The Devil is in the Details


While restoring a fresco in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, art restorers discovered something unexpected.  There, in the clouds high on the ceiling, is the devil. 

(Image courtesy of

Or maybe not.  I don’t automatically assume that a face with a hooked nose is the devil.  Yes, I see the “sly smile,” and maybe those are horns.  Those must be the details that convinced the restorers that this is the devil.  After all, the devil is in the details, or so we have been told.  It made me recall a passage from Ephesians:

“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27 NRS).

Contrary to so many proverbial commentators, Christians can be angry.  I’m a firm believer in the proper place of righteous anger.  I remember the overturning of tables in a Temple by a certain Christ (John 2:15).  The problem with anger is that it can so often lead to sin.  Anger is visceral; it gathers energy from within and explodes outward.  When it does, it can quickly cause collateral damage.  In anger we speak and act in ways that are not consistent with our character.  We say things that hurt those around us, those we love.  It takes many years of experience, training, and discipline to channel anger into the proper expression.  If not, we risk letting our anger morph into sin.  The same goes for anger that simmers over a prolonged period of time.  Eventually it bubbles to the surface and boils over before we can stop ourselves.  When it does, we lose control and open the door for sin.  The devil’s in the details. 

So what do mature, responsible Christians do with their anger?  According to scripture, bottling it up is no better than turning ourselves over to unbridled anger which quickly becomes wrath.  We channel it into action and activity that serves, not ourselves, but God.  Imagine if every time you wanted to clock someone, you took a hammer and helped construct a a house for the homeless.  Imagine taking out the verbal lashing you desire to direct at your selfish neighbor, and being in prayer with God.  Speaking to God honestly and openly about your anger with an authenticity few of us ever reach with another human being.  Imagine taking discontentment and the anger it breeds and doing something about it through mission.

I have the opportunity and ability to walk into the sanctuary of my church whenever I so please and laying my sins of the altar.  Sometimes I do that literally and most of the time I do it symbolically, but I do it.  I have been known to speak out loud about all the injustice I witness and experience while standing before the altar.  I have written out my complaints and actually laid them on that hallowed space, physically turning it over to God.  The devil in the details is that I have to do something.  I have to go to that sacred place and I have to have a conversation.  I have to respond to my anger or I am submitting to it.  Christians have to respond appropriately in a Christ-like fashion.  My anger is not of the devil.  The way I (mis)handle it is.


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