To love the right,
Yet do so wrong.
To be the weak,
Yet burn to be so strong.
Go rider, although your ride has been through life.
Go rider, I see your soul through the devil’s eyes.
It seemed rather odd at first to take my inspiration from a secular song. I mean, after all, much of Mr. Erna’s work harkens toward a pagan, not a Christian, worldview. Yet, from deep within this song, I hear a subtle cry; a cry that longs for release yet falls just short of relief. I hear the cries of the Gentile woman who was willing to “eat the scraps from underneath the master’s table” (ESV Mt 15.27). I hear the surprise in the Samaritan woman’s voice when Jesus endeavors to speak with her (ESV Jn 4.9). I hear the father desperately crying out to Jesus to help him overcome unbelief (ESV Mk 9.24). Each of these individuals longed for release from their pain; however, each knew they were desperately holding back a closet full of bleached bones. There had been sin in their past. They did not see themselves as Jesus did; instead, these three individuals saw their souls through the devil’s eyes (Erna). James writes that after a man gazes into the Word, then turns and forgets what it says will be deceived in regard to their true image (Moo 112). Jesus came not to condemn, but to make righteous the sinner; to forget that singular fact is to walk away from the mirror and plunge headlong into a powerful self-delusion.
After a public declaration of faith and baptism, no one even thinks about walking away from their faith. Everything is new and exciting. In those first few years of faith, I can remember eagerly devouring Scripture. I worked intently on memorizing Scripture verses and making it a point to have only Christian music playing in our home. I wanted our home to be fertile ground for our kids to grow up into a personal, all-consuming faith in Christ. I held fast for years in my devotional life and faithfully instructed our children at home, always being conscious to point them to their Heavenly Father. Then something happened. I lost the enthusiasm for reading Scripture. I was lax in memorizing Scripture verses. I allowed secular music to seep into the house without keeping it properly balanced. In essence I became lazy and soon I walked away from the mirror and completely forgot what I looked like (ESV Ja 1.23, 24). Before I was fully conscious of what had happened, I had opened the door to Satan, invited him in, and allowed him to have free reign.
Le Fanu’s character, the Reverend Jennings, experiences a similar situation. A devoted preacher and avid student of the Word, Mr. Jennings thought it would be worthwhile to engage in an in-depth study ‘upon the religious metaphysics of the ancients” (Le Fanu 17). While engaging in study of non-Christian topics in itself is not dangerous, it should not become an all-consuming practice. In his book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald S. Whitney emphasizes the importance of meditation in the life a believer. Meditation, as defined by Whitney, is “deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purpose of understanding, application, and prayer” (48). Throughout the day, the believer should be thinking on the Word of God and allowing it to seep into the deepest recesses of the mind, spilling over into every aspect of life (Whitney 48). As Scripture becomes a part of the soul, a fire ignites, consuming the heart and mind, spurring the believer into action (ESV Ps 39.3, Whitney 48-49). The problem that Mr. Jennings faced was in direct relation to his object of meditation. His work became his source of spiritual nourishment as his mind was intrigued by his study. Jennings admits that:
“I wrote a great deal; I wrote late at night. I was always thinking on the subject, walking about, wherever I was, everywhere. It thoroughly infected me. You are to remember that all the material ideas connected with it were more or less beautiful, the subject itself delightfully interesting, and I, then, without a care” (Le Fanu 17).
He knew that all this study was not good for the Christian mind, yet he continued to press on with his studies until one fateful night when an imp appeared to him from the dark recesses of an omnibus (Le Fanu 16, 17).
An imp, according to Dictionary.com, is a little devil or demon; an evil spirit. Looking at the origin of the word, and the meaning becomes even more fascinating. It comes from the Middle English impe, meaning shoot or graft and the Old High German impfen, meaning to inoculate (Dictionary.com). Edgar Allan Poe, in his short story Imp of the Perverse, defines this imp as grafting in or inoculating man with “a radical, a primitive impulse” to act on a thought for the “reason that we should not” (638). Stemming from this impulse, Poe suggests, is a lack of an aversion to injury; in fact, a man captured by this impulse may be compelled to commit suicide for the mere sake of the lure of death itself (638). While this seems contradictory to man’s innate desire for survival, Poe writes:
“In theory, no reason can be more unreasonable; but, in fact, there is none more strong. With certain minds, under certain conditions, it becomes absolutely irresistible. I am not more certain that I breath, than that the assurance of the wrong or error of any action is often the one unconquerable force which impels us, and alone impels us to its prosecution…but in the case of that something which I term perverseness, the desire to be well is not only not aroused, but a strongly antagonistical sentiment exists” (638).
The Apostle Paul, in Romans chapter 7, appears to agree with Poe’s sentiments. Paul explains that the law brings death, for sin, which seizes upon the mind via the command, produces evil desire, and that evil desire produces death (ESV Ro 7.7-11). The life lived in the body is one that is sold out to sin and despite every good intention to the contrary, sinful behavior will prevail. Paul explains:
“…I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me…for I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (ESV Ro 7.15-20).
Mr. Jennings, by meditating day and night on the religious metaphysics of the ancients, had inoculated himself and the imp that followed him was the physical manifestation of this obsession.
Considering the fact that Mr. Jennings was a vicar and schooled in the Law of God, one would think this would only be a minor nuisance and easily dealt with and discarded. Jennings should have been able to recall Paul’s warning to the Church at Ephesus that the battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (ESV Eph 6.12). To vanquish this enemy, all one need do is put on the full armor of God and take a bold stand (ESV Eph 6.13-16). This, however, is not what Mr. Jennings chooses to do. Instead, he decides that he is going to fight this battle using material means by “living for awhile in sensation apart from thought” and send himself “forcibly…into a new a groove” (Le Fanu 21). Unfortunately for Mr. Jennings, this course of action did not work and the manifestation continued and intensified.
In the first phase of the manifestation, the imp was rather docile. It would appear suddenly, then disappear just a quickly, sometimes for weeks (Le Fanu 21). The only odd aspect of its character during the first phase of the manifestation, Jennings noted, was that it had a character of extreme malignity and appeared sullen and sick, but other than that it seemed relatively harmless (Le Fanu 21). As the manifestation continued, however, this was not the case. In the second phase, the imp became aggressive and confrontational. It became almost impossible for Jennings to discharge his duties as vicar of his congregation. While ministering to his congregation, the imp would leap onto his open Bible and sit there, making it impossible for Jennings to continue reading (Le Fanu 23). It would become increasingly aggressive when he attempted to pray, and if he meditated while praying, it would creep closer and closer, its image invaded Jenning’s mind, until he felt overpowered and obliged to rise from his knees (Le Fanu 24). In the final phase, the imp began speaking, urging him to commit crimes, injure others, or himself (Le Fanu 26). Slowly, ever so slowly, Mr. Jennings passive behavior had allowed the imp to gain a foothold and slowly begin to dominate his life. What started out as a mere annoyance, had eroded his ability to speak the Word of God, meditate on the Word, or seek God in prayer. He effectively allowed this evil presence to render him mute and seemingly defenseless.
Mr. Jennings is the man who has forgotten the perfect way described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. He spent so much of his life gazing intently into the mirror, but only retained a darken image. He is the man who has walked away and forgotten what he looks like. He has forgotten the perfect law of liberty; however, even more importantly, he has forgotten that the enemy he faces exists in the spiritual realm and he cannot wage war against it with weapons used to battle against the flesh and blood enemies of the world. Even when reminded that the enemy he faced “can have no power to hurt…unless it be given from above…that is, under God, your [Jennings] comfort and reliance,” his first inclination is to lament that this imp is “gaining such an influence…it orders me about, it is such a tyrant, and I’m growing helpless” (Le Fanu 26). The very irony of his lament is his calling out to God for deliverance, yet trusting solely in a doctor for the cure. Escaped from his mind are the words of James that if one submits to God and resists the devil, he must flee (ESV Ja 4.7). In the end, despite his knowledge of God and sincere reminders from his doctor, Mr. Jennings resorts to suicide as a means of release.
The Reverend Jennings is what Poe would call “one of the many uncounted victims of the Imp of the Perverse” (640). He allowed himself to lose sight of his image in Christ and instead began to see himself with the devil’s eyes. This shift of sight cost his life, a life that should have only been momentarily inconvenienced with this manifestation then allow to proceed, unaltered, to a ripe old age. This, I think, in many ways is what had slowly crept in and invaded my life. It happened subtly, just like Mr. Jennings’ imp. I allowed myself to be lulled into a complacency in regard to my faith journey. There were even moments when, as Poe confesses, that I was eerily attracted to dangerous activities by the lure of death. The only means of escape from this powerful self-delusion was to run back to God and hand Him my burden, allow him to free the ghosts of the past, place salve upon my eyes, and gently guide me back to Him. This is the promise He offers all who seek him. Just before his death, Mr. Jennings was reassured by a friend that God was indeed protecting him. Despite the grave situation and spiritual misery, Jennings was reassured that he was “preserved nevertheless. It was an act of God. You are in his hands and in the power of no other being; be therefore confident for the future” (Le Fanu 26). Beloved, if you are reading this, know that God has you too in His hands. He is eager to shoulder your burdens and give you rest. Let go and fall safety into His loving arms.
Biblegateway. Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles. 2001. Web. 29 June 2016.
Erna, Sully. “Sinner’s Prayer.” Avalon. Universal Republic Records. 2010. M4A.
Fuseli, Henry. The Nightmare. 1781. Oil paint. Detroit Institute of Arts. JPEG.
– – – Silence. 1799-1801. Oil on canvas. Kunsthaus, Zurich. JPEG.
“Imp.” The American Heritage Abbreviations Dictionary, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin. 2005. Web.
Le, Fanu Sheridan. In a Glass Darkly. London:Wordsworth. 1995. Print.
Moo, Douglas J. Tyndall New Testament Commentaries: James. Downers Grove:IVP. 2015. Print.
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York:Barnes and Noble. 1992. Print.
Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs:NavPress. 1991. Print.