As funny as the cartoon above is, it is also all too true. I am old enough to remember Flip Wilson, a comedian who had a character called Geraldine Jones whose classic line was “the devil made me do it.” It was quite a laugh-getter and became one of several trademark characters that he played. Another character was Rev. Leroy of the Church of What’s Happening Now. We all laughed at his satire, but especially at Geraldine’s claim that she had little moral agency in her outrageous behavior.
I am much older now, and hopefully a little wiser. What I have found out is that the devil actually does not have to work as hard as most people would like to believe in order to get them to behave in a sinful way. The reality is that more often than I care to think about, the sin that I commit is sin that I could have resisted, maybe even resisted easily. Sometimes, the devil does not even have to do any work at all. Like the comic above says about temptation, “I find my way there all by myself.”
The idea that we have little to do with the sin into which we stumble has more to do with tribal ideas than with Christianity. Tales of things that go bump in the night possessing us or devils that have to expend vast amounts of effort in order to tempt us to sin are mostly just that, tales. Mind you, there are saints, etc., whose lives are so dedicated to the Lord that Satan and his devils do have to expend an extraordinary amount of time to tempt them in the hopes of getting them to sin. Saint Anthony the Great was one such saint.
But the reality is that for most of us, some light shoving is all that it takes to commit common sins. And, Satan is better off if we but commit only common sins. C.S. Lewis in his Screwtape Letters has Wormwood warning his young assistant that the mediocre sins are better than the great sins, for great sins lead to great saints, while mediocre sins are often easily ignored or hidden under the guise that it is the other person’s fault. Thus a mediocrity of sins is better than some rather stellar sins, as far as Satan is concerned. This means that Satan gets more mileage by mildly tempting you to a great sin which you resist while ensuring that you do not notice the small sins to which your own pride leads you. You resist the great sin while missing the undermining trickle of the small sins which are slowly eating away at your foundations.
Lent is about trying to catch those small sins, those small rivulets of evil that creep about undermining our foundations in Christ. It is about ensuring that our houses are built on solid rock and not merely on shifting sand.