How are we to understand the Devil? I have written about the Devil before and that I do not believe in the Devil as traditionally described – no guy in red pajamas with a pitchfork or anything like that. I have said that I believe the Devil has been used by people to escape personal responsibility for their own poor choices and by the Church to advance her thought and behavior control apparatus – and that neither of those are acceptable.
Consider, though, that a useful understanding of the Devil is that he exists in each of us and that he is a metaphor for the part of us that wants to take the short cut, wants to get ahead at the expense of others. In this way the Devil becomes not some outside force agitating for our demise but rather a part of our own psyche that we need to integrate. We can no more banish this Devil than we can banish any other part of our being. Rather than say, “Devil begone!” we will need to learn to embrace this part of ourselves – a part of every human being – and integrate it. To paraphrase the Buddha, we have to invite the Devil for tea.
Countless human beings have encountered untold suffering because they were taught by their religious tradition that they had to be perfect – and the definition of perfection given is completely unrealistic. Can we being to imagine that perfection means not “without flaw” but rather “just as we should be?” In that case, “the Devil inside” is part of the perfection and the unique spiritual equation that we all must solve, not something to be avoided.
There was, of course, a time in history when a literal understanding of a Devil worked, even though it may never have been the intent of the authors of scripture. That day has passed, and we need to reinterpret all scriptures in a way that speaks to contemporary culture. Given that prior to the middle of the nineteenth century the primary interpretive lens was allegorical, we might do well to return to that and see what we find. We may very well be quite surprised – and relieved!