Is There Really a Devil?

Greg GarrettBy Greg Garrett

Is there a devil? Maybe. But I doubt it. I'd dearly love to blame my faint-heartedness, faithlessness, and fickleness on some Big Bad whose cosmic function it is to entice people into evil, but it doesn't feel true to my experience of life or to my understanding of God.

Augustine, who talked an awful lot -- maybe too much -- about sin, did have valuable insights into evil and our human role in it. Although I continue to wrestle with Augustine's conception of original sin, I do recognize that human beings are innately selfish, and so I accept that we are prone to what Augustine called "disordered desires." God has made us in God's image and given us desires that should lead us back to God, but our human nature often leads us to choose ways of fulfilling those desires that satisfy us temporarily but erect walls between us and God (and usually, for good measure, between us and others, and even between us and our truest selves).

I believe there is a force of evil in the world, powers and principalities that stand in opposition to the Kingdom. But I don't think we need to look outside ourselves at some supernatural outside agent. That's why I love my tradition's emphasis on confession, not because I believe we need to beat ourselves up, but because confession helps me to remind myself at least once a week to be alert -- and contrite -- when my disordered desires lead me away from God.

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Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including the forthcoming The Other Jesus from Westminster John Knox Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.

10/18/2010 4:00:00 AM
  • Evil
  • sin
  • What Do I Really Believe
  • Christianity
  • Greg Garrett
    About Greg Garrett
    Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post,, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.