Between The Devil and The Deep Sea

At a first, superficial glance the choice between the devil and the deep sea seems to be grossly unfair. For one thing, there is a stigma attached to the name of the Devil. For this reason, human beings would like to play safe and be comfortable on the side of the accepted and conventional course. They would shun the devil like poison. That grand old gentleman, the Devil, notwithstanding his bold adventures and exciting exploits is said to have had a fall, displaying a singular lack of common sense in so experienced a figure. Man prefers to have a rise, and if that appears too ambitious, he at least wants to go steady. This being the case, the Devil starts with a handicap.

 The deep sea on the other hand, brings to the mind visions of a vast expanse of calm, enchanting blue with green and golden fish playing hide and seek among the weird red sea-weed and golden haired mermaids, finned and fair, playing on their harps and singing their sweet melodies. Only the sailors know the rough side of the sea, and I am not a sailor. Then the sea also conjures up thrilling hopes (secret of course because there are so many modern realists around) of fabulous treasures and wrecked Spanish galleon. The fact that all these things will be had by a dead person is dismissed as irrelevant and unromantic for the time being.

However, on closer examination the odds in favour of deep sea are not so great. Neither the fish nor the mermaids have been reported to know how to talk at least not in English or Urdu and a human being cannot stand silence.

The modern usage of the expression “between the devil and the deep sea” is only a choice between two equally dangerous situations. There is now the same emphasis on the type of danger, spiritual or material, as there used to be in the past ages of religious beliefs. Perhaps this is so because it is such a long time since the Fall of the angel occurred, and time being a great healer man has reconciled himself to this Fall It is also possible that man may have discovered a psychological reason behind the Devil’s behaviour and if the Devil is psychic case, he needs sympathy rather than rejection and deserves acquittal on grounds of insanity. Whatever the reason, the idiom has become so common that a boy who apprehends punishment from his father, if he does not do his homework but is also afraid of missing a favorite TV programme if he does it, claims that he is caught between the devil and the deep sea.

Fundamentally, however, on a deeper reflection, the idiom means a choice between spiritual hurt and physical hurt, whether one is willing to sacrifice one’s conscience and character to gain material advantages and comfort. Crudely speaking, it is the choice between the body and the soul. Whatever the case may be, a sacrifice has to be made. An example of this dilemma would be an employee or subordinate who is in a position to unmask the corrupt activities of his influential boss. If he speaks out he will lose his job and if he keeps quiet he will betray his own conscience. Another example is that of the poor man who is offered a bribe. If he refuses, his family starves; if he accepts, his soul is stained.
In such cases it is easier to side with the devil. It can also be argued that the wise and profitable course would be to give in to the devil. Once the situation is passed, one can undergo a dramatic change of heart, repent of sin and stage a comeback to the ranks of the good. In this way, not only will the original situation be smoothly passed over, but there will also be greater gain for it has been said that there is more rejoicing in heaven over the return of one sinner than over 99 who have never sinned.