Subtle can mean quiet, not obvious, skillful, or crafty. It can also mean a small difference between comparable things. One definition that we do not always think of when we hear the word subtle is wise to do evil. Yet, this is the first description used when Scripture mentions the devil (1). Scripture describes the devil and humans as subtle before they interact with humans (2). When we think of subtlety this way, it should encourage us to think of it as a human quality.
The evil of subtlety is harder to detect when we do not understand it as an inward quality. It is easier to see evil when it involves others. The evil of subtlety is easier to see when we think of it as wisdom to do anything that God does not want us to do. For instance, if I read the Bible to find loopholes so I can do the things I want to do, I am displaying a subtle attitude. A person, for example, can use such subtlety to justify stealing, killing, cheating, and other sins. This person might negotiate with Scripture, attempt to outwit God’s word, or altogether defy it. A subtle person, therefore, believes he or she possesses special wisdom to get by without using Christian values.
This wisdom, to do what God does not want us to do, is “foolishness to God” (3). Why is it foolishness? It is foolishness not only because such wisdom is stupid but it fools the person who thinks he or she has a special wisdom. Subtlety, like this, is inward foolishness that reflects a double deception—the deception of a person to believe that he or she is wise instead of deceived. No rewards, however, exist for such evil wisdom, and God destroys it (4). This wisdom is super-dangerous when Christians use it. When this combination happens, Christendom becomes twisted, distorted, and devilish. Even Christians cannot fool God.
(1) Genesis 1:1.
(2) 2 Samuel 13:3.
(3) 1 Corinthians 3:19.
(4) 1 Corinthians 3:19-21.