Friday, February 25, 2005

Taking the Offensive

Romans 8:30-40 (New International Version)

“30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[
a] 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I got a very nice, very interesting comment from Scott Rochat at the Emporia Gazette after my last post titled “Courage:”

"My wife Heather has always been bothered by people who became Christians solely because of the promise of heaven -- to her, that misses the point. As you said, it's not about what we get, it's about what we give.

J.R.R. Tolkien had an interesting perspective on it. He was always fascinated by the Norse myth of Gotterdammerung, the twilight of the gods, where the good guys are overwhelmed and the monsters win. What interested him was that the good guys fought anyway, without any promise of victory. It didn't matter whether they would win. It mattered that they were fighting for what was right."

"Tolkien always wanted to see some of that desperate courage translated to Christianity. Reading your piece, I get some of the same feeling. We could all stand to spend a little less time counting the spoils and a little more time sharpening swords."

Tolkien translated those feelings marvelously in his great trilogy. All the noble characters, Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn, Pippin, Merry, Legolas, Gimli, and their comrades fought on in the desperate battle for Middle Earth against what seemed to be insurmountable odds. They knew what they had to do; they knew they had to summon up the courage to fight for what was right, and they did. Time after time as the saga unfolded their world teetered on the brink of destruction, but those great souls fought on, not knowing what the outcome would be. They fought on in faith, believing that good and virtue were worth preserving. They had something transcendent to fight for, something so precious they were willing to give everything they had on its behalf.

Scott has it right. And so was Eldridge in the chapter we covered the other night in our men’s group. I believe the Christian man needs to summon up that kind of courage in today’s world.

That all begs the question, doesn’t it? What are we fighting for? And if we are fighting for something, who or what are we fighting against?

In our discussions the other night this seemed to be the main area of focus. What I found interesting, and somewhat troubling, was that we seemed to know much more about what we were fighting against than what we are fighting for. Now it’s clear we have an enemy. It is the same enemy that the noble characters in Tolkien’s trilogy fought. It’s evil and its greatest practitioner is the devil. Eldridge, noting that evil assaults us on a very deep, personal level, put it this way:

“Who was behind that brutal assault on your own strength, those wounds you have taken? As William Gurnall said, “It is the image of God reflected in you that so enrages hell, it is that at which the demons hurl their mightiest weapons.”

Now I agree with what Eldridge said, but I think there was something he, and we, missed the other night. While there is no doubt that we have battles to fight and we need to summon up the courage to fight them on a daily basis, I’m concerned that in all the talk about spiritual warfare we are losing sight of what we are fighting for.

I’ll say it again lest anyone reading think I doubt the power of evil. Evil is real. As one of the characters in the Broadway play Sweeney Todd put it, “There are demons lurkin’ about.” Author Lance Morrow described the evil that seems so ever-present, so persistent even in our new age of enlightenment this way:

“Evil seeks its opportunities and settles in like a parasite where it finds conditions welcoming. It adopts the local language and customs; it infests the lifeforms and takes them over, in rather the way that insanity may enter the previously wholesome life and displace the person who lived there before. This was the model of demonic possession, dramatized in the Gospel stories of Christ’s miraculous power to heal, but now somewhat disreputable paradigm, demoted to horror movies – the narrative of “The Exorcist,” for example, wherein an innocent child is hideously colonized by evil.”

Morrow goes on to demonstrate how evil seems to creep its way through every conceivable crack in society’s defenses:

“Each age and place has its own style of evil. Evil exploits available resources – turns them to parody and destruction. Evil is a wit among the witty, an imbecile among morons, an industrial program among the industrious, and an apocalypse in the hands of religious fanatics who have abandoned the smaller human decencies for visions of righteous obliteration – an escape from time into the absolute.”

It seems to be the sad truth of this age as it has been for those that have preceded. Evil seems to be ever-present. Our newspapers are filled with it. Parents torture their children. Women kill other women so that they can rip out their fruit of their wombs. Terrorists decapitate the innocent in order to just shock the rest of humanity.

In our discussions the other night I sensed that some of the guys thought I didn’t believe in evil. I had to remind them that, as I said above, I see it in the newspapers and television every day. Evil is real, that’s for sure.

Knowing that, why is it that we men seem to be so paralyzed in the face of it? Why do we men in the Christian church seem powerless to do anything about it?

There are two roads that have led Christian men to this point. One road is paved with indifference; it’s a road that seems to conclude that evil isn’t real at all. But that’s not the road I want us to walk down or focus on. The other road, which to me seems much more insidious, is the road that is paved with a hyper-focus on the enemy.

Now what do I mean by that? In our discussions the other night I used an experience in New Jersey to illustrate. One of the subjects that was in vogue back in those days was “satanic ritual abuse.” I won’t take the time to describe it. If you really want to find out more you can use the link in the previous sentence as a starting point. Fort some reason the subject took hold in our church. A woman who claimed to be an “expert” on the subject began attending and things just took off. It didn’t take long until she became not only the expert on the subject, but our de-factor leader in the fight against “the enemy.” While no one appointed her to the role, no one really objected either. After all, who would want to find themselves at odds with an expert who had appeared on Sally Jesse Raphael’s show?

It all came to a head one afternoon when several of us who were deemed to be ‘spiritual” were summoned to the church for a “critical” meeting. When we all arrived we were greeted by the pastor and the “expert.” They got right down to business. The “expert” had noticed demons all around our church and had concluded that we needed to engage in spiritual warfare to rid our property of them. So, with her leading he way, we all made our way out to the grounds. As we walked the grounds I prayed silently, and as I did I noticed something unusual happening. Each time I felt close to God the “expert” would interrupt to show me something. “See, right there Phil? There’s one sitting right there on the stone entrance to Jockey Hollow.” I didn’t see a thing and went on. This process repeated itself and then escalated. As I walked around she began to sound warnings. “Watch out Phil, right near that birch tree. There’s one hiding behind it.” I stopped dead in my tracks as soon as she uttered the words. In looking back at it all now I see how ridiculous I must have appeared. What had a few minutes before been a beautiful grove of trees was now a dark, foreboding, dangerous place.

This went on for about fifteen minutes until my better senses took hold. I saw that what she was really trying to do was to get me to turn my focus away from God and toward the “enemy.” When the next warning came I responded angrily, “Look, if the devil and his demons have a problem with where I’m walking they’re going to have to deal with it, ‘cause that’s where I’m going.”

The point I was trying to make the other night was that, while I have no doubt in the validity of spiritual warfare and have absolutely no doubt in the reality of evil, I am not going to get swept up in a game that, first, gives our enemy far too much power, and second, diminishes the power, the quiet power, of the life God has given us in Christ to walk in “newness of life.”

God has called Christian men to war, but I believe we have fallen prey to the Hollywood stereotypes of what the war is all about. The spinning heads of The Exorcist, the vomiting, the hissing, the pyrotechnics, have set us on the defensive. Read the Gospels and you will see how it’s really supposed to work. In one amazing encounter a demon-possessed man who had been living in some tombs approached Jesus. The community was so terrified of this man that they had tried, without success to chain his hands and feet. Powerful stuff, eh? What’s even more powerful, though, was his response when Jesus got close to him. He fell on his knees as and the demon begged Jesus not to “torture” him. In response to Jesus’ question about his name he replied, “My name is legion, for we are many.” In other words, “Look out Jesus, there’s a thousand of us here. You’d better watch what you’re doing.” It all seems so eerily reminiscent of that afternoon in the New Jersey woods.

Thankfully, Jesus didn’t fall prey to the pyrotechnics. In fact the real points of the story are that our enemy is the one who needs to fear us and that when we engage in the battle with the right perspective God’s mercy shines through.

I believe the reason so many Christian men seem to be paralyzed with fear is that they’ve given their enemy far too much credit and turned this into a battle of who can either shout or stomp the loudest. It’s been turned all around into a Hollywood movie.

The reality for the Christian man is that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds.” This warfare is much quieter, much more circumspect than the easy path that is too often chosen. It calls on us, like Toklien’s heroes, to summon our courage and to “walk by faith, not by sight.” Armed with love, joy, peace, longsuffering, we are called to “fight the good fight of faith.”

That, I submit to you dear reader, is the path the Christian man must follow. It may not seem as alluring, it may not make our lives the stuff of Hollywood. But it’s the only path that will bring us success and the ultimate victory in this war.

3 comments:

David M. Smith said...

Phil,

Thanks for sharing your wisdom. You have a lot to say and you say it very well. You and your blog are a blessing.

Feeble Knees said...

A thousand AMENS! Thank you Phil!

Andrew Nichols said...

A kindred spirit! Excellent post.