“10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God,so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powersof this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
-The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
Spiritual warfare is a topic I’ve heard a lot about over the years as a Christian growing up in the church. Most believers seem to have a vague idea of what it is, but people seem to get nervous when we start talking about the devil and evil. Unless it’s an extreme case, we tend to avoid classifying events or people as “evil.”
In light of the recent tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I’ve noticed that people have started to use that language to describe the event. And yes, I certainly agree that such an atrocious act of violence can be described as evil, I find it odd and maybe even inconsistent than people that are so quick to label an event as “evil” are slow to similarly label other kinds of behavior or events.
Most Americans in general tend to avoid the word “evil.” And we like even less the word “devil” unless we’re talking about some kind of appetizer or dessert. Check any blog or comment thread on religion. You’ll find that mostly secular people will avoid anything having to do with applying “good” or “evil” judgments on anything unless it’s an extreme case such as the Colorado shooting. On the other hand, conservative Christians on the other hand can sometimes be prone to attributing every obstacle and dilemma as being the work of the devil, resulting in such phrases as “the devil made me do it!” or “must be the devil inside of me.” A flat tire becomes the handiwork of Mephistopheles.
Both responses are overly simplistic. Richard Baxter, a prominent doctor in the 17th century Puritan America, gives some wonderful insight into the factors which can influence us. In a specific case study, he proposed that the factors causing depression in his patients could be caused by one of or a combination of the following factors: 1) physical 2) psychological 3) moral 4) demonic.
All four factors can have an influence on internal strife in life. It’s complex, nuanced issue and there is not always an easy answer to what form trouble can take in our lives.
Tim Keller preached an excellent sermon on the topic of spiritual warfare. You can listen to the podcast for a limited time here. He mentioned a couple of principles for understanding spiritual warfare that have really helped me understand on a personal level how these things can play out in everyday life.
*This entire explanation is predicated upon the assumption that there are personal, supernatural beings that can be good or evil, that God and the devil really do exist. If you want to hear a better explanation of that, please check out the podcast. Keller is far more eloquent than I.
“stand against the devil’s schemes…”
The word “scheme” comes from the Greek word “methodeia” from which we get the word “method.” The devil has a strategy. He has an arsenal. John and I have been watching 24 so I like to think of this as the strategy of a terrorist. If a terrorist has a plan, part of what makes Jack Bauer so formidable as a federal agent is his ability to incisively understand the terrorist’s plan.
Keller said the devil primarily works get us to fall into achieve two main errors.
The first strategy the devil has is the strategy of temptation: He hides God’s holiness from us.
This is something I see a lot of in my own generation and my own heart. Many of us grew up in Christian homes and later rebelled against strict, legalistic upbringings in which primarily drinking, smoking and listening to secular music was viewed as the work of the devil. We’ve seen the kind of devastation, pain and misrepresentation of Christ that a lack of grace can have on people’s lives and perceptions of God. So we celebrate freedom in Christ and grace and these are indeed rich, beautiful, life-altering gifts of God. We’ve realized it’s okay to enjoy a bottle of red wine with friends, perhaps smoke a cigar if the mood is right, and that Jesus doesn’t in fact hate good art.
However, because we are broken, flawed human beings, it’s quite easy to pendulum swing and misunderstand and abuse God’s grace and suddenly ignore His holiness. We begin to say things in our heart like, “Well, it’s God’s job to forgive, so it’s okay if I just do this one thing,” or “Yeah, I might be horrible at that, but I’m really good at this” or “Nobody’s perfect.” Keller mentioned that “the devil doesn’t primarily go around possessing people; rather, he stimulates the human heart into self-talk.” Isn’t that what happened in the Garden of Eden? “Did God really say…?” We “did God really say…?” ourselves all the time. So when we neglect God’s holiness, and we forget that it was His majestic, holy, just wrath that was poured out on Christ at the cross instead of us. We decide to do certain sinful things because God’s holiness doesn’t seem real to us. It’s deceivingly easy to abuse freedom in Christ and “indulge the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:13). This is known as temptation.
The second strategy is accusation: he hides God’s love from us.
For anybody who has ever struggled with self-esteem, the fear of man, or an overwhelming desire for approval and acceptance, this is one that works itself so deeply into our psychological underpinnings that sometimes we don’t even realize how destructive these patterns of thinking can be. When I was going to counseling, accusation was something I was living under for quite awhile. I began to focus on my own weaknesses, shortcomings and inadequacies as a person, that I failed to see God as the unconditional, perfect Lover that He was. When we believe that we are not worth the love being given to us, it can cause us to do some pretty self-destructive things.
Unfortunately, the Church can also be an accessory in this equally dangerous error. I see this most distinctly in the gay marriage debate. Can it be that we are actually aiding the devil in his “stratagems” when we assist him hiding God’s love from people? We have to be aware of the tenuous balance between God’s holiness and love.
So how do we avoid the traps of temptation and accusation? I want to specifically outline some remedies to these strategies but I’ll leave that for my next blog post.
Through the Word, the Spirit of God comes into play and as He actually seeks to make both God’s holiness and love real to us. He seeks to show us the way of Christ. The reason we fall into temptation is that God’s holiness doesn’t seem real to us in the moment. The reason we get frustrated at the other idiots out there, is because we fail to see God’s unending love and patience toward us. The reason we become insecure and chase human approval and acceptance is because we fail to see God’s unconditional love and acceptance toward us that He proved in sending Jesus to die for us. The reason we worry and become anxious is because we fail to see God’s sovereignty and power working behind the scenes for our good and His glory. However, because of Jesus, the Spirit of God is present and willing to counsel us, to reveal to us the constant self-deception going on in our own hearts, and wake us up to the spiritual reality and the glory of who God really is, if only we allow ourselves to be open to that.
Do you see either of these patterns (forgetting holiness or love) in your own heart and life? In the world around you?