This week, our church’s hot water heater broke and flooded the main lobby and some offices. Suddenly, many people had theories why this happened. Fortunately, the church staff did not come up with supernatural reasons for the hot water heater. Many of the church patrons, of course, did. “The devil broke the water heater” was the cry from many a church patron.
Let’s look at this statement and analyze it a bit. The devil: the force of evil in the world, the being who saw God create the world and thought “I think I can beat him”, the being who opposed God so much that a plan had to be enacted to save humanity, broke a hot water heater. This heinous destruction prevented people from doing good works by… making the floors a bit damp. Wow, I can smell the sulphur and brimstone. I guess we should assume the whole city of Aurora is sliding into hell now. That will probably dry out the floors, at least.
I get really annoyed when people blame aspects of everyday life on “the devil”. Get a flat tire, the devil. Car breaks down, the devil. Get food poisoning, the devil. Kidnap three women and keep them captive in your house for decades, the devil. Ok, there may be some things that can be said about that last one. It never seems to occur to people to ask a question like “How, exactly, does my having a flat tire have anything to do with the devil?” Granted, most people who blame everyday life on the devil don’t usually see things logically. It turns into a special sort of theological discussion when I ask questions like, “Is it possible…just possible mind you…that you got a flat tire because you ran over that open box of rusty nails?” or “Is it possible that your car broke down because you haven’t done any maintenance on it in six years?” or even “Is it possible that the hot water heater broke because it was twenty five years old and used every day?” I have learned to just nod and smile and subtly grab a heavy blunt object when having these discussions.
I once left a church because of “the devil made me do it” type comments. One of the pastors got up and said that he once saw “the devil” make an exact replica of himself out of a demon. The sentence that I thought immediately in my head when I heard this was ,”So if you see me leaving the porn,liquor, and kitten killing store with a take out box, that was really a demon”.I stood up and walked out of the thirty person church and laughed. I tried to blame the devil for my laughter, but it was too hard because of the tears and wheezing.
Humans are pretty lousy to each other without a lot of outside help. If I were to blame things on the devil, it would not be minor inconveniences of life. I would blame things that directly go against God’s plans on the devil, and that is about it.
- Things like a Baptist church gaining notoriety for saying that God hates a specific group of people (He doesn’t) and that He has judged the whole world because of our acceptance of that group (He didn’t. He forgave all sins people did, are doing, and will do. Also, God doesn’t send out a Buzzfeed type list of the people He has judged to random people).
- Things like killing in the name of Jesus (Sarajevo, family planning clinic bombings, etc)
- Things like covering up crimes that were performed by church staff.
- Plenty more examples are available, and I am not just thinking of the Twilight series,
These types of things make people turn away from the church because they see it as a bastion of hypocrisy and judgement. So next time an inconvenient event in life occurs, asking “What good can come out of this?” can sometimes help deal with the situation. It is difficult to come up with reasonable answers to that question sometimes. Statements like, “Well, I am soaked to the bone, covered in mud, and I have scratches all over my hands from changing the tire. This must be a good thing” are usually followed by some sort of intervention. That doesn’t mean you can’t find some sort of positive statement to make.
I once was thankful for a separated shoulder. About eight years ago, I was standing in the back of a pickup and the driver didn’t see I was standing. The driver goosed the truck and the tailgate swept out my legs. I fell backwards and landed on my shoulder, tearing it from the collarbone. ( I should have landed on my neck, forcing me to do a Christopher Reeve impression for the rest of my life.) I was not immediately grateful. In fact, I am fairly certain that I used some tersely worded phrases. The first two weeks of recovery were filled with anger and resentment (more than normal). Then, I ran out of food and clean clothes. I had a manual transmission car and couldn’t drive. I could not lift anything with my right hand and did not have a washing machine in my apartment. At almost 30 years old, I had to call people and ask for their help. It was pretty much the first time . I felt emasculated and weak as I called friends and asked them to help me do my laundry and get groceries. I had to have a friend help me put the laundry in the machine and carry it to the dryer. I had to have a friend carry a gallon of milk up some stairs because it was too heavy. If you could put a family motto to the attitudes of all my blood related uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents, it would be “Do it yourself and don’t ask for help.” Having to learn to ask for help was difficult, Having to accept the help was even worse. “That is my dirty underwear. Granted, fresh out of the washing machine, but still. I think I died a little from having someone else touch my dirty underwear. Yup, there is a black part of my soul cringing as we speak”.
Now, I am not thrilled that my shoulder hurts. I would not recommend the experience as one to repeat for fun, even if painkillers work on you (they don’t work on me). I could have blamed the whole incident on the devil. That would have been foolish. Sure, some of the phrases uttered during my recovery and physical therapy had a distinct “prince of darkness” tone. I didn’t break my neck. I did ask for help from friends. I did accept help from friends. I did heal most of the injury. Those things can’t be given by “the devil”.
There is a bible verse that reads “Consider it pure joy as you face trials of many kinds”. Before my incident, when I thought of that verse, I thought of crazy person suffering an injury and being happy about it. For a long time, I thought it was just a masochistic worldview. Now, I think I understand it a little better. This mentality is not limited to one religion or group of people. There is a reason we have posters that say “Don’t sweat the small stuff” or “Hang in there” or “Don’t stab people in line in front of you, even if they pull out coupons and a checkbook” or even “Crap Happens” [yes, I thought the real phrase. yes I would say the real phrase in real life. no, i don’t think I need to write it here]. I am certain there is something annoying in your life right now. I am not going to say something as pithy and annoying as “Find the positive thing about the situation”. Perhaps that annoyance just doesn’t have to be negative. “Yes, I got a flat tire. Oh well, let me put on the spare” is much better than “A flat tire! The world is against me and my life is ruined and I hate everyone”. Now, if I can just take this thought process one step further and get rid of the “You got a flat tire, HA HA (Nelson from the Simpsons laugh)”, I may actually be a quasi-decent human.