Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:10,11)

From my earliest days as a Christian, now almost forty years, I have heard warnings about “Satan’s designs,” the various schemes and machinations by which he seeks to circumvent the rule of Christ, deceive and oppress the faithful, and imperil the progress of God’s Kingdom.

End-times novels and prospectuses featured prominently during my early years in the faith. I was encouraged to see the devil pulling the strings behind everything from the European Union to the Chinese army to computer chips to the mystical combining of the letters in JFK’s name in order to produce the numerical sign of the Antichrist.

Later, as I entered theological studies, I was warned against the subtle efforts of the Roman Pontiff to undo the progress achieved since the days of the Reformation; in not-always-so-subtle ways some of my peers and certain theologians encouraged me to hold to the original form of The Westminster Confession, which proclaimed the pope to be the Antichrist and the agent of the devil (a clause long since and happily deleted). Demon possession also featured large at times, and certain Christian writers and pop theologians made a handsome living chumming the waters of that frenzy with their fantastic tales and reports of demons and the devil lurking behind every bush (remember anointing your church windows with oil to keep the demons from invading the service?).

The practical effect of these various exposés of the devil’s ploys has been a kind of crying wolf about his wiles and ways. Hardly anybody takes the devil seriously these days, a situation noted by Andrew Delbanco in his book, The Death of Satan. It turns out the devil wasn’t in any of these things, at least not as patently and brazenly as was previously thought. We hardly ever hear about the European Union as the ten-headed dragon anymore — especially since its membership has expanded far beyond that number. Pope John Paul II was loved and honored by Christians from virtually every communion — and rightly so — and it seems the present pope might be just as highly regarded. And everybody’s talking about demons and ghosts and dragons and other sorts of trans-physical and fantastical realities these days, so much so that the terrifying uniqueness of those Biblical ne’er-do-wells appears to have been watered down and mitigated considerably. Indeed, the netherworld, it turns out, can be downright fun.

Hardly anybody worries much about these once-popular perspectives on the devil’s designs. But that doesn’t mean we should relinquish the notion that the devil still has designs on God’s people and throne. I’m certain that he does. He was probably beside himself with pleasure to see the followers of Christ frenzied and on guard against all these places where they perceived him to be most active. For these apparent schemes of the devil were but diversions, mere demonstrations meant to make us marshal our resistance against a perceived threat that didn’t really exist, while the enemy of our souls sapped the walls of the Church and established his cancerous presence within the Body of Christ by other, more subtle and destructive means.

The Danger of Sin Tolerated
Paul’s mention of the devil’s designs occurs within a context of dealing with sin in the church. Where known sin is not exposed and excised, and where repentant sinners are not fully restored to the local church, there the designs of the devil are prevailing.