Help Me Understand Attacks of the Devil
Part II of II
Editor’s Note: In part I, we looked at the first strategy of the devil in the spiritual struggle: corrupting the heart. Today, we will examine the second and third strategies: turning aside the will and getting us to give up. Here is the question we are considering:
Dear Father John, I seem to be constantly tempted to, or away from, one thing or another. I would like to arm myself as much as possible against this spiritual darkness. Would you help me understand attacks of the devil?
The Enemy’s Second Strategy: Turn Aside the Will
St. Luke finishes his narration of the temptations in the wilderness by pointing out that “when the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time” (Luke 4:13). That time came to an end on the eve of our Lord’s passion. After Jesus was betrayed, St. Luke tells us, the Lord explained that “the time for the power of darkness” had returned (Luke 22:53). During Jesus’s passion, we learn about our enemy’s other two strategies.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, the devil bombarded Jesus with temptations so deep that they inspired fear and confusion and caused him “sorrow and distress” (Matthew 26:37). So profound was the struggle that Jesus sweated blood (see Luke 22:44) and even exclaimed to his companions, “My soul is sorrowful even to death” (Matthew 26:38). For centuries, theologians have debated the exact nature of these temptations, but all agree that whatever their content (and this is where temptations try to corrupt the intellect, sowing false ideas or deceptive half-truths), their goal was clear: The devil was trying to get Jesus to disobey his Father’s will, to say no to what his Father was asking of him. And this is the second strategy, to turn aside our will from God’s will—to make God’s will seem so unreasonable or painful or difficult that our courage fails, and we choose a different path.
The devil can’t create reality; he is not God. And so he has to distort it in order to frighten us. To keep us from entering a path that God is inviting us to follow, he has to exaggerate the danger or the difficulty. We already know that it will be difficult, because Jesus revealed this to us:
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13–14)
But Jesus would never ask something of us that is absolutely impossible. This is what the devil wants to make us forget. He wants us to see God’s invitation only from a human, mundane perspective. That is when our courage will likely fail. But God always reminds us that such a perspective is incomplete: “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:26).
The Enemy’s Third Strategy: Getting Us to Give Up
Jesus resisted the devil’s onslaught in the Garden of Gethsemane, mainly through fervent prayer (see Luke 22:44). And so the enemy switched to his third basic tactic. He couldn’t dislodge the Lord’s heart, and he couldn’t convince him not to set out on the path of the Father’s will, so he made following that path agonizingly difficult. The passion and death of our Lord involved suffering betrayal, injustice, physical and psychological torture, humiliation, calumny, rejection of all types, and even witnessing heartrending sorrow in those whom he loved most, such as his Mother. Every step along the path of his Father’s will increased his suffering. Every increase of suffering required a renewal of his loving obedience. The devil was simply trying to wear him out, trying to make him suffer so much that he would eventually rebel against his Father’s plan and turn aside from the path he had freely chosen to follow—the right path, the path of loving God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. Continuing down that path required perseverance; it required mature human willpower, infused with and elevated by divine grace.
Editor’s Note: This is another excerpt from Father John Bartunek’s new book “Seeking First the Kingdom” filled with “practical examples and down-to-earth wisdom which will show you how to bring Christ into each facet of your life”. Click here to learn more about the book…or if you wish to get it for a friend or relative who doesn’t read on line.
Art: Christ in the Wilderness, Ivan Kramskoy, 1872, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons. Jesus Prayed, Corbert Gauthier, copyright 2010, used with permission. Calvario (Calvary), seguace di duccio di buoninsegna (Follower of Duccio di Buoninsegna), Cerovic Dragana 22 October 2013 correction of Sailko 14 September 2011, undated, CCA-SA, Wikimedia Commons. Feature image: Detail of Palazzo Schifanoia, Salone dei messi, 04 aprile (f.del cossa) toro 03 2, Sailko, 30 September 2013 own work (photography), CC-SA, Wikimedia Commons.