But the devil has little power that we do not cede to him. As Serenus says, the devil can only encourage us to do evil, not force us. “[N]o one can be deceived by the devil but one who has chosen to yield to him the consent of his own will.” Unfortunately, and all too often, we give the tempter all the consent he requires.
When temptations and evil thoughts arise, we do not “immediately meet them with refusal and contradiction,” as Serenus says; we sometimes hold onto them, turn them over in our minds, and nurture them in our hearts.
Usually no immediate harm comes, not at least that we can tell. It’s not like handling a hot coal or clutching a burning ember. Whether the thought is prideful, lustful, vengeful, slothful, or something else altogether, because there is no flash of pain, no jolting reflex of damaged nerves, we imagine that we escape the negative effects. We think that we can gratify ourselves with sins and not be harmed.
Another of the desert fathers, Abbot Theodore, talks about the slow erosion of little sins, the passions we indulge rather than oppose. He asks us to imagine a roof with tiles that have been neglected,
through which in the first instance only very slight drippings (so to speak) of the passions make their way to the soul: but if these are not heeded, as being but small and trifling, then the beams of virtues will decay and be carried away by a great tempest of sins, through which … in the time of temptation, the devil’s attack will assail us, and the soul will be driven forth from the abode of virtue….
Think of the people you know who have irreversibly damaged friendships, careers, marriages. That “sudden tempest” that brought the roof down on their heads was not the result of the devil forcing evil upon them so much as it was the result of hundreds, if not thousands, of little agreements made with the devil already.
Sin is not always, maybe not even usually, a burning, hot coal. It’s usually just a drip of water. And it can erode and then wash away everything we value in life.
To ponder: What are your leaky roof tiles?