On the one hand, it is unfortunately rare for people to believe in the existence of Satan and other demons. Rather, they may believe that Satan is simply a symbol of evil, a myth, or some other nonliteral idea introduced into religious thought and writings. This view is unhistorical, unbiblical, and irrational in the face of evidence supporting the existence of demons.
On the flip side, however, many Christians tend to overestimate Satan’s influence on the human population.
Have you ever heard a Christian say, when being tempted to commit a sin, something along the lines of, “Satan’s attacks are so strong” or “I feel the devil trying to crush me”? Or have you ever heard a Christian say after having committed a sin, “Satan overcame me” or “I gave in to the Devil”? Have you yourself ever said or thought such things?
Statements such as these are understandable and in many situations may even be true. Satan and his demons are real spiritual threats who do not want anything other than the fall of humanity. So they certainly can and do work their way into our hearts and souls by driving us closer to sin and, thus, further away from God.
That being said, when I hear statements like those above, I wonder if it really is Satan leading them to sin, or if it is nothing more than that person’s own human weakness.
Certainly it is very possible for it to be both. But I cannot help but think that in some, or many, situations Satan is simply being used, either purposefully or unconsciously, as a scapegoat to allow oneself the luxury of not taking personal responsibility for their own actions.
It is important to keep in mind, when we fight temptations to sin, that while the Devil and his demons may affect us to a certain degree, in some situations, it is, more often than not, our own weakness and sinful nature that leads us to commit the sins we commit. Satan can never do that, only we can choose to commit sins with the choices we make.
Even the existence of temptation itself does not always have the Devil as its source of existence. After all, contrary to popular belief, neither Satan nor his demons are omniscient, omnipresent, or all-powerful; they are infinitely weaker than our Lord, just like we are. So it is hard to believe that they would be capable of being the source of all temptations in the world.
It is far more likely, however, that most temptations find their origin in our Original Sin and in the sinful experiences that we choose for ourselves. This ties in perfectly with the Catholic understanding of forgiveness, atonement, and temporal punishment. God can and does forgive any sin, but the temporal effects of that sin may remain. If you have consistently committed the sin of lying, for instance, then despite being forgiven by God, you will probably be more easily tempted to lie again in the future. This is the result of the constant lying you have done, twisting your soul, forming it into a habitual act. Anybody who struggles with a particularly persistent sin in their lives recognizes the truth in this.
Of course you still have the grace to resist committing the sin itself, regardless of the level of temptation you feel. The point is that the source of the temptation and sin is not often the Devil, it is you.
So I encourage you to speak boldly of the snares that the Devil lays for each and every one of us. Make sure the world knows of his existence and of his powerlessness before our God. But in so doing, take care to never forget your own involvement in your own sinfulness. Blame the Devil if and when it is appropriate to do so, but be sure to blame yourself as well, for you are more accountable in such scenarios than he ever could be.
“Remember that the devil has only one door by which to enter the soul: the will.” -St. Padre Pio