it comes from the people.” In a certain way, he is right. Our Lord Jesus Christ said: “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come...” (Mark 7:21). It is true: the evil is in us and comes out from us, and therefore we need salvation, “the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). But this is only one side.
The other one is: the devil is real. It is remarkable that Stephen King, who writes in such detail about what is evil, denies its existence. In our Western culture this is indeed nothing new or special. At the time of the Reformation, many Protestant theologians thoroughly did away with the mystical thinking and superstition of the Middle Ages. That was positive. But many went too far. In 1691, the Dutch Reformed preacher Balthasar Bekker published the book De Betoverde Weereld (The World Bewitched). In it he made fun of witchcraft, witches, ghosts and demons. He also questioned the existence of an actual devil. The book became a hit. The British historian Jonathan Israel called it one of the “key books of the early Enlightenment”; in Europe it was the beginning of the end of believing that there is a real-world devil.
The French author Charles Baudelaire once wrote the famous words: “The finest cunning of the devil is to convince us that he does not exist.” Although often quoted—even in Hollywood movies—very few let themselves be warned from this. Hardy anyone still believes in a real devil, and even Bible-believers are in danger of being influenced by the surrounding culture, as they try to be loving at the expense of truth. Especially today, when we conservative Christians try to separate ourselves from the excesses of some Charismatic circles, it can happen that we “throw out the baby with the bathwater,” as the popular phrase aptly expresses.
We mostly behave as if the devil and his dangerous machinations did not exist at all. The German Reformer Martin Luther, who was strongly influenced by medieval thinking, knew about the devil’s existence. He gave the newly formed evangelicals of his time tips on how they could win the battle against Satan.
Revelation 12 describes the devil pictorially as a big, furious, fiery red, seven-headed, ten-horned, water-spewing dragon with seven crowns. He is a powerful enemy; indeed, he is so powerful that we cannot withstand him in our own strength. Interestingly, exactly someone like Stephen King seems to understand this instinctively. Judging by the words of the theologian Roger Olson, who wrote an article about King’s horror novel Revival, King writes only of a hell in the hereafter, ruled by terrible evil creatures, who torture and enslave people, including children. Revival claims to be about a Christian revivalist preacher, but he is as far away from the Gospel as possible, Olson soberingly writes.
And in fact, when we speak about the devil and his power, and in so doing exclude Christ and His Gospel, then only the victory of the evil one remains. But the good news is that the great fiery red dragon has been defeated, and that by a slaughtered Lamb, as Revelation 5 shows.
What a contrast: the Lamb crushed the dragon’s head, as Satan pierced His heel. Jesus Christ took upon Himself the sins of the world, died, and rose from the dead. With this He snatched away the power of death from the devil; He delivered from Satan’s claws all those who would come to believe in Him. Jesus is the Victor! And that we must always keep in mind no matter how massive the raging of the enemy may become—and how real he is. His days are numbered—“his time is short” (Revelation 12:12)—and He is to come who will crush Satan under our feet. Maranatha!
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