[Word count: 589. Approximate read time: 3 minutes]
My family attended a COGIC church when I was young. One Sunday morning, I saw an old man with peculiar features. Darkish gray, wiry hair that radiated upward like flames leaping from fire. His eyebrows were rugged, metallic and sort of mounded up. He had angular features and a browned, narrow, stern face. He probably didn’t like children. I was about 5 at the time, but I leaned over to the woman next to me and asked, “Is that guy The Devil?”
She laughed heartily. It was an earnest question though. He fit the description, only missing a pitchfork and horns. Maybe Sunday was his day off and he decided to come to church. “The devil is busy.” “Ain’t nobody mad but the devil.” “The devil don’t want me to sing this song.” If that was him, he was sitting in the place where he gets talked about the most.
Who stole the cookie?
Once I was at a family gathering, playing games and we decided to do something for the kids and sing “Who Stole The Cookie From The Cookie Jar?” You sit in a circle, point at someone and accuse jokingly, “You stole the cookie from the cookie jar!” They respond “Who? Me?” “Yes, you!” They say “Couldn’t be!” We shout back “Then who?” and the song starts over again.
We go around the circle singing, smiling, and laughing, and then we get to the littlest baby girl and sing “Crystal stole the cookie from the cookie jar!” Crystal came completely out of the song. She saw 13 people pointing their fingers and accusing her. So she just cried.
No one likes to be at fault. Usually when confronted with wrongdoing, our first instinct is to lie and deny it or accuse someone else. That’s where the devil comes in. Everyone agrees the devil is bad. So if you say he did it, people will believe you and the police will stop dusting your house for fingerprints.
“Hypocrites always wanna play innocent
Always wanna take it to the full-out extent
Always wanna make it seem like good intent
Never wanna face it when it time for punishment.”
—Lauryn Hill, “Lost Ones”
Problems arise when we act like this. Responsibility is a mark of adulthood. But inside every adult there remains that child who—even when joking fingers are pointed—will cry. We can’t stand to see ourselves in the harsh, unflattering light of blame. So we say things like “The devil made me do it.” When others do what we don’t like, we tell them “you’re letting the devil use you.” The devil becomes a convenient way for us to shield ourselves from responsibility and culpability.
“I thought it was me
But then I could see
It was you
At the end of it all, it was you.”
I’m not sure how much I believe in the devil. I’ve experienced too much of people engaging in bad behavior and then charging it to him. If things within your control are constantly going wrong, but it’s never your fault? If someone’s always lying about you trying to make you look bad? If you’re always the victim and you “never do anything wrong?” C’mon. The devil can’t take all that credit.
There probably actually is some kind of adversary responsible for big ticket items like al-Qaeda. But sometimes it’s not the devil. Sometimes it’s just you. And if you never take responsibility for where you dropped the ball… maybe the devil’s making you do that.