Living in enemy territory
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)--It has happened once again. Evil has surfaced unmistakably in a form everyone can see. The world will struggle with this for days to come, asking, "Why would a good and loving God allow such evil to happen?" Meanwhile the parents and friends will weep, struggling with their own questions drawn from a darkened, bottomless well of unspeakable pain and disorientation.
For believers it is a harsh reminder that the world we live in is at war. Evil is not simply an idea or an act. Evil is fueled by an individual consciousness nearly as old as creation itself. The early Christians never asked, "Why did God allow....?" They knew better.
The world we see is profoundly affected by a world we cannot see. Consider such Scripture passages as:
"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:1-2).
"Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:11-12).
"For we wanted to come to you -- I, Paul, more than once -- and yet Satan hindered us" (1 Thessalonians 2:18).
"Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).
"Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
We tend to see everything bad that happens in terms of something God allows or disallows. Yet, we also fiercely (and correctly) hold on to the idea of personal choice. We choose -- which makes us responsible for our actions. We can be influenced by evil, but we are ultimately responsible for the evil we choose to do.
Angels make choices too, just like us. Millennia ago, the Bible explains that some of God's creatures rebelled. The angels sinned. Man sinned. The world as God intended devolved into moral and spiritual chaos.
Jesus came to rescue us from the enemies of our soul, both in this world and the world we cannot see.
It is true that God is sovereign. He is the Lord of Lords. He is the King. Jesus came announcing the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:17). He taught us to pray that God's Kingdom would break through into this world, demonstrating that He is the King (Luke 11:2). He "bound the strong man" and demonstrated God's reign by restoring creation and creatures to a condition reflective of God's rule (Matthew 12:28-30), then expects you and me to "gather with Him" -- doing the same kind of ministry today.
Jesus calls the devil the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). The devil tempts Jesus by offering Him the very kingdoms under his control in exchange for worship (Luke 4:5-7): If the devil does not control the kingdoms of the world, how could Jesus be tempted? He was tempted only if it was a legitimate offer by the ruler of this world.
Jesus calls Satan a liar and a murderer (John 8:44), who steals truth from the hearts of people who do not know God (Matthew 13:19), keeping them blind to the reality of a living God (2 Corinthians 4:4). He animates evil in the world, influencing and empowering those who do not know God to reject God and do everything that is offensive to God (1 John 5:19).
In the face of clear, biblical teaching, the church too often slumbers on, fumbling around trying to answers questions about "why did God allow this to happen?" rather than running to the secret place, combating the mortal enemy of the souls of mankind. We are called to do battle.
When we are responsive to Jesus and doing life under His directional control, Jesus said the gates of hell would not be able to withstand the forward movement of the church (Matthew 16:18). Far from being on the defensive, the church Jesus builds goes on the offense against an unseen army of evil at work in this world.
C. S. Lewis writes in "Mere Christianity:"
"One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe -- a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin. The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel. Enemy-occupied territory -- that is what this world is."
Do you realize where you are living today? The horrific acts of violence at Virginia Tech are a reminder that there is no place where you and I can sit down, relax and forget about the imminent threat of evil. You and I are doing life in the middle of a battlefield that is raging all around us every day -- right now.
Don Pucik is associate executive director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.