Dialogue With The Devil
Abstractedly, Adam picked up the remote control and aimed it at the giant high definition screen across the room. The monstrous television set he bought for Cora had always struck him as ludicrous in the small living room. For a brief moment, after punching the on button, he watched an eerie, unnatural light grow on the set. The glow spread north, south, east, and west, forming a cruciform on the screen. As the picture developed, however, and he began changing the channels, the typical daytime programming appeared. Network and cable dramas, sitcom reruns, and talking heads flashed before his eyes.
There was, he recalled, something comforting about television. Every now and then it would beam into his living room reassuring him that everything was all right. It was, at such times, his window to normalcy, his only link to the outside world. This evening, as he gazed at the giant screen, he was a reminded in this shadowy room that, in spite of everything he had endured, the world still waited outside his door. He was not alone. Life went on very will without Cora Leeds. Too often, he had found, the house seemed to be an island unto itself, a little pocket of misery marooned in time and space—his own private corner of hell.
Over an assortment of daytime programming, he gazed lazily, his mind in idle mode and emotions on hold, until, almost arbitrarily, he paused at a likely scene. A lackluster maroon stage curtain filled the television screen. Without credits to announce the show, the curtain rose silently without fanfare to expose an uncluttered wooden stage. From stage right, a man emerged from the shadows, a tattered Bible clutched in his hand. He was not an impressive figure at first glance but rather old, doddering, and bald. Behind him, as the radius of the light widened, a classroom sized grease board seemed to be suspended in mid-air, until the light fell on a large tripod-like framework in back, the sort of learning aid expected in a lecture hall. At first his voice was a low rumble as a salutation escaped his craggy lips: “Greetings my Children. Thanks for inviting me into your home.”
“You’re welcome,” Adam presented a tired smile.
After turning up the volume, he listened with mounting curiosity, as the man began, in a paternal tone, to preach:
“Children, look to the signs, not the conventions of men. The devil has arrived on planet Earth. Don’t be fooled by those who claim holiness in the name of God, for in this age Satan, as counselor, has been let loose and will have exceeding power. In the coming days, look for two men as heralds of this age: the End Times. When you hear the prophets’ call, it will be a warning to the unsaved but a signal to the faithful that the countdown has begun.”
For a brief spell, Adam felt drawn to the preacher. Though he had never seen him on the religious channels before, there was something about the old man that other televangelist lacked. Judging by his modest graphics and humble demeanor, he seemed out of place on television. This was the sort of production he expected to see at PTA meetings or in high school gyms. There was, however, a presence about him that had caught Adam’s attention immediately. He was, in addition to being bald-headed, severely wrinkled in his black threadbare suit, and yet there was a commanding radiance about him that belied his great age. The thought came to Adam that there on that simple stage was a patriarch of the church—a true champion of the faith. As he raised his gravelly voice to wring out what seemed his last ounce of energy, his dark eyes blazed with illumination and energy as he spoke:
“Children, be patient. Keep you ear to the wind and your eye to the sky. Hearken to the sounds of distant drumming and the thunder of the Lord’s wrath. Do not believe the ecumenicists of our age who say ‘good times are ahead,’ for in those days an unholy peace will lead to unrighteous wars. Be faithful! Be vigilant! Watch for the signs.
“Beginning with the nation of Israel, the catalyst for Middle East conflict, the march of events appeared to point to Armageddon, until world conflict, political upheaval and social chaos subsided once more into the status quo. The Iron Curtain, which also pointed to Armageddon, collapsed as surely as totalitarianism at the end of World War II. With the War on Terrorism following the attack on the Twin Towers, however, the Apocalypse was given new life. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars and current war Jihadists have with Western Culture are both symptoms and signs. Armageddon is once more in sight, but not as you may think. Pay no head to forecasts. The devil has its own game!”
From this point, Adam’s patience with the sermon began to wane. Though there were a few novel twists, the sermon was uncomfortably familiar to his doctrinally liberal mind. Certain apocalyptic catchwords he recalled televangelists spouting on such channels as the Trinity and Christian Broadcasting networks, had once again been cited as important milestones to look for in the End Time chronology: the Two Witnesses, who would prophesize during the new age, the False Prophet, who would promote a one world church, and the Antichrist and his government, who would require everyone, who wanted to profit in the new order, to wear the Mark of the Beast. Adam was most troubled, however, by his statement that the devil had its own game. Did this mean that Satan could change the End Times script? And why did the preacher refer to the Devil as it and not he? These irregularities troubled him as much as the theme and the old preacher’s probing stare.
Turning finally to the grease board on the stage, the old preacher drew a simple timeline for the last days that resembled other eschatological charts, except for the Rapture that fell at the end of the Tribulation instead of at the beginning as most televangelists insisted it was.
The Church Age Seven Year Tribulation The Rapture The Millennium
2000 + Years Satan’s False Peace Wrath of Satan At the end of 1,000 Year Reign 3 ½ years 3 ½ years Tribulation of Christ on Earth Before Final Battle
After this understated use of the grease board, the old preacher looked out from his modest stage, as if he was looking directly at the Reverend Adam Leeds. He moved forward on the stage until it appeared as if his nose was touching the inside of the screen.
“I know you’re out there Satan,” he said, looking right into the living room. “I saw you rise up as a vapor from hell. You crafty fellow—such a subtle debut! I see you in the darkness now, up to your old tricks!”
Startled by this familiarity, Adam jumped straight up from his chair, his eyes glancing wildly around the room. “I don’t believe it,” he gasped, looking back at the screen, “it’s not true. The Lord, not the devil, dwells in this house!”
Satan was drawn to the television as the preacher’s face loomed large and terrible inside the set. Hovering invisibly in front of the screen, it called out shrilly “Stop it! You’re frightening him. Your battle is with me!”
“Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub—always a new plot, but I know your game. You might play by a different script, but you can’t escape prophecy. These events will happen, whether you like it or not!”
Unheard by Adam’s mortal ears was a stream of blasphemies against God. The old preacher seemed to look right into the living room, focusing upon something Adam could not yet see.
“You just don’t get it,” scolded the preacher. “You never have—not in Heaven, not in Hell, not even on Earth! The outcome of history is predestined. Those milestones I listed on the board are the basic outcome of a sinful world; they can’t be altered or reversed. The future is sealed. You think by landing in Los Angeles, you’ve changed the outcome. But you can’t change the outcome, no matter how hard you try. For the prophets Daniel and John, the Revelator, who wrote in symbolism, the one-world government lies in the boundaries of Ancient Rome, but nowhere in scriptures is this area alluded to, except in the vaguest symbolic form. Forget those cryptic symbols such as the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, the Scarlet Woman, and the Seven Vials. The fact is you need religious and government leaders for what you have in mind. It doesn’t matter what you call them. It doesn’t matter what labels you use: antichrist, false prophet, one world government, or harlot church. These elements you’ll need to create mischief in the world. Los Angeles might, in deed, become the New Rome!”
The devil hissed angrily at the screen. In fascinated horror, standing transfixed in front of the set, Adam had listened to this one sided conversation, wondering if the old preacher had suddenly lost his wits. He appeared to be arguing with himself about a different version of the apocalypse, one much worse than the first. In spite of the preacher’s bluster, in this revised vision of the End Times Satan appeared to have enhanced power, since he would, in fact, be defying Holy Writ. “God forbid,” mumbled Adam, biting his fist.
After uttering its unheard plea, “Adam, change the channel. Don’t listen to those lies. He’s got it all wrong!” Satan flew irately around the room.
As if in response, Adam did, in fact, change the channel, exorcizing God from his set. Though he punched the controller several times to rid himself of the preacher, the one-sided dialogue between the preacher and the devil had rattled his wits. He also could not shake the feeling that, despite his eccentricity, the preacher had intended this monologue for him. A few moments ago the man had seemed paternal, even patriarchal, but now Adam wasn’t sure what he believed. Was this living room chat an attention-grabber for his amateurish production? Why was he pretending to talk to the devil, as if he was in this very room?
A cereal commercial, talk show host, and a soap opera flashed before his eyes, as he punched the controller, until he paused at a cable news channel and sat there intrigued with a news report:
“According to our correspondent in the Vatican, the new Pope and several religious leaders from other faiths have reached an historic agreement to work together for the spread of the Gospel…”
After listening to this report, Adam realized, with inexplicable alarm, that such an agreement would lead logically, as the old preacher predicted, to a one world or universal church. Adam had always thought that ecumenicalism was a good idea. It would, he believed, help heal socio-political boundaries and encourage world peace. For some reason, however, after listening to the old preacher, it seemed wrong. He made a mental note to discuss this with the elders tomorrow. Some members of the church favored an outreach program to other sects and faiths, which, if nothing else, might taint Adam’s hope for an enlightened congregation by mixing with conservative Roman Catholicism and Protestant fundamentalist ideologues.
After listening to the reporter list the many Judeo-Christian ministers, rabbis, and prelates attending the meeting in Los Angeles as members of the ecumenical counsel of churches, Adam shuddered involuntarily as a familiar breeze blew into his face. As a liberal theologian, he gave little credence to the connection between the meeting between Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders and the apocalyptic timeline given by the preacher, and yet the notion of being corrupted by conservative Christianity or Orthodox Judaism bothered him very much.
“Just turn it off. Don’t listen to that rubbish!” Satan’s counsel remained unheard.
Marveling at this timely newscast, Adam once again appeared to oblige the Tempter by punching the controller several times to distance himself from religious sermons and news. Bypassing any channel that had a “talking head,” ongoing news, or even talk show hosts, he listened to a soap opera awhile to blot out a notion growing in his mind.
“Oh Frank,” a blond-headed actress exclaimed, against the backdrop of a living room much like his own, “you’re back to your old ways. Please tell me this is a lie…”
In the foreground he saw and heard typical daytime drama: a husband confessing his infidelities to his wife. But in the background of this cozy setting Adam could see the couple’s television, and on the set the mute face of the old preacher, on the same stage apparently giving the same sermon he had been giving this hour.
“That’s impossible,” he cried, rising excitedly to his feet, “these programs are taped. They’re not live.” “… unless,” he told himself unconvincingly, “this is a different sermon.” “That would explain it.” He uttered an equally unconvincing laugh. “He’s probably delivering a different sermon this time. The crazy old fool!”
Adam turned the volume up in an effort to capture the voice of the preacher on the set, but all he managed to do was fill the house with blaring voices (“It’s true, Muriel, I slept with Sue Ann, but it’s over. It happened last summer in New York…”)
“This is ridiculous!” raged the Tempter, soaring angrily around the room. “Turn it off, Adam. Clear your head of this rubbish. Smash that electronic monster to smithereens!”
In a rote-like motion now, as if he was once again obeying the Tempter’s command, he punched the controller. This time, however, he experimentally changed the channel to where he thought the old preacher had been. Sure enough, he discovered with a shudder, the old man was still pressed up against the screen, muttering “Repent, before it’s too late!”
“What’s the matter with you?” shrieked the devil. “Why can’t you leave well enough alone?”
After punching the controller until he arrived back at cable news, he discovered that the subject had changed to the current problems in the Middle East. For a moment, the devil wondered if he had made a breakthrough. Each time that it had flown into a rage, the reverend responded by changing the channel. Sometimes it even seemed as if it registered on his face. This time, moreover, there was no religious overtones to the sound and picture. It appeared as if God had at last given up on Satan… and Adam Leeds.
“That’s more like it,” it said, settling close by.
Adam likewise settled back in his chair and listened to the news anchor move from one subject to another, from deeply troubling issues to inane Hollywood fluff. As he channel surfed, commercials, talk shows, movies, set-com re-runs, home improvement and food channel shows, and a commentator interviewing a celebrity paraded before his eyes. On Trinity Network, however, where he had discovered the old preacher, there was a younger minister discussing missionary activity in Africa. The old preacher had finally vanished as a genie into the set.
“What are you doing now?” groaned Satan.
“Poof!” Adam murmured in disbelief. “…. Where did he go?” “…. Good riddance!” he mumbled uncertainly under his breath.
“That’s right, good riddance,” Satan sighed wearily to itself. “Now lift up the controller
…. That’s right, turn it off!”
The screen went dark. The room fell silent. In his current state of mind, any inspiration from the Lord had been welcome. He needed all the encouragement he could get. But the last fifteen minutes of television had shaken his basic beliefs. It was quite possible, he reasoned, that the news bulletin was mere coincidence, but the old preacher had kept popping up like a jack-in-the-box on the set.
Sinking down further into his chair, he reflected more deeply upon what he believed. His liberal, feel-good theology saw an increasingly enlightened world, in which men and women had a personal but philosophical relationship with God. Recently, he had latched onto Norman Vincent Peale’s positive thinking philosophy, which had got him into trouble with the elders but had re-energized his faith. There simply was no room in his perspective for the Apocalypse and the old preacher’s scenario for the End Times.
At the core of his religion, was his liberal Protestant belief that the Book of Revelations written by Saint John, the Devine, from which most of the Apocalypse was based, was intended only for church members who had gone astray. In short, it was, in Adam’s mind, a glorified religious polemic against the heretics and backsliders of John’s day. He had been forced to read and analyze it as a seminary student, but he had avoided it ever since.
The old preacher’s sermon, though slightly altered, was a familiar theme for televangelists, which had gained momentum in the past decades when terrorism and political upheavals swept over the globe. Adam had tried to reinforce his congregation with positive images, but it was difficult after the 9-11 attack on the Twin Towers and the wars following in Iraq and Afghanistan. The basic premise of doomsday criers had not changed: repent, because the end of the world was near. The countdown until doomsday and the prophetic events leading up to Armageddon still constituted the Christian Apocalypse. An entire division of theology (eschatology) was devoted to doomsday forecasting based upon prophesy from Revelations and other apocalyptic books. But the warnings were illogical and monotonously familiar to Adam. More importantly to him, they gave a negative interpretation of the Bible and distorted Christ’s words.
“How many times,” he recently preached from the pulpit, “have there been signs and portents heralding the last days, which were even worse than those cited in our age? Evangelists predict that dark days are coming in which an Antichrist will rule a godless world. But Nero had been an Antichrist. So had Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan. Hitler and Stalin had been Antichrists in periods of great tribulation. And yet none of these monsters survived.” “Everyone from the lowest proletarian up to the worst demagogue dies and faces judgment!” He had cried out to his congregation. And that is what counts, he thought in his current sanctimonious frame of mind: good versus evil and the avoidance of damnation—the direction Cora is going if she doesn’t behave.
Despite the flaws he saw in the old preacher’s sermon, Adam felt uneasy about the preacher, himself, especially after seeing him on a daytime soap. And why had he vanished so completely from the Trinity Network? This disappearance, he had noted, had been on the quarter-hour, which was unusual for television programming. It was as if he had appeared for just his benefit. If so, why? To a dyed-in-the-wool liberal theologian, what was the point? And why had he appeared on this channel at this particular time and then again in a soap opera prop? Was the sermon, as the breeze, part of God’s plan to redirect his life? If so, why didn’t God speak plainly to him? Why would He attempt to communicate through an octogenarian using a subject he believed was in error? And what about that troublesome breeze in his home and that arctic gale blowing through the church? Was the old preacher, the draft, and strange dreams mere proof that, after his long nightmare with Cora, he was finally losing his mind?….Why did it seem that the old preacher had been talking directly to him?
“Lord, is this what you want?” he broke into prayer. “To change the content of my sermons? To re-direct my misspent life? I can change; I really can. But you’ll have to help me. I can’t do this alone.”
“Stop this!” Satan tried breaking through again. “Stop this at once! Look at your ridiculous marriage and your dead-end career. Tell me one good thing He’s done for you in your life!”
“…. Give me a chance Lord,” his voice rose a notch. “I’ve seen those televangelists operate. I can preach hell-fire damnation like them. I can make doomsday predictions and draw those silly timelines too. I can pound the Bible ragged with my fist.” “Please Lord,” he begged, tears gathering in his eyes, “just one more sign, but speak plainly. It must make sense. No more strange dreams or nightmares. No more arctic drafts or old men talking about rubbish on TV.”
“Adam,” Satan whispered into his ear, “enough with the signs. What am I chopped liver? Forget that old fool. I had nothing to do with your silly dreams, but neither did He. You have freewill, as do I. You’re the captain of your fate. It was I who blew through your house and your church, when all the time you thought it was Him. The fact is you don’t need Him anymore. His religion is stifling your career, leading you nowhere.”
“Hear my plea Lord,” Adam closed his eyes tightly, “guide me plainly and unambiguously.”
“Adam,” it grew irritated, “I’m your source of inspiration now, not Him. Your whole philosophy of life has been drifting toward me, a ship without a rudder, for years. It was just a matter of time. There are great things in store for you, if you but open your mind. Stop praying to that old fool. I—not the Him—am knocking at the door; I’ve been knocking for a long time. Can you hear me Adam? It’s the door to you heart and soul.”
Adam jumped suddenly to his feet, his prayer growing louder and louder as if he was trying to drown Satan out: “Lord Jesus Christ—master of heaven and earth. If this be from you Lord, give me one more sign. If not, Satan bother me no more!”
“You want a sign?” Satan cried shrilly, “I’ll give you a sign!”
Angrily, as Adam continued his prayer, Satan blew as a gale through the room. This time, at room temperature, it stirred the living room curtains and rustled the newspapers on the coffee table to alert him of its presence in the house. Rising above Adam, it plunged down like a dive-bomber and whirled continually for several seconds around his face, so that he had to shut his eyes.
“The breeze again,” he acknowledged with disappointment, “that’s not what I had in mind.” “Are you the Holy Ghost?…. Are you the devil?” He asked, as if expecting a reply.
Soon the mini-tornado subsided, and he could open his eyes. When nothing further happened, he sank back into his chair filled with misgivings. “Perhaps it’s true,” he whispered to himself. “I’m going mad!”
Tempted to appear as it had to Cora (a devilish archfiend), the Tempter smoldered awhile in an invisible state, flashing unseen in back of Adam as a jack-o-lantern a moment, then subsiding back to an ambient breeze.
Not knowing he had, after doubting the old preacher, shunned God, Adam sat there feeling the breeze blow steadily a moment, then subside to the faintest of drafts. Satan studied the reverend’s mood, wondering how he could be so dense. He had just seen the face of God, and yet, because of his stubbornness, failed to recognize Him in disguise. When it first entered the Leeds household and saw Him on the screen, Satan knew immediately who He was. While praying to this same God, Adam spoke despairingly of the rubbish he heard on TV—rubbish from the mouth of the Lord! Surely, after this rebuke to God, his prayer would fall on deaf ears!
Adam’s expression, Satan noted, was one of fear and anxiety, more than regret. Rather than being haunted by the past—dreadful though it was, he was plagued by thoughts of the future: the ordeal with Cora that worsened each day. More clearly now, in spite of his misgivings, Adam sensed what was beginning and that it was beginning here in this house. He would never have guessed that he was a part of Satan, not God’s plan. But even now, with his immediate concerns, he was aware of a change in himself if not the world. Satan could sense this awareness in his eyes. There was, Adam was certain now, something peculiar about his house he had never noticed before. It was not just the disappointment or dreariness he felt. It was not merely the stench in the air that no cleanser or air purifier could remove. The home he had tried to save was now dying and was in the last throes of death. There was added to his house a sinister aspect he had only sensed before, something that went beyond the reality and horror of a shrewish, alcoholic wife. Whether mentally, physically, or spiritually present, Satan was afoot in this house. He had gained entry finally through Cora and was growing stronger by the hour.