One of Jesus’ final prayers for us was that we would be one (cf John 17:22). He prayed this, at the Last Supper just before he went out to suffer and die for us. As such, he highlights that a chief aspect of his work on the Cross is to overcome the divisions intensified by Satan. Some argue that the Greek root of the word “diabolical” (diabolein) means to cut, tear, or divide. Jesus prays and works to reunify what the devil divides.
The devil’s work of division starts within each one of us as we experience many contrary drives, some noble, creative, and edifying, others base, sinful, and destructive. So often, we struggle within and feel torn apart, much as Paul describes in Romans chapter 7: The good that I want to do, I do not do…, and when I try to do good, evil is at hand. This is the work of the devil, to divide us within. And as St. Paul lays out in Romans 8, the chief work of the Lord is to establish within us the unity of soul and body, in accordance with the unity of His truth.
And of course the devil’s attack against our inner unity, spills out into many divisions among us externally. So many things help drive this division, and the devil surely taps into them all: anger, past hurts, resentments, fears, misunderstandings, greed, pride, and arrogance. There is also the impatience that we so easily develop regarding those we love, and the flawed notion that somehow, other more perfect and desirable people should be sought. And thus many abandon their marriages, family, churches and communities, always in search of the elusive goal of finding better and more perfect people and situations.
Yes, the devil has a real field day tapping in to a whole plethora of sinful drives within us, but his goal is always to divide us within ourselves, and among ourselves. We do well to recognize that, whatever our struggles with others, we all share a common enemy who seeks to divide and destroy us. As St Paul writes, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). Feuding Brothers reconcile when there is a maniac at the door. But step one is notice the maniac, and then set aside our lesser divisions.
To be diverted is to be turned away from what is our primary goal or task. And for all of us, the most critical focus is God and the good things waiting for us in heaven. Our path is toward heaven, along the path of faith and obedience to the truth, love of God and love of neighbor. And thus the devil does all that he can to divert, that is, turn us away from our one true goal.
Perhaps he will do this by way of making us to be absorbed in the passing things of the world. So many claim that they are so busy that they have no time to pray, or get the church, or seek other forms of spiritual nourishment. They become absorbed in worldly things which pass, and ignore lasting reality which looms.
Anxieties and fears also cause us many distractions. And by these, the devil causes us to fixate on fears about passing things, and thereby not to have a proper fear of the judgment which awaits us. Jesus says Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28). In other words, we should have a holy reverence and fear directed towards the Lord, and in this way, many of our other fears will be seen in better perspective, or will go away altogether. But in this matter of fear, the devil says just the opposite: we should fear 10,000 things that might afflict us on this passing earth, and not think at all of the one most significant thing that awaits us, our judgment.