When trying to make sense of the recent bombing in Boston or the tragedies of Sandy Hook and the Aurora massacres, we are faced with mindless violence – an absurd, howling kind of insane violence. It seems like the devil himself is stalking the streets – seeking whom he may devour.
An exorcist told me one of the most disturbing and maddening things about exorcism is that one can rarely diagnose the problem completely. “You see,” he said, “the devil is a liar and the father of lies. Once you have identified the demon you don’t know if you really have or not. The demon lurks within. He will lie, lie, lie. He will pretend to respond to your commands, but then trick you. He is malicious beyond your imaginings.”
I have thought much about this over the years since I heard this and realize how true it is. The devil is a liar, and because he lies all the time dealing with him is like walking on quicksand or dancing in a minefield. When dealing with evil in the personality we are constantly confronted with false images, false diagnoses, confusing signals, distractions, distortions and disturbing evidence. Is the person really possessed or is it mental illness?
It there a medical and chemical disturbance, or is it a personality disorder or is the problem psychological? Is the person disturbed emotionally or are there deep relational problems? Is there abuse, addiction or psychiatric illness? It could be all these things or a mixture of them. All these things could be woven together like an intractable knot, and added to the disturbance could be demonic influences, sinful addictions or even full blown demonic possession.
Then the problem is compounded because the demon, if there really is a demon there, will hide and deceive. He will whine and be the coward one moment and be defiant and blasphemous the next. He’ll use every ruse and diabolical subterfuge – hiding behind all manner of illnesses and madness.
The intricacy of unraveling the problem is time consuming and constantly frustrating because woven in and through all of it is the absurdity of evil. Evil causes suffering for which there is no rational answer. Because the devil is the father of lies there is not truth. None. Nowhere. Therefore the suffering he causes is irrational and absurd. This is why the suffering hurts so much – because there is no answer. The Lord of Lies is the Lord of Flies he is the master of chaos for chaos masters him. He is locked in a swamp of darkness and burning sinking sands.
C.S.Lewis captures this relentless absurdity in his space fiction Perelandra in which the hero, Ransom, embarks on a life and death struggle with a demon infested human named Weston. At one point Weston keeps Ransom awake simply by taunting him by calling his name over and over again like a child-bully. Weston never sleeps, but prowls about torturing small animals for pleasure. He argues with Ransom endlessly – using reason when he wants to, and then simply laughing or uttering absurdities when Ransom wins the argument.
This puerile, absurd and horrifying aspect of evil is what makes so much of the current “state of argument” in our own society seem so pointless. How often has one entered into debate with an atheist or agnostic only to realize that they are seemingly incapable of reasoning. They seem intelligent on the one hand, but then spout the most outrageous and ridiculous statements that do not even pretend to be rational or informed. This absurdity is the spirit of the demon. It is evil personified for evil is absurd, and evil is full of rage.
This afternoon, pondering on these matters I had a picture in my mind of Satan, restless Satan, pacing up and down, pacing up and down, his mind always feverishly at work, thinking what he might have said, thinking what he might have done to avoid Christ’s triumph, thinking what he will do, scheming and planning and working his mind over and over again, never at rest, never at rest. Chasing his pointed tail in endless, pointless and absurd debate within his proud mind.
Then I thought of the times I have done the same – when my pride has been wounded, when I’ve lost an argument, when I’ve been hurt in some way. My mind goes over and over what I should have said and how I should have behaved and what I might have done. It is the devil in me too in a way–always restless and always raging in pride.
This is the final absurdity of evil – that it is fueled with rage. It bathes in rage. This is the rage you see in the mindless bombing of the Boston Marathon. Rage seethes like volcanic lava through the evil. You can always recognize the devil at work when you see rage, for rage, like evil itself is irrational. It is pure emotion that is the opposite and the enemy of love. It is foul where love is lovely. It is irrational where love is reasonable. It is beastly where love is beautiful. It is a lie where love is the truth of heaven.
This is the frightful absurdity of evil. This absurdity and rage is the demonic poison of hatred and pride, and the only antidote, I have come to accept – the only antidote for which I plead – is the Divine Mercy.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He is author of thirteen books on the Catholic faith. Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing is available in Catholic bookshops and through his website: dwightlongenecker.com
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