‘Having exhausted all these ways of tempting him, the devil left him, to return at the appointed time.’ (Luke 4:13)
These are menacing words, don’t you think? Defeated now, the devil slinks away, but not for long. He’s off to bide his time, wait for a while, lurk in the shadows, never too far away, just looking for his opportunity.
But we live in an age where people struggle with the idea of the devil. A man in a red suit with a long curly tail? Really!
And sure enough, even religious people, especially religious people, do not believe the devil exists. We surround ourselves with such a comfortable notion of faith, a God of love, the Good Shepherd, the forgiving Father. Wickedness and evil seem so far from what our faith and our idea of God is all about, that is it just so difficult to understand how he could allow there even to be a Devil, even less engage in conflict with him.
And this is dangerous stuff. Fighting an enemy who you don’t believe exists, is wrestling with shadows.
It was the writer CS Lewis, I think, who said that the devil’s greatest achievement was convincing people that he doesn’t exist. We must not fall into that trap.
It’s not that we need to believe that he’s red and has horns and the tail, that he lives under the earth in fire and brimstone. But if we stop believing that evil can be a power, and even have a mind and a will, if we don’t recognise that the life of faith is a struggle and that obstacles often fall in our way, if we don’t accept that when bad things happen it may not be God’s will but might in fact be ill will, if we don’t accept these - then there is no battle to be fought, no struggle to be won. We are like those without hope.
He skulks in the shadows, waits in the darkness - and we may not even realise he is there.
Lent is our time in the wilderness - our time when we confront temptation and remember that there is a power of evil. Our time for recognising Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises. And defeating him.