How do we explain evil, which is a bit of a mystery to most of us? We see its effects and deplore its presence. We wonder why some people seem to exhibit it more than others. Like St. Paul, we see tendencies in ourselves toward evil that we lament. (Rom. 7:19)
In all four Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, Jesus announces that one of the disciples will betray him. Luke reports that the chief priests were looking for a way to get rid of Jesus. “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.” (Luke 22:3) Judas goes to the chief priests and agrees to take money in return for betraying Jesus.
As one of Jesus’ disciples, Judas had traveled with him, listened to his teachings, and saw him perform numerous miracles. What caused him to want to betray Jesus? Was he a loyal disciple one moment and then suddenly a betrayer? What caused Satan to enter him? John suggests that he was a thief who, as keeper of the money, regularly helped himself. (John 12:6)
Since our physical nature is so closely tied to what our physical senses can perceive in the physical reality around us, it may be hard to get our minds around the non-physical or spiritual reality that also surrounds us. Yet we can observe the demonstrable effects of good and evil. While we may not be able to physically see the Holy Spirit and Satan, we can readily observe the fruit of their presence. With the Holy Spirit we see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness and self-control. With Satan we see idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, sexual immorality, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and the like. (See Galatians 5:19-24)
What makes us vulnerable to Satan’s attack? Peter says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8) Like all predators, Satan attacks our weaknesses, bad habits and self-indulgences, inclining us to serve first ourselves instead of others. He inspires hurt that leads to anger and unforgiveness. His goal is to separate us from God whom he hates.
The antidote to Satan and the putrid fruit he dispenses is accepting God’s offer to dwell in us through the Holy Spirit and embracing his example of death to self – the cross. This is impossible for us without God’s presence and grace. But as Jesus says, “With God all things are possible.” (Mt. 19:26) Many years ago, I met Jesus one evening and asked him to take the present sin and disorder in my life…and he did! It was truly a life-changing moment.
James says it well when he exhorts us to “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:7) Sin begets more sin. Grace begets more grace.