The battlefield stretched out from one end of the earth to the other. A place of shifting shadows and rebounding echoes, the battered ground was littered with the bodies of the fallen. The foe was hard to see – a wispy thing of murk and almost-inaudible whispers, its eyes glowing with sickly, yellow-green luminescence. It slithered along the ground and took to the air on wings of smoke, jumping from one defensible trench to another. Invisible and intangible, the battlefield was never seen, and only vaguely felt, by the people walking through it. Heading to work, or going to grab a cup of coffee, or waiting for the school bus, the people of the earth passed through the war-torn wasteland without knowing the danger they were in. Every now and then, the enemy would cast the ghastly light of its eyes on an innocent man, woman, or child, and it would slink out of its trench and sidle up to the potential victim.
A man, heading home after a late meeting and needing to unwind, is approached by a prostitute as he stops at the corner.
“You deserve it,” the enemy in the passenger seat whispers.
A woman finds a wallet on the ground at the subway platform. Her arms are full of grocery bags, and she could really use the money.
“A blessing from God,” says the enemy at her shoulder.
A young man is out with his friends, drinking and watching television. One of them hands him a pill.
“Harmless fun,” says the enemy sitting on the couch.
Some fell to the enemy, defenseless. Others fought, wielding brilliant-white, unseen swords and ethereal shields of burnished gold. Even they, at times, fell before the onslaught of shifting, gray foes. Some struck the enemy so resoundingly that it was forced to slink away back to its trench to lick its wounds; others seemed on the verge of failure, only to be saved at the last instant by a blinding beam of white light that cut through the clouds from the heavens and burned the enemy with searing heat.
The war waged on.
* * * * * * * * * *
Following Jesus can be pretty epic.
A lot is said in the Christian world about “spiritual war”. The idea is simple, really – there is an unseen war on an invisible level of reality, a conflict between the forces of good and evil. We humans (or more specifically, our souls) are the object of a game of ethereal Capture the Flag, with the forces of evil trying to win us away from our Father.
On the one hand, the idea of a conflict over the souls of mankind seems a little self-important to me. On the other hand, it makes a certain amount of sense. These two forces have met before, after all. Lucifer and his posse of unrighteous bros have tried to step to God once before. It didn’t work out so well for them, and they were forcibly booted from what had been there home as a result. If those armies were to fight each other directly, it wouldn’t go any better for Team Satan the second round – they are outnumbered two-to-one, and the commander of the other side just so happens to be the one power capable of bringing all of existence into, well, existence. In this circumstance, the strategy that makes the most sense for the bad guys to adopt is that of a guerilla war.
I think there is one aspect of spiritual warfare that intrigues me the most, though – that’s the reason for the spiritual war. Christians believe that there is one day going to be a reckoning – a final battle between the God Squad and Team Satan that will wrap up the whole dang drama. We also believe that there is only one possible outcome from this struggle – the defeat of Lucifer and his minions. I sincerely doubt that the enemy isn’t aware of this. So why are they fighting the war in the first place? Why even continue the conflict? What could they hope to gain?
I think they’re doing it to hurt us.
Think about it. God loves us. God loves us. God sent his son to be tortured to death for us. Satan can’t hurt God directly, but he sure can hurt God indirectly by hurting God’s most loved creation.
Luckily, my main man Paul tells us that we aren’t helpless against the assault. In fact, he suggests that we arm ourselves with the weapons of spiritual war like a hero in an ‘80’s action flick (that is, by way of an awesome montage of knives being sheathed, grenades being clipped to belts, guns being cocked, and bandanas being tied onto our foreheads with rapid, macho movements). Check it out.
“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 powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
That’s chapter six of Ephesians. Or possibly a character sheet for Dungeons and Dragons. I get confused. Either way, I want that stuff.
In fact, the imagery of God granting bad-ass weapons to his followers pops up several times in the New Testament. The early church rightfully recognized that, even as they were surrounded by enemies of the material world (the Romans, certain parts of the Jewish community, lions, etc.) they were also under threat of spiritual damage from forces that exist above, below, and beside our level of reality.
I also like the idea of spiritual warfare being used to make passages of the Old Testament more relevant to our lives. Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Blue Ocean Midwest Conference, and I got a chance to meet author and pastor Dave Schmelzer. During one of his sessions, he talked about reading the Book of Psalms, and how it seemed a little. . . bloodthirsty. . . at times. After all, how many of us actually want God to literally smite our foes? Take Psalm 3, for example.
“7 Arise, LORD!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.”
This one is relatively mild, for David. He only wants to see his enemies eat their dinner through a straw. While I sometimes want God to do that to the guy who cut me off on the highway, I usually feel bad about that. I don’t think that God would really encourage that in me.
David gets even more graphic when someone gets his dander up.
“1 May God arise, may his enemies be scattered;
may his foes flee before him.
2 May you blow them away like smoke—
as wax melts before the fire,
may the wicked perish before God.”
But all of those verses become much more applicable when you realize that you do have enemies – wicked, horrible creatures who want nothing more than to bring pain and ruin down upon not only you, but everyone in creation. They are a perfect enemy. They cannot be reasoned with, they do not tire, they cannot be lead astray from their goal, and they are not capable of showing mercy. Yeah, God can smite them. I hope God smites the crap out of them.
Of course, a big part of spiritual warfare is that we human beings are more than just the victims of demonic attack. We’re also more than the pieces on the board that either side is fighting over. We’re also soldiers. God can smite our enemies, sure – I certainly hope He will when I need it – but that doesn’t mean we can’t occasionally give the baddies a little smackdown ourselves.
Good thing God twinked our gear.
Bring it on.