Most of us have heard the saying, “The devil is in the details”. No one really knows exactly where the maxim originated, but what’s more important is what it implies. In essence it means that small things unnoticed within our plans and schemes can cause life-changing problems. Where this can be true from a practical point of view, it should never become a tainted lens through which we view life.
This simple proverb has sadly become the motto for the way many people navigate life – Living as if they have to outrun or outmaneuver this cunning adversary because of some miscalculation. We live fearing as if we have missed something, as if somehow we have been outfoxed by an undiscernible foe – and if we miss the smallest element in our battle of wits, things unravel. Even religious people can experience this – It’s called legalism. If I miss one iota, one “jot or tittle”, I’m in for it. If I didn’t pray “just right”, say the words just right, do my duty perfectly, I’ve missed it.
Whatever your tradition is, this kind of thinking puts an unnatural burden on a person’s heart and psyche. There are certain things that we were never meant to carry – weights that we were never designed to support.
From a Christian point of view, this popular saying has no grounds for a couple of reasons: If the devil were in the details, then it would mean that he possesses the same attributes God does. He would be omniscient and, like God, know everything. According to almost every theological school, this simply is not true. It would also mean that the devil controlled the future (fate) the way God does, making him omnipotent or all-powerful.
Even a simple reading of Scripture shows that good and evil ARE NOT a duality the way you see in Star Wars, with each having equal power, each vying for supremacy with one side winning some of the time, and the other side winning at other times. With God, we have the beginning and the end of the story.
As vastly infinite and all-powerful as God is, to our wonder He is still interested in the smallest particulars of our lives. Matthew 10 says it well,
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Matthew 10: 29–31
It is a powerful thing to know that the smallest parts of your life are not trivial to God. No detail, regardless of how mundane, painful or shameful, escapes God’s attention. He sees us through each one, lifts us up through them, and most of all, loves us through them. After all, how can someone know us with such impossible scrutiny and not love us? You may be reflecting on some of those details right now and wondering, “How could God really love me because of A, B, C?” Remember the Star Wars example? Just because good and evil are not on the same footing does not mean that evil is not at work seeking to taint even God’s plans.
The question isn’t “Is God in the details?” – The question is are we willing to see it? Do we only notice evil in its smallest forms and nuances clinging to every part of our life like dust on a coal miner, or do we see a great big God in the least of things, or as the Psalmist declared, “My times are in your hands”? God is in the details.
“There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize Him or not to recognize Him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly….”
Buechner, Frederick. Listening to Your Life: