When I was 21, I got swept away by the love and goodness of God. I felt that God loved me and I was undone and swept into a kind of alive faith that was all about the love of God and that was super reckless because I was ready to do whatever God wanted.
There’s a scene in the Bible where Jesus has this huge moment where God says “You are my beloved son, and I’m so pleased with you” and then Jesus immediately gets hauled off to the desert to be tempted by the devil, and I feel like that’s pretty much what happened to me.
Two of the temptations went along the lines of, “If you are the son of God, do this random hard thing because I said so.”
Jesus quoted Deuteronomy and avoided running errands for the devil.
Me? Less so.
I read a book called Under Cover that said I was supposed to submit to any and all authority because God put authority over me, which (according to the CREEPY author) meant that even if my dad was abusive and I was literally 21, God put my dad in authority over me and I needed to move back in with him and obey him. (Yeah, YIKES.)
But since there were Bible verses that got stitched together to indicate that this was exactly what God wanted, God who loved me – that is, because I was God’s beloved son… I did it. (Non-spoiler: it was terrible).
And then I found that one verse where Jesus told the rich man to sell everything he had and give it to the poor and come, follow me.
I had some money saved up that I was thinking of using to put a down payment on a house, and I felt like God was telling me that I needed to give it all away. I felt it was not as important where I give it away as that I needed to not have it.
Thanks be to God, a friend pulled me back from that ledge.
I later used that money for my freshman year of college.
It was only much later that I came to realize that these things I was doing (or being tempted to do) “for God” weren’t actually things God wanted me to do.
They had nothing to do with loving my neighbor. There was no kindness in them for me. There was nothing good for the world in it. It was brought on by anxious navel-gazing.
There was no good reason for this other than some fancy philosophizing and randomly stitching verses together to build some kind of creepy cultish theology.
It just turned out to be harmful to me and useless for the world, at best, and harmful to me and the world, at worst.
Now to be extra-clear here, I don’t think it makes me a bad person to have fallen for that. It happened because of a sincere faith. Misguided, but sincere. It took me a long time to identify that as “running errands for the devil” rather than just “I’m being obedient to God.”
It’s been super transformative to identify it as busywork I got sent off on rather than what God wanted me to do, because I don’t have to worry anymore that God will send me off to do something like that, and the fact that I can identify it as such now makes me more likely to be able to identify similar tactics in the future.
Anyway, what errands have you run for the devil?*
*I don’t have strong opinions about the existence of a personal devil. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t, but if there is I’ve always been inspired by this story about Smith Wigglesworth:
He claims to have awakened one night and seen the devil himself sitting in a rocking chair by his bed. He was alarmed until realized it was the devil. Then he said “Oh, it’s only you,” and went back to sleep.