Picture a church with its neat little steeple, and the nattily dressed congregation dashing in the door. Picture the perfect scenario: People drawn to church because there is some longing deep in their hearts that makes them want to gather and worship God.

In this flawless church, note the crisp hymnals, all neatly aligned, the tidy prayer books, the gleaming podium, and the Good Book itself. Everyone is singing on key and there is the blissful absence of babies shrieking.

Now come back to reality.

You see, most people envisioning a church fail to picture one of its hidden occupants, who is devoted to keeping people out as much as possible.

It is the Devil himself.

In “The Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis imagines correspondence sent between an older and a younger devil, with the elder instructing the novice on how to win souls away from “the Enemy,” who is God.

One device that proves successful is emphasizing the distractions that exist in any congregation.

For Lewis, the annoyances include folks sporting double chins or wearing odd clothing and shoes that squeak. And don’t forget the guy behind you who sings horrendously and chillingly off key.

Today, there are so many other annoyances that may keep people away.

There is an old saying that the Devil is most active at the foot of the altar. And you will know he has taken a seat there if you are constantly obsessed with critiquing your pew mates, the music and the sermons.

If you find yourself staying home from church because folks there are improperly dressed, or are singing too loud or are prone to bringing their crying babies with them each week, you may be sure that the Devil is getting his due.

Think about it: What would annoy the prince of darkness more than people showing up on Sunday with all their faults, sorrows, addictions and longings, and refusing to demand perfection of their brothers and sisters?

I can attest that some Sundays I have been under attack by demons. I have nearly run screaming from church because someone near me was drenched in cologne, or was tapping her feet or singing so badly that my eardrums were aching.

There were some Sundays when the sermon was so dull that I ached to tape it and use it on the nights when I suffer from insomnia.

And, please, don’t get me started about the music, especially the Marty Haugen songs like “Enter the Journey.” Not only do I hate the music, but my sense of grammar is scorched as well, and I want to scream, “No one can ENTER a journey, for heaven’s sake!”

But then I remember St. Paul, who assures us that nothing should separate us from the love of Christ. This includes terrible things like tribulation, distress, persecution, famine and the sword.

In his day, people endured horrendous sufferings for their faith, and in many parts of the world, this continues today. There are Christians in the Middle East who don’t know if they will get through liturgy without their church being bombed.

If people can undergo such suffering to get to God, then suddenly annoying pew members and horrendous music seem like true niggles.

When we ignore distractions and turn our faces toward heaven, we are scoring another hit for the angels. And sending the Devil back to hell where he belongs.


Lorraine’s latest book is “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist” (Ignatius Press). She also is the author of “Why Me? Why Now? Finding Hope When You Have Breast Cancer” and “Grace Notes.”