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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Have You Ever Met the Devil?

Cover of Life Magazine Feb. 2, 1948
Many of you have no doubt read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.  Not being a Lewis fan, I avoided this book for a while, but had it thrust on me by a friend whom I've encouraged to read some of my own favorites.  Having to swallow a dose of my own medicine and read one of her suggestions, I found it was surprisingly good for me to linger a while over a work of fiction.  The clever recognition and scrutiny of human nature was very amusing and sadly all too true.  And having allowed to be created in my mind this fictional dialogue between minions and the devil himself, it was with interest I read something online not long ago about an article Whitaker Chambers wrote in 1948 that was published in Life Magazine on February 2.  (The issue then cost 15 cents.  Today you can buy it for $19.95.) 

 The title of Chamber's article was The Devil.  I have recently discovered a copy of it in a book titled Ghosts on the Roof, Selected Journalism of Whittaker Chambers 1931-1959. 
Born in 1901, Chambers grew up in a dysfunctional family void of any religion.  He was warned sternly by his mother to not allow himself to be instructed in any dogma of faith by others.  She insisted that he "think for himself."  In his book, Witness, Chambers relates how he wondered if her own ideas on the subject were any different from anyone else's.  Why should he listen to her say there was no God anymore than trusting someone who told him there was.  But, she was his mother and he did as he was told.   In 1924, having no other compass to guide him, he was influenced by reading the writings of Vldadimir Lenin and soon become a card carrying communist and devoted follower of that faith in which men devote their entire being to a plan without God.  When he defected from communism in 1938 he began to see the world in black and white, of good vs. evil and this essay on the devil is a prime example of his intense belief that the two forces are very real and have been at odds throughout history. 
The essay takes place at a New Year's Eve Party in a Manhattan hotel, where a man referred to as "the pessimist", sitting alone is approached by a well dressed stranger who starts up a chat.
"From the gay chaos of the room, a massive and immaculate stranger with a rich Miami tan suddenly materialized and sat down quietly at the pessimist's left.  'You want to see me?' asked the stranger.
'I am afraid,' said the pessimist, 'that I do not place you.  And yet I do seem to have met you somewhere....'
'Millions have,' said the stranger.  'Perhaps you have seen me seated on some mountaintop, my gigantic pinions folded against the sunset, my chin sunk, brooding, on my clenched fists, on the evening of the day of an earthquake?'
'I beg your pardon!'
'Or leaning intently through the fires of a blitzed city, I listen, transfigured by that paralysis of pain which is half the pleasure of great music, while a child puddles in the stew of bones and shrieks, 'Father!' in a scream purged by pure terror of all gross humanity.'
The pessimist half rose, clutching the arms of his chair.
'Yes, mused the stranger, 'even in the 20th Century which, in the name of civilization, has popularized vulgarity by making it complicated and expensive, one can still enjoy the finer things of life.  But please sit down.  I see by that look of dawning recognition that you realize who I am.  You are quite right:  I am the Devil---Satan, the Fiend, called, and rightly so, the Prince of this World." 
The essay continues as Chambers describes the appearance of the devil who might be mistaken for many people except for his eyes.
" 'And yet,' thought the pessimist, 'those are certainly not the eyes of a Yale man.'  For the pupils of the Devil's eyes were a swampy black, and into their depths all vision sank without leaving a trace like a toad in a pool of petroleum.  They hung suspended in their sockets like orbs in a void of omnivorous vigilance, motionless, enveloping and contemplative without compassion.'
'I do not wish to alarm you,' said the Devil, ' but if I were you, I do not think that I should stare too long into eyes which, in better times, have borne the inexpressible light of Heaven and read their doom by the flocculent night of Hell.  Eyes,' he went on, seeming to loom taller, as if by the action of a kind of cellular rhetoric, 'which, in the dawn of the Creation, have watched with flaming envy as, at the great words, 'Fiat Lux,' primal darkness shimmered into the first sun rise and set again, and night return lit by the wonder of the first moon.  Eyes that for 600,000 years have patiently probed the purulent heart of evil as a finger pushes through the walls of an ulcer...' "
At this point, most of us, I assume, would have rushed to get away from the devil, but the pessimist is by this time too curious to leave without knowing more and the story continues as the conversation moves on.
" 'I should think,' said the pessimist, 'that in a world which is in a state of almost total collapse, the fact that only a half-dozen men know your part in the plot is the proof of your success.'
Luther throws his inkwell at Satan
'Probably,' said the Devil, rubbing his hands together lightly, 'the greatest deception in history.  For few facts in human experience are better documented than the fact of my existence.  it is, indeed, indisputable.  Not only is there the incontrovertible evidence of revealed truth in the Bible.  ........... There is also the  unimpeachable testimony of the saints.  ....And lest you suspect me of a Roman Catholic bias,' said the Devil, 'let me point out that my existence is no less emphatically affirmed by the best Protestant authorities.  Martin Luther himself has described how, when he was translating the Bible, the Devil often appeared and debated with him the proper interpretation of the Hebrew text.' "
At this point the essay expounds on the phases of history and the methods used by the devil to deceive and capture souls and the Devil says,
" 'It seems but yesterday that I launched Hell's Five Hundred Year Plan.  ....... It was the 18th Century.  The Enlightenment had begun.  ..... The Middle Ages were liquidated.  Faith in the human mind had supplanted faith in God.  I saw that Hell must write Progress on its banners and Science in its methods.' "
It was near the end of this conversation which contained those facts anyone familiar with history can imagine, that I was surprised by the totally unexpected.   The pessimist asked, 'Just what do you get out of it?'  And the devil replied,
" 'My friend,' said Satan, 'you do not understand the Devil's secret.  But since shamelessness is not part of my pathos, there is no reason why I should not tell you.  The Devil is sterile.  I possess the will to create (hence my pride), but I am incapable of creating (hence my envy).  And with an envy raised to such power as immortal minds can feel, I hate the Creator and His Creation.  My greatest masterpiece is never more than a perversion--an ingenious disordering of Another's grand design, a perversion of order into chaos, of life into death.' "
This is where the struggle takes place.  Whatever Satan can ruin or destroy, God can restore and refresh.  However bad things may appear to us at any given time, nothing is more powerful than the God of Creation.  Even out of evil, God can bring new life. 
Our hope lies in His hands
CCC 311:  God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil.  He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it.

'For almighty God..., because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.' (St. Augustine, Enchiridion)
CCC 312:  In time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures:  "It was not you," said Joseph to his brothers, "who sent me here, but God....  You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive." (Gen. 45:8; 50:20)
CCC 324:  Faith gives us the certainty that God would not permit an evil if he did not cause as good to come from that very evil, by ways that we shall know only in eternal life. 
Only in the fullness of time will the struggle end.  In the meantime, no matter how bad things appear to be for society, for nations, for the Church, we should always know the devil is sterile and that God the Father, maker of heaven and earth will prevail. 


  1. Thank you for this post, Chriss Rainey. I really needed to read something like this right now considering the state in which the world as well as our church resides at the moment. It's very discouraging but I always keep in mind your last sentence, "Only in the fullness of time will the struggle end. In the meantime, no matter how bad things appear to be for society, for nations, for the Church, we should always know the devil is sterile and that God the Father, maker of heaven and earth will prevail."

  2. Thank you for this message