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The Devil is in the Details – And Divisions and Distractions

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“The devil is in the details” is a common expression that originated in the 1960’s and is actually a variation of the phrase, “God is in the details” which points to how God cares about even the smallest things. “The devil is in the details” means that sometimes things which appear simple at first glance can actually prove to be more problematic than expected as one dives deeper. For example, one might come to some sort of business agreement or sale on the major terms (e.g., price), but various “fine print” details cause the deal to fall apart. While this phrase is not found in the Bible, it does seem true to human experience and is a key tactic Satan uses in the spiritual war that is unseen but real – and we often find ourselves in the midst of it whether we want to or not. As I reflected on this phrase and the tactics of Satan, I realized that there are two key ways Satan uses the “details” to draw us away from God. These are important to consider to help us push back the darkness that he seeks to bring.

Creating Divisions
One way the devil works in the details is to make it seem that people who are largely in agreement on things – and the most important things – are much farther apart. Perhaps the clearest example of this appears in church divisions and conflicts that happen within a particular church or between various churches. People in a church might agree that something needs to be done – maybe building repairs or launching a new ministry. However,  when it comes to actually doing it, people are divided over the color of the carpet, the approach, or leadership of a particular ministry. Churches also have differences from each other concerning particular beliefs (i.e. how, who, and when to baptize or how church leadership should be structured) or methodology (what kind of music to have or flow in a worship service). These differences can be magnified so the churches are portrayed as vastly different and even opposing each other instead of  realizing that they actually agree more than they disagree . . . and agree on the most important things, such as how salvation comes through faith in Christ and the Bible is our authority and guide for life. Even what they argue about often reflects agreements; for example, churches might differ on details of baptism, but they agree that people should be baptized!

Of course, these divisions don’t just emerge in churches but in many other institutions, including in marriages and families. Spouses may argue and disagree over little things and focus on those instead of all the places they are walking in step with each other. Families also can come into conflict over insignificant matters that many years later, no one even remembers what they were arguing about – just that they were arguing. The devil is in the details as he uses minor things to divide us and thus separate us from the help and aid we find in other believers as we seek to follow Christ

Causing Distractions
A related way that I see the devil using the “details” to take us away from God’s purposes and plans in this world is by using them to create distraction. These distractions may come in the form of the divisions and conflicts noted above, or they can come from a focus on the details rather than on the big picture – the proverbial act of not being able to see the forest from the trees. Again, this might happen by focusing on minor elements of the Christians faith (such as obscure theological questions like how many angels can stand on the head of a needle?) or being obsessed with the trivial such as pop culture gossip or social media antics of folks you know (or just wished you knew). It might come about as one falls down the rabbit holes of various pieces of information available in our “information age” that are not bad or ungodly, but draw our attention and energy. While some details cause division and fighting, other details may lead to us focusing on those minor details and forgetting the main thing. When that happens, the devil is happy because we aren’t focusing and seeking the kingdom of God, but rather, looking at these insignificant details.

Not Just the Details
Of course the devil has many schemes and methods by which he seeks to attack that we need to be aware of (Ephesians 6:11, 2 Corinthians 2:11), so details are not the only way. In fact, it appears the primary way he attacks would be through deceit and lies as he is the father of lies (John 8:44) and the deceiver of the world (Revelation 12:9), one who disguises himself (a type of deception) as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Therefore, we need to be on special guard for his deceit, but in the process, not forget about the way that he can use “the details” to draw us away from God. We need to remember that God is in the details, too, and cares about every little thing that we do and every little part of the world; at the same time, be aware of the devil’s schemes and to continue to draw near to God (James 4:7-8). Instead of going into details – which could lead to division or distraction – and about what that might mean, I would encourage you to do the thing I think we would all agree on – running to the Father in prayer now and on a regular basis, that He might not lead you into temptation but deliver you from the evil one.   

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