It would be easy if Satan came as he is often portrayed, with horns and a pitchfork. We would naturally flee this ugliness.
Alas, he often comes cloaked in beauty, in sheep’s clothing:
- He claims to offer us freedom and autonomy from an unreasonable God and Church, liberation from rules and being “told what to do.”
- He cloaks himself in the false righteousness of being “tolerant” and “not judging others.”
- He exalts us by telling us we have finally come of age and can disregard the “hang-ups” and “repression” our ancestors had of sex and pleasure.
- He flatters us by extolling our scientific knowledge and inflates us by equating it with wisdom and moral superiority over our “primitive” fore-bearers.
- He reassures us by insisting we are merely the victims here, victims of biological urges, bad parenting, economic injustice, that we are not depraved, just deprived.
- He humors us by making us laugh at sin, making light of it in comedian’s routines, sitcoms, music and otherwise turning sin into a form of entertainment.
- He anesthetizes the pain of guilt and sin by sending us teachers who tickle our ears and assure us that what we know deep down to be wrong is actually fine, even virtuous.
- He affirms us by insisting that whenever shortcomings in us have been called to our attention it is simply unfair since other people are surely worse, that self esteem is something owed to us and others who lessen it are unkind.
- He sings to us the lullaby of presumption assuring us that consequences and judgment will not be our lot and, with this lullaby, we drift off into a moral sleep of indifference and false confidence.
But in the end, there is a wolf under the sheepskin. Satan is ugly. He enslaves, condemns, ridicules and ensnares. His “reassurances” bring pain and grief as the awful effects of sin unwind: hatred, fear, resentments, revenge, suffering, disease, addiction, bondage, strife, divorce, estrangement, war, insurrection, disloyalty, scorn, bitterness, depression, anxiety, depletion, poverty, loss and deep, deep sorrow.
Beware, Satan has many disguises and he seldom presents as he really is. The movie The Passion of the Christ brilliantly presented Satan in the Garden. At first there was almost a strange beauty. But a closer look revealed increasingly hideous details: cold, fixed eyes, sharp and discolored nails, sickly pale skin, suddenly androgynous qualities, and a disgusting maggot crawling in and out of the nose. An audible moan came from the audience in the theater where I first saw it. Would that, beyond the movie, we could sense this revulsion and clarity as to the evil of Satan and his truest reality.