And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. I say again, let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little.” (2 Corinthians 11:14-16, KJV)
In the movie “Needful Things” (based on the 1991 Stephen King novel of the same name), we see a perfect rendition of the insidious, orchestrated way the devil operates. The devil (played by Max Von Sydow), operating under the name “Leland Gaunt” moves into a small town in Maine and opens up a store called “Needful Things.” On the outside, it looks like any other second-hand or antique store. Upon closer inspection, we come to discover that the items in this store aren’t just any ordinary items. Each item in that store has some sort of connection or tie to someone’s childhood, such as a favorite toy that was lost, causing an emotional tie associated with that item. When someone comes into the store, the item is suggested to the customer, eliciting that emotional tie, that memory, to that item. But instead of buying and paying for those objects, they are asked to do a “favor” for the devil. Whether it’s dirtying someone’s clean laundry (causing an intense rift between neighbors) or some other prank, the ultimate end builds until people are committing murder against one another.
The one in the movie who was more discerning than everyone else was the sheriff, played by Ed Harris. He was the proverbial “outsider,” the one who was originally from the big city and moved to the small city to try and get away from inner city craziness. His objectivity led him to discernment, to see that all these events could not have possibly been unconnected and tracked it all back to the devil himself, Leland Gaunt.
The thing many people probably miss is the catch that the devil didn’t start out in someone, telling them to kill the other person. He started out insidiously, with one little thing and another, all in the pursuit of this one thing that elicited need in the individual. Satan didn’t appear in someone’s life demanding they do something so evil they would immediately retreat – he appeared, offering to meet a need, playing on people’s emotions, and asking them to make little compromises here and there in pursuit of getting that need met. He made it completely justifiable, something that someone could write off, saying, “Well, this thing means a lot to me, so I’ll just do this little thing. It’s just a little thing!”
People, we are so used to dramatic movies like The Exorcist, The Omen, and Rosemary’s Baby that we have forgotten Satan doesn’t often start out with us in big, dramatic ways. There isn’t a soul alive who wakes up in the morning and sets themselves out to be demonically possessed that day. Nobody’s head is going to spin around, nor spit out split pea soup, and projectile vomit it (that’s what special effects are for) when they are operating in a demonic spirit. No, Satan operates much more quietly: he offers us everything we think we need to get whatever it is we want. Whether it’s promotion, money, attention, advancement, a relationship, or the answer to an emotional issue (loneliness, despair, etc.), we fail to realize that everything that comes along, meeting the needs we have and giving us the acclaim that we need, is not necessarily God. The enemy doesn’t stand over in the corner and jump up and down, yelling, “HEY, OVER HERE, WHO HOO, I’M THE DEVIL!” No – the Word tells us he makes himself look like something good, desirable. Satan disguises himself as an angel of light – as something that comes along, swoops in, and seems to have all the answers. It’s a quick rush, stirring us up and putting us into a place where we are willing to start a long chain of compromises so we can have what we think we want or need. He stirs us with our feelings, our sentiments, our deepest longings and desires, the memories of things lost (that he is often the one who stole them from us) and of things hoped for…just enough so we will make a little compromise. We’ll behave unseemly, or gossip about this one or that one, or fail to do what we should…until one little compromise turns into another, and another, and another turns into one great big compromise. This is why the Song of Solomon 2:5 tells us, “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.” (KJV) In other words – the little things matter. If we watch the little things, we won’t be so easily taken in by bigger things.
We also need to pay attention to the people who operate the gift of discernment around us. In the movie, the sheriff was objective because he was an outsider – and in discernment, we could say the gift of discernment makes those of us with it outsiders, as well. We aren’t all caught up in the emotionalism and those different ties the devil and demons play on in order to get the results they want from someone. If someone with discernment is cautioning against something, saying something doesn’t sound right, or is just issuing a general warning, it’s best to heed, hear, and listen. Heeding discernment can avoid a lot of trouble later on, because the voice of discernment helps the body of believers disconnet itself from vain emotionalism and all those things that sound good…but come with a high price.
If you want to see progress in your spiritual life, watch your “needful things.” Listen to discernment. Idols don’t become idols just because they exist; they become idols because we attach concepts to certain things and we are willing to compromise in order to make those concepts become a reality. The devil comes roaming around along with his workers to every one of us at a certain point in time, offering us everything we want…if we will only do him a little “favor!”
(c) 2014 by Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.