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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

06 April 2006

Laughing at the Devil

Q: Are comical references to Satan acceptable?

Comic DevilA: To give a short answer, I’d say that much comedy downplaying his true nature and power isn’t helpful. Satan likes it when he is considered a myth or (im)pious fable. This makes it easier to lead people to consider God in the same light.

The classic goateed, horn-headed, pointy-tailed, tights wearing, pitchfork carrying caricature doesn’t inspire much fear in most people. Furthermore, such a lighthearted treatment ignores the apostolic warning that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:14)”

Darth MauWhile not comic, stereotypical horror film depictions of the devil similarly disregard the main ways in which the devil leads people to sin and eternal destruction. His true, vile nature must be hidden that he might be most effective. He works better in disguise, beguiling and enticing rather than intimidating. If every vice looked more like a festering sore and less like a box of chocolates (or a steak served medium rare), would so many people be in such a rush to indulge their sinful natures?

At the same time, humor directed against him is, at times, a valuable weapon against temptation. Luther considered laughing at the devil a part of his arsenal against the Evil One. He recognized that pride is the devil’s natural state; he cannot bear being scorned. Yet any mockery mustn’t be an individual challenge to combat against one who is much stronger. Instead, it should flow from faith in Christ, where one truly knows that Christ has defeated the devil, and that the power to resist comes from without (God) and not from within (self).

Sympathy for the DevilI suppose that, as I see it, the bottom line is that there is no bottom line, no “one size fits all” response. In the Christian life, we act in accord with God’s Word while also paying attention to surrounding circumstances. For example, how do Christians react to the costuming and culture of Halloween? A brief post from the Cranach blog with accompanying comments and a longer post from Aardvark Alley touch in different ways on the topic and related means of reacting to the devil. However we respond, Christians will not follow the example of the Rolling Stones: There’s no way we show Sympathy for the Devil — he is utterly ruthless and totally bent on our eternal damnation.

If any theologian took seriously the devil and all his works and ways, we’d have to say it was Martin Luther. Yet Luther also realized that a dour, depressed Christian leaves himself open to satanic assaults. So he said, “Almost every night when I wake up the devil is there and wants to dispute with me. I have come to this conclusion: When the argument that the Christian is without the law and above the law doesn’t help, I instantly chase him away with a fart. (LW 54)”

However, the reformer immediately continued with a serious reminder about our need for prayer and support from each other: “The rogue wants to dispute about righteousness although he is himself a knave, for he kicked God out of heaven and crucified his Son. No man should be alone when he opposes Satan. The church and the ministry of the Word were instituted for this purpose, that hands may be joined together and one may help another. If the prayer of one doesn’t help, the prayer of another will. (LW 54)”

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Luther quotes marked LW 54 are from the section “Table Talk Recorded by Veit Dietrich,” No. 469 in Luther’s Works, vol. 54: “Table Talk” (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. © 1967 Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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