It seems that we are at a time in our nation when it’s hard to make friends, but it’s easy to make enemies. I can’t tell you the number of people I have heard that have been “de-friended” or ridiculed for expressing a political opinion one way or another. I know of many sincere, non-ideological followers of Christ that have been vilified by suggesting they may vote for Trump, and many sincere, non-ideological followers of Christ that have been vilified for suggesting they may vote for Clinton. Recently, some of the prominent, Christian, political operatives in our country have even demeaned those who are suggesting that their conscience cannot allow them to vote for President at all. Indeed, we seem to be able to easily identify an enemy.
I’ve come to the point where I have great compassion and empathy for anyone who has struggled with this decision – whether to vote Trump, or Clinton, or neither (or other). To those who say they intend to vote for Trump because of the Supreme Court alone, or their wish to “stick it” to the political principalities and powers, I understand. To those who intend to vote for Clinton because of her concern for the poor or her advocacy for women across the globe, not to mention the significance of having a woman in the oval office, I too understand. When I think about my own faith, and the fact that by voting I am still personally endorsing two bad options, I am inclined to not vote at all. And here, it is possible, that any of these words may create an enemy for me.
Often I find myself these days coming back to the one thing I know to be supreme above all, and that is Jesus and the church he founded. These are realities that are concrete and far less ambiguous. In a time when enemies are being created by the day, we have something very important to offer – a reality check for who the real enemy is.
In 2 Corinthians 4 we are reminded that the God of this world has blinded the eyes of those who do not believe. Ephesians 6 tells us that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers. 1 Peter warns us that the devil is roaming about like a roaring lion, seeking whom to devour. As Christians we know who the real enemy is – or do we?
The other day when my daughter was sick, I sat and watched the Disney movie Mulan with her. The main antagonist in the story – Shan Yu – was spoken of often. He was identified by the protagonists, they did their best to develop a strategy to defeat him, and it was clear they were aware (and in that case, concerned) about him. It was clear to them who the enemy was and you could tell by the amount of “air time” he got. If you looked at most churches today, across the theological spectrum, one thing is mostly certain: in few places would any neutral observer be able to identify who we actually believe our real enemy is. In our more progressive circles, we are doubtful that the Satan even exists. If he does, it is in some elusive and undiscernible form. Our more conservative circles are not too altogether different (though some corners of both Charismaticism/Pentecostalism are an exception). While we believe that the scriptures say the Satan is real, we rarely speak of him, also attributing his actions to some elusive and undiscernible form (and most of the “spiritual realm” we handle similarly). For those among us who are Centrist, I find that we believe in the devil and often know that he is really acting, but because we know that most in our congregations fall to one side or the other of us in this area, we rarely speak of our sub-human enemy at all. It’s no wonder we have so many other enemies – we can’t identify a personality big enough to occupy everything we need to lay at the feet of all that we disdain. C.S. Lewis was right when he said, “if the devils exist, their first aim is to give you an anesthetic – to put you off your guard. Only if that fails, do you become aware of them.
Herein is our great opportunity – name the devil – identify his works – articulate a strategy for his defeat – don’t let him blind us as well. When is the last time you preached a sermon, or led a study, on how to deal with the devil? Can you recall if you have exorcised a demon? Or, how about something less overt? Have you prayed against the devil and his schemes? Have you incorporated this important element of our faith into your liturgy? (You would need to have written it yourself as most liturgies omit this critical dimension of our faith). So, how can you begin to inform and equip your congregation to deal with the devil and his works? Jesus dealt with the reality of the devil quite often. So should we.
This is not a “devil or demon under every rock” theology. As best as I understand, the bible does not present the picture of a devil that is omni-present. There are also limitations on demons and we are clearly told in the scriptures that the devil can, even now, be defeated and that the demons tremble at the name of Jesus (James 4, Matthew 8, Mark 5). We should be so bold to speak his name, proclaim his blood, and give witness to our testimony (Rev. 12).
To my fellow pastors and leaders, I know that many of us fall into the category of leaders who believe the devil exist, who understand him to be a real personality, as well as being engaged in the “systems” of the world. Yet, never talking about him is exactly his wish. I suspect that he is happy to defer his glory for his gratification. It’s time we fight back – for this is something that ONLY a Christian can do. Indeed, this is the enemy we need to fight in these days.