Like almost every possible theological topic, The Episcopal Church has sort of a hazy relationship with evil in its personified form. We are very clear on the power that evil wields in our everyday lives: from corrupt governments to greedy corporations to individuals who lie, cheat, steal, and respond with violence. Evil is all around us, from the evil we have done to the evil done on our behalf, but when you start to talk about demons and the devil, many Episcopalians start to squirm in their seats. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost is that, by and large, Episcopalians are comfortable with medical and social sciences and so most of what was once described as demon possession can now be easily explained as epilepsy, postpartum depression, or some other completely reasonable diagnosis. Episcopalians also tend to be wary of those who somewhat uncritically accept supernatural explanations for things that are most likely the result of one’s own choices.
Thirdly, and beyond the scope this post, is the fact that as a whole, modern, western Christians have an angelolgy that is more Hollywood than it is Biblical (hint – Aunt Mae didn’t become an angel when she died, and that’s a good thing).
Yet for all our skepticism about angels and demons and most especially the devil, on Sunday, we’ll pray a prayer that includes these words, “O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life…” Marion Hatchett, OBM, tells us that this collect was written for the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, probably by the Rt. Rev. John Cosin, Bishop of Durham, for the sixth Sunday after the Epiphany. In the 79 BCP, it was moved to Proper 27, or the third Sunday before Advent, to begin to turn our minds toward the return of Christ. (Commentary, 195)
This prayer, expressing hope for the power of God at the second coming, recalls for us the Revelation of John which, whether you take it literally or metaphorically, is a story of the great battle between good and evil. As Christians, whether we believe in a personified devil or not, we confess that Jesus Christ by his death and resurrection, has already won the battle. Good will prevail, evil and the devil will be defeated, and sin will be no more. That, I hope, is something we can all agree upon.