One of the key elements in any contest is to understand the tactics of your opponent and to recognize the subtleties of the strategy or moves they may employ. In the spiritual battle of life we need to develop some sophistication in recognizing, naming, and understanding the subtleties of common tactics of the Devil.
A 2011 book by Fr. Louis Cameli, The Devil You Don’t Know is of great assistance in this matter. Having read it recently, I think it would be of value to reflect on four broad categories of the Devil’s tactics that Fr. Cameli analyzes.
While the four categories are Fr. Cameli’s, the reflections here are largely my own, but surely rooted in Fr. Cameli’s excellent work, so recently read by me. I recommend the work highly to you where these categories are aptly and fully described more than my brief reflection here can do.
And thus we examine four common tactics of the devil.
I. Deception – Jesus says The devil was a murderer from the beginning he does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks according to his own nature, he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44).
The devil deceives us with many false and empty promises. Most of these relate to the lie that we will be happier and more fulfilled if we sin, or deny aspects of the truth. Whatever passing pleasures come with sin, they are in fact passing. Great and accumulated suffering eventually comes with almost all sinful activity. Yet, despite this experience, we human beings remain very gullible, we seem to love empty promises and put all sorts of false hopes of them.
The devil also deceives us by suggesting all sorts of complexities, especially in our thinking. And thus he seeks to confuse and conceal the fundamental truth about our action. Our minds are very wily and love to indulge complexity as a way of avoiding the truth and making excuses. So we, conniving with the devil, entertain endless complications by asking “But what if this….and What about that….??!” Along with the devil, we project all sorts of possible difficulties, exceptions, or potential sob stories, to avoid insisting that we or others behave well and live according to the truth.
The devil also seeks to deceive us with “wordsmithing.” And thus the dismemberment and murder of a child through abortion becomes “reproductive freedom” or “Choice.” Sodomy is called “gay” (a word which used to mean “happy”). Our luminous Faith and ancient wisdom is called “darkness” and “ignorance.” Fornication is called “cohabitation.” And the redefinition of marriage as it is been known for some 5000 years, is labeled “marriage freedom.” And thus, through exaggerations and outright false labeling, the devil deceives us, and we too easily connive by calling good, or “no big deal,” what God calls sinful.
The devil also deceives us through the sheer volume of information. Information is not the same is truth, and data can be assembled very craftily to make deceitful points. Further, certain facts and figures can be emphasized, in exclusion to other, balancing truths. And thus even information or data which is true in itself becomes a form of deception. The news media, and other sources of information, sometimes exercise their greatest power in what they do not report. And this too is a way that the devil brings deceptions upon us.
We do well to carefully assess the many ways Satan seeks to deceive us. Do not believe everything you think or hear. While we ought not be cynical, we ought to be sober, and seek to verify what we see and hear and square it with God’s revealed truth.
II. Division – One of Jesus’ final prayers for us was that we would be one (cf John 17:22). He prayed this, at the Last Supper just before he went out to suffer and die for us. As such, he highlights that a chief aspect of his work on the Cross is to overcome the divisions intensified by Satan. Some argue that the Greek root of the word “diabolical” (diabolein) means to cut, tear, or divide. Jesus prays and works to reunify what the devil divides.
The devil’s work of division starts within each one of us as we experience many contrary drives, some noble, creative, and edifying, others base, sinful, and destructive. So often, we struggle within and feel torn apart, much as Paul describes in Romans chapter 7: The good that I want to do, I do not do…, and when I try to do good, evil is at hand. This is the work of the devil, to divide us within. And as St. Paul lays out in Romans 8, the chief work of the Lord is to establish within us the unity of soul and body, in accordance with the unity of His truth.
And of course the devil’s attack against our inner unity, spills out into many divisions among us externally. So many things help drive this division, and the devil surely taps into them all: anger, past hurts, resentments, fears, misunderstandings, greed, pride, and arrogance. There is also the impatience that we so easily develop regarding those we love, and the flawed notion that somehow, other more perfect and desirable people should be sought. And thus many abandon their marriages, family, churches and communities, always in search of the elusive goal of finding better and more perfect people and situations.
Yes, the devil has a real field day tapping in to a whole plethora of sinful dries within us, but his goal is always to divide us within ourselves, and among ourselves. We do well to recognize that, whatever our struggles with others, we all share a common enemy who seeks to divide and destroy us. As St Paul writes, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). Feuding Brothers reconcile when there is a maniac at the door. But step one is notice the maniac, and then set aside our lesser divisions.
III. Diversion – To be diverted is to be turned away from what is our primary goal or task. And for all of us, the most critical focus is God and the good things waiting for us in heaven. Our path is toward heaven, along the path of faith and obedience to the truth, love of God and love of neighbor. And thus the devil does all that he can to divert, that is, turn us away from our one true goal.
Perhaps he will do this by way of making us to be absorbed in the passing things of the world. So many claim that they are so busy that they have no time to pray, or get the church, or seek other forms of spiritual nourishment. They become absorbed in worldly things which pass, and ignore lasting reality which looms.
Anxieties and fears also cause us many distractions. And by these, the devil causes us to fixate on fears about passing things, and thereby not to have a proper fear of the judgment which awaits us. Jesus says Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28). In other words, we should have a holy reverence and fear directed towards the Lord, and in this way, many of our other fears will be seen in better perspective, or will go away altogether. But in this matter of fear, the devil says just the opposite: we should fear 10,000 things that might afflict us on this passing earth, and not think at all of the one most significant thing that awaits us, our judgment.
At the heart of all diversion is that the devil wants us to focus on lesser things to avoid focusing on greater things, such as a moral decisions, and the overall direction of our life.
Once again, we must learn to focus on what matters most, and decisively refuse to be diverted to lesser things.
IV. Discouragement – As human beings, and certainly as Christians, we ought to have high aspirations. This is good. But as in all good things, Satan often seeks to poison that which is good. For having high aspirations, it is also true that we sometimes lack the humility that recognizes that we must make a journey to that which is good, and best. Too easily then, Satan temps us to impatience with our self or others. And, in our aspirations, expected in unreasonably quick time, there comes a lack of charity toward our self or others. Some grow discouraged with themselves or others and give up on the pursuit of holiness. Others give up on the church because of the imperfections found there.
The devil also discourages us, because aspirations are generally open-ended. The fact is, there is always room for improvement, and we can always do more. But here the devil enters, for, when we can always do more, it is also possible to think we’ve never done enough. And thus the devil discourages us, sowing thoughts of unreasonable demands within us as to what we can or should do they day by day.
The devil also discourages us through simple things like fatigue, the personal failings that we all experience, setbacks, and other obstacles that are common to our human condition, and common to living in a fallen world with limited resources.
In all these ways to devil seeks to discourage us, to make us want, at some level, to give up. Only a properly developed sense of humility can help to save us from these discouraging works of Satan. For the fact is, humility, which is reverence for the truth about ourselves, teaches us that we grow and develop slowly and in stages, and that we do in fact have setbacks, and live in a world that is hard, and far from perfect. Recognizing these things, and being humble, helps us to lean more on the Lord, and trust in his providential help, which grows in us incrementally.
Here then are four common tactics of the devil. Learn to recognize and name them. In this way we start to gain authority over them. Consider buying the book by Fr. Louis Cameli to learn more.