One of the more powerful cultural idioms on the Devil is the Southern legend about the Negro guitar player who walks the crossroads at night and signs a deal with the devil, selling his soul in exchange for musical ability (okay, that was a reference to “O Brother Where Art Thou?,” which you need to watch right now, whether or not you have already seen it). While creating powerful cultural expressions (see Aaron Lewis’ incredibly awesome song “Country Boy“), the idiom is also misleading in how we speak of salvation and the devil. While I certainly believe that individuals do sell their souls to the devil ( Kate Perry and Bob Dylan did exactly that), I think something insidious is at play. Losing one’s soul isn’t simply signing on a dotted line to a pale man wearing a dark suit and a top hat (again, this is why the South has better culture than the North), it is becoming so in love with the world that one is simply unable to open himself or herself up to the love of God. His or her heart is no longer capable of receiving the simple and loving revelation of God in Christ.
If the Devil came up to you and offered you riches in exchange for your soul, you would probably recognize the trap and say “No.” But could you recognize the trap if you were given riches anyway (no strings necessarily attached),maybe not knowing these would choke out the revelation of God to your heart?
I’m the worst of sinners, as this Great Lent seasons has already taught me. While I’m not that smart, I’ve also seen how power has changed people. I didn’t say “corrupted” people, though that’s possible, too (thus tipping my hat to Lord Acton). The danger is not so much in corruption, but in the silent snare of affluence. The ancient wisdom of the king is evident here–Lord, deliver me from both riches and poverty.
I’ll be honest here: I sometimes wish for that million dollar check in the mail so I can buy more books (especially the horrendously overpriced books in the Oxford Early Church Studies series). On the other hand, I’ve seen what happens when people get just a little extra money. Aww shucks, it ain’t even the money that’s bad–it’s the extra power and the desire for more power that’s bad.
Christ have mercy on me, for I see myself in the above picture.