There are two "religious" quotes about details. One: The devil is in the details. Two: God is in the details. Hmmm.

Proverbs or proverbial sayings exist in every culture and subculture. There are proverbs for every situation, and thus there are many contradictory proverbs. Proverbs are commentary, not law, and certainly not Objective Universal Truth. It is important to choose the correct proverb for a particular situation (either to substantiate something or to contradict it). Thus, the early bird may catch the worm, and yet fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

The details in our scriptural stories are very important. Folks often complain that there doesn't seem to be much "creative writing" or rich detail in the Gospel stories, for instance. Wouldn't it be great to know that Mary was wearing red shoes or that Simon Peter often had bedhead?

In fact, there are many details in the Gospel stories and they are all very important. They are not trivial. The details are the things we are supposed to notice. Not because they make the story more lifelike but because the details represent something. They are the markers of the symbolism the evangelists wants the reader to notice. The details may vary from Gospel to Gospel, and this is not something "wrong" or a mistake to be harmonized. The variation is important to impart something the writer wants to get across. If Mary were wearing red shoes, it would be because red shoes represent something, not because the author wanted to make the story more easily visualized.

Example: John the Baptist's clothing. Matthew explains that John wears a garment of camel's hair with a leather loincloth. This is not because John is a "back to nature" kind of guy - or that he shops for camelhair sportcoats and leather belts at Jos. A. Bank. It's because Matthew is drawing deliberate attention to the description of the prophet Elijah, who is described in 2 Kings 1 as a hairy man who wore a leather loincloth. People recognize Elijah by that description. And at the end of the book of Malachi, that prophet says that God will send Elijah to the people to announce the Day of the Lord. Elijah will come back before the Messiah appears. John is dressed like Elijah because he is the prophet who comes to announce the Messiah, Jesus. This is a clue - a scriptural backup to show that Jesus is the Messiah.

Details are meaningful in our lives, too. Little things are often symbolic. When my first child was born, my husband used to bring me breakfast in bed before he left for work in the mornings. I didn't get a lot of sleep in those days, and sleep deprivation makes me really miserable. He often made a smiley face with pineapple and berries on the plate along with my oatmeal or cereal or yogurt. That detail said, "I know you're grumpy - I love you - I hope this cheers you up." He wanted me to notice the detail and gather meaning from it.

But back to the two proverbs. As it turns out, both are attributed to Germans, at least as far as making them famous. ("God is in the details" was attributed to German-born architect Ludwig Miles von der Rohe in his New York Times obituary and is a slight reworking of a phrase used by the French novelist Gustave Flaubert; "devil in the details" is attributed to a German pop singer, Blixa Bargeld.) Naturally, people have differing opinions about what they mean, exactly. But generally, the devil in the details suggests that there can be "unintended consequences" or even a catch or trap in the details of something (contract, legislation, etc) that one ought to be wary of overlooking. Not attending to the details might let loose the devil, so to speak - it's something that may come back to bite you.

God in the details has more variety in opinion. Maybe that there is joy of discovery when looking at the details of things - flower stamens and veining on their petals, pollen sacs on bees knees, etc. Or that doing things well, even down to the smallest detail, honors God. Think of the Torah with its passages delineating details - of the tent of meeting, of priestly vestments, of the section of case law involving oxen, for the laws Moses spells out for the pople - or all the details of the measurement of the Temple in Ezekiel. That little things matter - they add up to bigger things. Doing certain little things (observing dietary laws, for instance) are important ways to uphold bigger things (honoring God). Being "environmentally conscious" means attending to details like recycling newspapers and bottles and cans, turning off lights, unplugging appliances when not in use, taking shorter showers, etc.

At any rate, details do matter. For good or for ill. For our own good and for the good of the community. For pleasure and delight.