Just received the latest version of the newsletter from the C. S. Lewis Institute. The feature article highlights the thinking of Screwtape as he explains to his nephew Wormwood that he is almost glad to hear that the man is still a churchgoer since “(a)s long as he retains externally the habits of a Christian he can still be made to think of himself as one who has adopted a few new friends and amusements but whose spiritual state is much the same as it was [before]. I think this remains the fundamental problem. Many people are erroneously thinking that churchgoing means change when it doesn’t. Going to church doesn’t make you vitally connected to Christ any more than hanging out in your garage makes you a car.
It’s 9/11/2014. Thirteen years ago, our country experienced the horror of an attack on the United States by terrorists, something unprecedented for most of us. Many innocent lives were lost. Many families lost loved ones. They’re on TV today, the loved ones of those who died, once again reading the names of the lives lost on that infamous day, lives that factored so largely for them. This practice is consistent with our initial commitment shortly after 9/11 that we would “never forget.” As one reporter commented this morning, “time doesn’t heal all wounds.” I agree. The survivors of the tragedy of 9/11, whose lives have been forever altered by the thoughtless, selfish and even “evil” acts of others who decided that their loved ones didn’t matter, still show clear signs of grief and trauma. They haven’t forgotten and I’m not sure how forgiveness of the terrorists who killed their deeply missed ones factors into their future ability to move on and have a meaningful life.
Is it healthy for these survivors and families who lost loved ones to reflect on the events of that day and to acknowledge the remaining feelings of anger and sadness that they still feel? Shouldn’t they just “get over it” and “move on,” especially if they are “Christians?” A day like today and the strong feelings that most of us have about the events of 9/11 evokes feelings in most of us that are inconsistent with the thoughts and advice we glibly offer to victims of trauma. We tell victims of sexual abuse or rape or domestic violence that they are required to forgive. The wife who forgives her abusive husband again guarantees that the cycle of violence will continue to repeat itself. The child who forgives the sexual abuse of a caretaker who has violated their trust creates the opportunity for the cycle to continue. The staff member who covers up the abuse of their former senior pastor does nothing to stop the cycle from repeating with others.
So, which is it? Do we forgive and forget? Or, do we not forget and remember so that we don’t simply allow these things to continue happening? Do we still hold the terrorists accountable? Or, do we give them a pass? When we hold two contradictory thoughts that cannot be reconciled, it is called cognitive dissonance. We feel anxiety, not being able to make sense of things. To reduce dissonance, we typically revise one of the “truths” to make things less uncomfortable. My question today is, “Do you still feel anger about what the terrorists did to our country and to the families that were directly and personally impacted?” If so, how do you reconcile that with your approach to other similar situations where innocent people suffer at the hands of evildoers? How do you reduce the dissonance? In both cases, those who did what they did often show no signs of remorse and would do it again if given the opportunity.
Today is a good day to remember the reality that actions have consequences. We need to understand that being nice to others doesn’t mean that they will respond in kind (I fear that President Obama doesn’t understand this principle.). Removing personal accountability from our interpersonal relationships doesn’t create a better or a safer world. We may need to be reminded that overlooking serious offenses does not solve the problem. It doesn’t prevent future offenses from occurring. It doesn’t validate the damage that has been done to those on the receiving end in the past. It leaves victims with an abiding sense of injustice and sets them up to get stuck in complicated and unresolved grief. To make things worse, we add to the pain they already feel by telling them they need to “forgive” and “forget.” Do you feel comfortable telling the people at ground zero today to forgive the now deceased Osama bin Laden? If you’re not comfortable doing that, why is it so easy to tell a woman that was sexually abused by her father or grandfather to “forgive” him now that he’s gone? When he was living, he never acknowledged the reality of what he had done. He denied her the validation that her pain was real in response to actual events. He made her feel that she was somehow responsible for what “never happened.” Now, we glibly tell her to “forgive” him.
As for me, I identify with the sorrow and despair of those who have suffered and been so deeply impacted by the evil of others. I don’t struggle with mixed feelings about how I feel about them or about those who have perpetrated acts against them. If they’re angry today as they reflect on what happened, I don’t condemn them for feeling that way. In the same way, I identify with and support those who have suffered at the hands of other kinds of “terrorists.” Those who have been terrorized by the destructive acts of those they trusted, who still feel a deep sense of anger or betrayal and struggle daily with trying to move on with life in the aftermath, only evoke empathy in me. Is this somehow inconsistent with the character or commandments of God?
This is a recording of the presentation I did in a church in West Virginia. It’s a good introduction to the theory of conflict that I describe in my book The End of Conflict: Resisting False Utopia in Hope of True Restoration. Grab a cup of coffee. It’s about two hours long.
Have you noticed? Our evangelical culture is all about forgiveness, until it comes to those who for whatever reason don’t agree with us about forgiveness. The only unforgivable offense, it seems, is unforgiveness. No one seems to notice the glaring inconsistency in our unthinking process. It is very similar to the discussion on tolerance. We are highly intolerant of intolerance. This whole thing drives me crazy.
If everything and everyone is automatically forgiven, then my inability to get it or to grant unconditional forgiveness to those who have wronged me should be automatically and unconditionally forgiven by those who see my actions or attitudes as wrong. But, this is not how it goes. Instead of giving me a pass, like they expect me to give everyone else, they don’t. How so? How can you hold me accountable in a world where accountability is the exact thing you prohibit me from practicing with others?
The whole thing is crazy-making and illogical. But, we say this is exactly what the Bible teaches and what we are to practice. No one asks if this makes sense in light of Who God has revealed Himself to be. Does God universally and unilaterally forgive everyone (universalism)? Or, does He do the unthinkable, and actually refuse to forgive people who don’t repent? If we take our logic that we apply to one another and apply it God, we end up finding Him guilty of incredible intolerance and unforgiveness (He’s even angry with the wicked all day long, Ps. 7:11).
And yet, no one questions the logic of the whole thing. We just “know” that the right answer to every problem is unconditional forgiveness. “Don’t confuse the issue with the Scripture or with reason. And by the way, if you don’t forgive everyone, we don’t forgive you.”
When parents either explicitly or implicitly tell their children to do what they say which is directly contradicted by what they actually do, we call it hypocrisy. I saw a great commercial recently that portrayed this reality in regard to smoking. The parent lectures the child on the evils of tobacco use with a cigarette hanging off of their lip. I suspect that parent had a bit of a credibility problem with their child. As parents, we are often guilty of hypocrisy due to the fact that the standard to which we aspire and that to which we point our children is something of which we all fall short. Hopefully, however, the way or the degree to which we fall short of our aspirational values is not too large. If it is, it creates confusion, disillusionment and disengagement in our children. Parental hypocrisy has a stumbling effect. This, you remember, was the chief aspect of the leavening effect of the Pharisees of which Jesus warned His followers.
I think we would all agree that it is bad parenting to ask our children to do something we ourselves are unwilling to do. And yet, this is precisely what the modern view of forgiveness asks God’s children to do. Most evangelicals would agree that God ultimately does not and will not forgive everyone. Most of us are not universalists, despite the resurgence of that ancient belief. God relates to a world that is filled with forgiven and unforgiven people. Despite His call to all to find His forgiveness, many remain estranged. He does not unilaterally grant forgiveness to all, but rather, offers them a way to be reconciled to Him if they so choose. He warns of impending judgment on those who refuse His kindness. So, not only does He not forgive everyone, He as the just Judge must in the end do what is right and pronounce a just verdict over those who are outside of Christ and the forgiveness that He alone brings. This is not controversial for most Christians.
If then, God does not forgive everyone unconditionally, how can He ask us to do so? It is, according to His rightful place of authority and ownership over all things, His divine prerogative to do whatever He pleases. However, He tells us that He is bound by His own character not to be hypocritical. He is light. There is no darkness in Him. He walks (conducts Himself in all things) in the light and asks us to do the same. If these statements are true, how can He ask us, or would He ever ask us, to do anything that He Himself will not do. I think the answer is clearly, “No.” God is the ultimate Parent. There is nothing He asks us to do that He does not practice Himself. He never says to us, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
The parable of Jesus recorded in Luke 18:1-8 is most often called the Parable of the Persistent Woman. The application that follows from this title is generally that we ought to strive harder in prayer. Persistence pays off. We can “wear God down” with our commitment to prayer. Those conclusions have their own set of problems, which are not the topic of this article.
I think we’ve missed the point. The parable centers on the character of the Good Judge contrasted with the character of the unjust judge. It is an argument from the lesser to the greater. If an unjust judge would do the right thing under duress, how much more a perfectly righteous judge who happens to be the Father of those who cry out to Him. With this overlay, hear the parable again.
1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” [Lk. 18:1-8, ESV]
The reason Luke comments that the parable teaches us to pray and not to lose heart centers in the character of the Good Judge. If we know Who we are praying to, His heart, we will be more likely to go to Him with our cries, our laments. Notice the content of the prayer under discussion. It is a cry for justice. In the same way that the woman cried out to the unjust judge for justice against her enemy, so the elect (i.e. believers) cry out to God day and night, asking Him for justice. And, shockingly to many of our modern sentiments, He hears them, answers their prayer and gives them the justice they seek.
Put this parable and its teaching into the context of contemporary American Evangelicalism. The dominant position in our culture advocates for what I have called universal and unconditional forgiveness. In fact, the common position is that anyone who for any reason does not grant forgiveness to those who have wronged them is in danger of damnation. If that were the teaching of Jesus, this parable makes absolutely no sense. The elect are wrong for crying out for justice, just as the woman is wrong seeking justice from the unjust judge. In fact, seeking justice is often seen as synonymous with the dreaded problem of “bitterness.” If every offense ever committed against us is to be immediately and unconditionally forgiven, there is nothing to cry out about. All is forgiven and whether true or not we are to carry on as if “all is well.” One thing we are not to do as modern American Evangelicals is to seek justice, either through human means or by praying for divine intervention. I’ve argued elsewhere (The End of Conflict) that vengeance is not ours, but the sole right of God Himself. To attempt to bring justice to bear in terms of executing vengeance on adversaries is playing God [Romans 12:12-21].
Praying for our enemies, however, is explicitly the teaching and personal example of Jesus to be followed by his disciples. Praying for our enemies changes our hearts and affections toward them while it guards us from an unhealthy desire for personal vengeance. This does not preclude asking God for justice in regard to our case (the just thing for them and for us) nor does it include the requirement to unilaterally forgive impenitent offenders. In this pattern, we follow the example of Jesus Himself, God incarnate who also perfectly mimics His Father and the Holy Spirit. He prays for His crucifiers, asking His Father to have mercy on them. Their actual forgiveness from God for their culpability in the greatest injustice of human history was not granted apart from their confession and repentance in time [Acts 2:38].
Listen to John Calvin’s thoughts on this passage:
But it is asked, How does Christ instruct his disciples to seek vengeance, while he exhorts them on another occasion, pray for those who injure and persecute you, [Matthew 5:44.] I:reply: what Christ says here about vengeance does not at all interfere with his former doctrine. God declares that he will avenge believers, not for the purpose of giving a loose rein to their carnal affections, but in order to convince them that their salvation is dear and precious in his sight, and in this manner to induce them to rely on his protection. If, laying aside hatred, pure and free from every wicked desire of revenge, and influenced by proper and well-regulated dispositions, they implore divine assistance, it will be a lawful and holy wish, and God himself will listen to it. But as nothing is more difficult than to divest ourselves of sinful affections, if we would offer pure and sincere prayers, we must ask the Lord to guide and direct our hearts by his Spirit. Then shall we lawfully call on God to be our avenger, and he will answer our prayers.
God is a just Judge and a loving and protective Father. If a corrupt judge would hesitantly respond to a widow’s request for justice in her case, how much more will our Father respond to the cries of His elect?
Once again, we are confronted with the contradiction between the biblical doctrine of forgiveness and the contemporary evangelical adoption of therapeutic forgiveness.
One aspect of conflict is often omitted from the discussion, even among believers. It is one that, if we are not careful to notice, will quite readily go unobserved. Because it is unseen, we need to rely on our eyes of faith, believing the revelation of the Scripture, to comprehend this invisible reality so often, if not always, at work in conflict.
A Supernatural Worldview
Conflict is a human problem. We fight against one another. However, on a deeper more sinister level, we recognize the presence of someone greater than our human foes. There is someone behind these world forces and paradigms. Though our naturalistic worldview does not allow for his existence, he exists and has a definite agenda that is contrary to the plan and purpose of God. He hides behind the guise of our so-called intelligence, our modern “scientific” mindset. We are far too sophisticated to believe in a literal devil anymore.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones commented, “Far from being a realist, as you imagine yourself to be, you are of all people the one who is not really facing the world situation as it is at this moment. There is nothing more realistic at this hour than what we are to consider [spiritual warfare].” Our “modern” mindset began a century ago. B. B. Warfield wrote about the emergence of this in his day. He discerned this core problem of anti-supernaturalism as lying at the root of the theological liberalism of the thirties:
An even more powerful current seems to have seized the modern world [of 1932], and to be hurling it by a very different pathway to practically the same conclusion [as Deism and atheism]. It is to be feared that it cannot be denied that we are today in the midst of a very strong drift away from frank recognition of the supernatural as a factor in human life. . . An absolutely anti-supernaturalistic Christianity is therefore a contradiction in terms. Nevertheless, immersed in an anti-supernaturalistic world-atmosphere, Christian thinking tends to become as anti-supernaturalistic as possible to it. And it is indisputable that this is the characteristic of the Christian thought of our day [italics mine].
The heart of our faith teaches us that this world, the one that we experience through our five senses, is not all that there is. Faith, in its essence, is fixed on things we cannot see. Christianity, by definition, is a supernatural faith. If we lose this, we lose everything.
Beyond our normal ability to discern with our senses, lies a vast network of angelic beings. Some of these angels have remained loyal to God and to His service. They constantly work to restrain evil and to protect the lives of God’s people. On the other hand, there is a sinister network of fallen angels, demons, who, under the leadership of Lucifier, seek to thwart the purpose and plan of God. Though dealt a decisive blow in the cross of Calvary, these demonic powers have not yet finally or fully been removed from the earth. They are ever working, behind the scenes, to seek to bring about the destruction of God’s greatest creation, humankind. They hate the image of God in us. Many books on conflict, however, make no mention of these unseen spiritual forces of wickedness all around us. It’s as if we don’t believe that they exist. Have they convinced us that they’re not there?
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.” This was said originally in 1864 by Charles Baudelaire, and made famous by C. S. Lewis. Lewis goes on to describe, through the diabolical voice of Wormwood, this primary strategy of our enemy:
Keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. . . Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. . . We are faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism, and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make materialists and skeptics.
The devil’s foremost strategy is to convince us that he is not there, that there is nothing beyond the data we can gather with our five senses. This is part of the current anti-supernatural bent that characterizes our modern culture. We are a nation of materialists and skeptics. A recent Gallop poll revealed that while “nine in ten Americans still believe in God . . . only forty-three percent (43%) of Americans believe the devil to be a ‘living entity,’ as opposed to a symbol of evil.” If we do not believe in him, we are powerless to resist him!
The Conflict Behind All Conflicts
There is, in fact, always a conflict behind the conflict. If we do not have spiritual eyes to see, we will inevitably fail to discern the true nature of our struggle. We are always connected to the struggle in the heavenly realm as we contend here on earth.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:10-12).
Paul says, without apology and by divine inspiration, that it is his conclusion that our wrestling, our true conflict, is not with our fellow man, but rather with beings that are not of this world. These rulers and forces in the heavenly realms are our true enemies. Paul is not alone in this thought. Jesus Himself recognized and confronted the conflict behind his conflict with Peter. As He sought to explain the way of the cross, Peter under Satanic influence resisted Him. Notice Jesus’ response to Peter, and to Satan:
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matt. 16:21-23).
Jesus indisputably saw the presence of Satan in this encounter with Peter. He went so far as to confront Satan and his influence in Peter. Is Jesus delusional or superstitious? Or, did He see things for how they really were?
This is not the only direct reference to the devil’s work, even in the twelve. Just prior to the night in which Jesus was betrayed, Luke records, “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve” (Lk. 22:3). So, the inspired understanding of the role of Judas, the son of perdition, is that he did what he did under the influence of Satan himself. The betrayal and crucifixion of Christ, the most heinous and unjust crime ever committed, was perpetrated not only by a sinful Judas in conspiracy with sinful religious leaders and corrupt political authorities, but ultimately by all of these forces of this world operating under the influence of its prince.
Jesus, in His public ministry had three main tasks, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, healing and casting our demons. Often, the work of healing and deliverance from demonic oppression were concurrent tasks. A fresh reading of the gospels without a naturalistic bias, will reveal the vast amount of supernatural ministry that characterized Christ’s ministry on earth. We cannot read very far into the gospel accounts, without a reference to an encounter with the forces of darkness. He came into the world as the light. The darkness was provoked and showed itself in His presence. Even after the ascension of Christ, in the midst of the early church empowered by the Spirit at Pentecost, we see evidence of the work of the enemy, even in professing believers. Ananias and Saphira lie to the Holy Spirit about the price of the sale of their property under the influence of Satan who “filled their heart” to do so (Acts 5:3).
Paul’s great summary account of our life prior to being made alive in Christ is also instructive at this point. Notice how he describes our former way of life:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2:1-3).
We were not just “dead in sin,” i.e. “pervasively depraved,” but we were in an alliance with the world system energized by the devil himself. Our nature was, indeed corrupt, but more than that, we had a vital connection to Satan. This just does not fit modern sensibilities. “People, in their natural state, even as sinners, are not under the influence of Satan, if he even exists,” we say. The Bible says otherwise. Paul, here, tells us that he, the prince of the power of the air, was at work in us, the sons and daughters of disobedience. Paul is incredibly consistent and in total agreement with Jesus. Our conflict is not just with flesh and blood, not even primarily with flesh and blood. Instead, behind our conflict with others is a more powerful and evil opponent who seeks to use our inability to resolve conflict on the path of wisdom to destroy us all.
Conflict on Two Levels: The Example of Job
Job, the oldest book in the canon, is one of the most instructive on this point. The narrative of Job begins in the throne room of God. Following the prologue, describing the justness and the blessedness of Job and his family, scene one opens, a scene to which Job himself is not privy. There we see an interaction between God and the Devil concerning Job and his character. Satan uses Job as a challenge to God’s ability to recreate humanity in true righteousness and holiness. Satan longs for an opportunity to show that the redemption brought about in fallen humanity is a sham.
The true account of the trials of Job gives us insight into conflict today. It is critical that we understand the two-fold nature of conflict. It is always conflict on earth as it is in heaven. There are always two parallel scenes taking place in the great drama that we call redemption. It is commonly said that believers are capable of being so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. We just aren’t that heavenly minded. Our minds, tend toward fixation on things below. Thus, Paul’s exhortation to us and the Colossians to set our mind elsewhere, on things above, where Christ is (Col. 3:1-4; Eph. 2:6). This heavenly aspect of conflict is a critical aspect of rightly comprehending the bigger picture. There are real conflicts in heavenly places that directly bear on our conflicts below (Dan. 10:13).
After obtaining the permission of God, Satan leaves the throne room and pursues his strategy of despair and destruction. The attack of Satan, as described in the initial chapters of Job, consists in two waves. In the initial onslaught, Job’s children, their servants and livestock are the victims. In a series of escalating tragedies, the devil brings calamity into Job’s life. The four initial attacks were composed of two human acts of evil and two “acts of God,” or natural disasters. The Chaldeans and the Sabbaeans are used of Satan, with God’s permission, to bring raids on Job’s extended family. The fire from heaven and the wind storm, that resulted in the death of his children, are also described as having a Satanic origin. Job, remarkably sustains the initial wave of attacks, and maintains his integrity. Satan, with additional permission from God, brings a second wave. He sends an outbreak of boils into Job’s life, this time touching his body. So, we see that Satan, in the book of Job, is responsible for the presence of disease, natural disaster, and human evil. It is this last subject that we are most interested in here.
How does the presence of Satan and his host of fallen angels connect to the presence of evil men and women on earth? There is a high degree of mystery here. We do not know exactly how demonic influence connects with human corruption to produce evil actions. The marauders in Job, the hijackers on 9/11, those who stir up division in churches, how are these human agents influenced by the enemy? We don’t entirely know. What we do know is that the Bible is fairly clear that every one of us is ultimately accountable before God for the acts done in our bodies (Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10). This is no less true for perpetrators of great evil. In other words, demonic influence is not an excuse for our actions. There appears to be a form of dual-causality and a corresponding dual-accountability portrayed in Scripture. Human agents are fully responsible for their actions, even those actions for which demonic forces are also held responsible (Acts 2:23). Judas, the son of perdition, is culpable for the betrayal of the Lord Jesus, as is the devil who entered him. Satan was clearly the author behind the German holocaust; He will give account for his leadership; the officers in the Third Reich who carried out these heinous crimes, however, will also give account. Flip Wilson was wrong for thinking that we can avoid responsibility by claiming “the devil made me do it.”
The Enemy Purposes of Conflict
The enemy is hell bent on ruining the creation of God, seeking to corrupt and deface the glory. He, according to Jesus, has three main foci, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (Jn. 10:10a). On a personal level, he seeks to keep unbelievers from a renewed relationship with God and believers from the joy of fellowship with Him. He seeks to defeat us, to separate us from God through tempting us into sin, to condemn us for those very things he suggested, and to do his utmost to convince us that we are unlovable. He works overtime on our hearts through the agency of our flesh to convince us that God is not who He says He is. He seeks to cause us to doubt our identity in Christ. He, therefore, seeks to steal our joy that results from an assurance of a right standing with God. He seeks to bring us into relational death with God and others, to kill our well-being and witness in the world. Lastly, he desires our destruction. If given permission, he would not hesitate to utterly destroy us. Thankfully, God rules over him and limits his ability to wreak havoc.
So, we wrestle with the enemy on a personal level. He uses our fleshliness and remaining corruption against us in the fight. He aggravates our sinful tendencies, making our battle even intrapersonally not against even our own flesh only. William Gurnall describes the way in which the enemy works in us:
The sense of the apostle is not as if the Christian had not combat with his corrupt nature . . . the spirit lusts against the flesh and the flesh against the spirit, these are contrary . . . but to aggravate his conflict with this enemy by the access of a foreign power, Satan, who strikes in with this domestic enemy. As if while a king is fighting with his own mutinous subjects, some outlandish troops should join with them; now he may be said, not to fight with his subjects, but with a foreign power. The Christian wrestles not with his naked corruptions, but with Satan in them. Our sin is the engine, Satan the engineer; our lust the bait, Satan the angler.
On a corporate level, the enemy also works to destroy any semblance of shalom in our lives. He seeks to cause divisions and rifts in marriages, families, churches, businesses, nations and in every sphere of our interconnectedness with one another. He is the great divider. He sows seeds of discontent and discord among us. The restoration of all things after their original created design is unacceptable to him. Therefore, he is constantly seeking to disrupt and destroy the work of redemption and healing among us. He is motivated by envy and anger. He has never gotten over the fact that He cannot and will never be the recipient of the glory that belongs to God alone. He is motivated by this rage to do all that he can to keep others from glorifying God as well.
The Enemy’s Strategy
If the enemy is bent on the destruction of as many as he can drag down with him, and he is. And if his main purpose is one of destruction, death and theft, and it is. Then, how does he go about the obtaining of his devilish goals? He utilizes certain strategems (methodeía) that are still in use, just as they have been for thousands of years among the children of Adam. If the same methods continue to produce results, why change strategies? The good news is that these wiles, these common tactics of the devil, are made known to us in the pages of Scripture. His devices are to be understood by the believer. This is clearly stated in Paul’s assumptions regarding the Corinthians, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Cor. 2:11). Are we, today, ignorant of his strategies?
The devil and his co-conspirators utilize a fairly predictable set of approaches to exacerbate conflict among us and to destroy us at both a personal level and a corporate level. If he were allowed, he would most certainly kill us all. Satan, in his plan of attack, has two primary strategies. He brings temptation, seeking to draw us into sin. Once he has succeeded in bringing about our fall, his strategy then turns to our condemnation. His primary domain, place of attack, is in the area of the mind and the heart. These two aspects of humanity are so directly affected by speech and language. In accordance with that fact, chief among his tactics is the use of communication that is deceptive, destructive and condemning. So he tempts us, then condemns us when we fall, and all the while he uses devilish speech to accomplish his goals. When we see these patterns of human behavior, it is not a stretch to conclude that an enemy has been working behind the scenes.
Temptation, Accusation and Blinding
Satan’s main design is to tempt us to sin. To entice us to sin is to seek to draw us into conflict, with God and one another. Remember, our sin is always interpersonal. His temptations are well chosen and come to us in his most advantageous seasons, those right times when we are most prone to succumb to his suggestions. He is the master manager of these enticements. He often appears to be “an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14-15). His temptations, therefore, often look very spiritual and are easily taken in by the professing believer who lacks discernment of his presence and purpose. He subtly moves in little by little, a progression so gradual that we hardly notice his movement. He mixes his evil intent with our passions, some of which are pure, so that we can find ourselves sinning in a “good” cause. This principle explains why the presence of such profound evil in the midst of conflict can be found among the people of God gathered in the church. Just as Jesus promised, the time will come when he who destroys others within the community of faith “will think he is offering service to God” (Jn. 16:2b).
Once he has convinced us of the wisdom in sin and we have committed the offense, he quickly turns against us as our chief accuser. Satan is no gentleman. He kicks us when we’re down. He shares no ownership in those things he inspires in us. He never owns up to his responsibility. Though he had a definite part in the conception of our sin, after it is born, he “lays his brats at our door” and leaves us alone with them. He lights the match, drops it in the forest, and then has the nerve to ask the question in the middle of the raging forest, “who lit this?” He is the master at causing us to think that his accusing voice is the voice of God. He lays his charge under the guise of the Holy Spirit. He seeks to convince us that we are forsaken by God.
For some of us his attacks center directly on our already active conscience. For others, his work is to suppress the knowledge of sin and any semblance of self-awareness, lest we, in seeing our true sinfulness, would truly repent. He can’t bear the thought of people coming to the knowledge of sin in a healthy way. He, therefore, blinds the minds of not only unbelievers but believers for a season to the presence of unconfessed sin. He helps us maintain the pretense. He encourages our denial and feigned innocence before God and others. He destroys us through a secret attack against our true integrity. In those places no one else can see, he works to bring a division between what we profess and our true inner life. He divides us then not only corporately from one another but also intrapersonally from true knowledge and understanding of ourselves.
The devil and his followers use various means to tempt us to sin and to keep us down when we fall. In all these things, at both the supernatural and natural levels, communication plays a key role in the process. One of the names for Satan is the devil, diabolos in the Greek (Rev. 12:9). This term is derived from the verb diaballo, “to accuse or malign,” and is thus translated as “the accuser” or “the slanderer.” The devil is the originator of communication that is intent on destroying others. He often uses human beings as dupes to do his bidding. The tongue is his weapon of choice. James points this out in his famous discourse on the taming of the tongue. He wisely instructs us that our speech is perhaps the most difficult area for most of us to bring into maturity. The tongue is a small, yet powerful, weapon. He adds that the tongue is often “set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). Hell often animates our tongues. Diabolical speech has certain key aspects:
Lying (Deceiving) Speech
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies (Jn. 8:44).
At his core, the devil is a liar and the originator of all that is false. God, by contrast is truth itself. Satan appeared in the garden questioning the veracity of God. He is the questioner who is habitually asking, “Did God say?” Under his influence, human beings will find themselves in patterns of deception and falsehood. We are called to “put away lying” (Eph. 4:25). And yet, one of the most pervasive problems among the sons and daughters of Adam is an inability to walk in truth. One of the surest signs of the enemy’s presence in a conflict situation is the existence of falsehood. Stories don’t match the real history of events. Facts are distorted and altered to fit an alternate reality. Under the stimulus of the evil one, people can look others in the eye and lie through their proverbial teeth. The devil is a liar. All falsehood is directly or indirectly connected to him.
Satanically influenced speech will often include the use of gossip and slander. Gossip involves the inappropriate sharing of information about someone else with others who are neither part of the problem or part of the solution. Those with whom the information is shared do not have a legitimate “need to know.” It is important to note that the sin of gossip involves both the giving and receiving of inappropriate communication. Slander is also inappropriate. It goes a step beyond gossip and includes the sharing of information that is false. Slander often involves the use of fabricated information or speculation shared with others as part of an attempt to assassinate someone’s character. Gossip and slander are part and parcel of diabolical communication patterns.
Condemning (Accusing) Speech
The devil not only inspires us to lie about circumstances, ourselves and others, he also lies to us, even as he did to Eve, about the character of God. He whispers quietly, in a manner difficult to differentiate from our own conscience, that we are forsaken of God. He tells us we are unlovable. He convinces us that we are unforgivable. He distorts the biblical representation of the character of our heavenly Father. He transforms Him into an angry and distant father. He pushes us toward feelings of rejection and condemnation. This is his nature. We feel judged and naturally, under his tutelage, we begin to look askance at others around us.
We have a propensity to judge others, according to his influence. He helps us practice the unhealthy practice of comparison. We assess ourselves according to others around us. Again James points to the nature of judgmental cursing speech. He informs us that this “wisdom” does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic” (James 3:15). Once again, we are not simply dealing with unhealthy speech patterns but worse with demonic speech patterns that are energized by hell itself.
Divisive (Discord sowing) Speech
Diabolical speech has a destructive effect on its speakers and hearers. Through corrupt communication patterns, the closest of friends become the fiercest of enemies. The devil is the master at instilling discordant speech among God’s people. He stealthily brings division into our ranks. We can find ourselves divided over the most trivial of issues. Often, in the heat of the battle, we find that we longer remember what it was that we were fighting about. Nonetheless, we remain cut off from one another. The enemy seeks to divide us from God and each other.
Diabolical speech is devil-inspired communication. It is one of the clearest indicators of his work among us. When we begin to see signs of falsehood, judgment and condemnation, or divisiveness, we can rightly conclude that he has been at work. Being aware of his patterns is a tremendous help for us as we seek to rightly sort out conflict roles and responsibilities.
To Destroy Us
His purpose is clear. He does what he does in terms of corrupt influence among us in order to destroy us individually. His communication toward us is designed to bring us to naught. He seeks our destruction or, at the very least, our reduction to ineffectiveness in the kingdom. He brings discouragement and despair. He brings relationships and hurtful communication patterns into our lives for the specific purpose of ruining our joyful response to God’s grace and mercy in our lives. He knows that the old saying about sticks and stones is untrue. Knowing that “the power of death and life is in the tongue” (Prov. 18:21), he seeks to use the tongue to bring destruction and death.
He employs a two-fold strategy that seeks not only our personal destruction but our corporate destruction as well. He understands certain key principles of warfare. He knows that one of the most effective means by which we can be subdued is through the common practice of dividing and conquering. If he can divide us, remove the strength that results from standing together against our common foe, he is making progress toward his ultimate end. He particularly goes after those in leadership positions. Father and mothers in homes falling will ultimately effect the children. Pastors and elders succumbing will have a negative effect on the entire congregation. He knows well that if he “strikes the shepherd, the sheep will scatter” (Zech. 13:7; Matt. 26:31). Therefore, he redoubles his effort to pull down those in all forms of leadership positions within society.
Fighting the Good Fight
Our fight is against principalities and powers in heavenly places. Knowing their strategy is a good first step. Without this prior knowledge we will be perpetually surprised by tactics we should have known about. Paul describes this fight in detail in his epistle to the church at Ephesus:
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Eph. 6:13-20).
Mastering the concepts taught in this key passage is extremely helpful in avoiding satanic strategies ourselves as well as having wisdom to assist others caught in spiritual warfare.
The first logical step in fighting the influence of the evil one is awareness. If we do not recognize him and his influence among us, we will inadequately misdiagnose the nature of our conflicts. As we have seen, Jesus was keenly able to recognize his work, even among the twelve. Though shocking perhaps to Peter, Jesus’ ability to see the work of Satan seeking to sift him, was a key to His ability to rebuke and resist him.
Jesus earlier told his followers a basic principle that is applicable to this discussion. He told them that trees are identifiable by their fruit (Matt. 7:16-20). So it is with this area of recognizing the presence and work of our enemy. When we see evidence of him in the forms of lying speech, destructive speech, and divisive speech, we can begin to conclude that an enemy has been working. We need to be paying attention, to be watching and discerning the signs of his influence in the tumult.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Pet. 5:8-11).
The devil’s primary means of destruction, as we have seen, is through corrupting our communication with one another. He does this most often through the giving and receiving of what Paul refers to as “corrupt communication” (Eph. 4:29a). Corrupt communication can include various kinds of unhealthy speech: gossip, slander, backbiting, and complaining. One of the best ways, therefore to resist him, is to abstain from the giving and receiving of gossip and slander. Receiving gossip and slander is just as culpable as giving. We resist him and his work by refusing to participate in all forms of corrupt, or rotten, communication. Instead, we resolve to communicate in a new way according to the new person that we are becoming. We choose to use our words for “only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29b).
We resist him in our speech patterns. We also resist him in other areas of temptation to sin. This passage from Peter, someone who well understood how easy it is to be influenced by Satan, is extremely encouraging. He clearly tells us that the enemy is resistible. We don’t have to succumb to his influence. We don’t have to sin. The armor of God, in its entirety, helps us in this regard.
Using the armor
The armor as some have commented is “nothing more than a symbolic description of the Lord Himself. The armor is Christ—and what He is prepared to be and accomplish in our lives.” The analogy of the armor, though significantly similar to the protections of a Roman soldier is more likely patterned after God’s armor. Paul describes the armor in its various components, all of which have a direct connection to his earlier statement that the Ephesians have been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). These weapons, Paul reminds us, are “not carnal, but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). Consider the first three pieces of the armor, those things that are fixed to the body, those preparatory things that we have received in and through our union with Christ. For the first three, the verb is in the past tense, “having taken.”
Truth as a girdle
Paul tells the Ephesians to gird up their loins with truth, like a belt. Girding loins was a preparatory act prior to battle. If the long robes worn were not girded up, movement in the battle would be hindered. Truth keeps us together and frees us to move and to engage in the battle. The “truth” pictured here is two-fold, truth of doctrine and truth of heart. The truth of God’s Word rightly understood prepares us for our conflict with the enemy. However, right doctrine alone will not adequately prepare us. In addition to sound theology and biblical knowledge, we also need truth of heart. Being true, in this sense, is a matter of our sincerity, our integrity, our congruence, and our being free from hypocrisy and double-living. In other words, radical honesty, truth in the inward parts, is that which girds us for the battle against the father of lies. As we will see, honesty is the foundation of the path of wisdom in rightly dealing with the consequences of our sin. Have we taken up truth in this way?
Righteousness as a breastplate
The second thing needed for battle is righteousness. We have taken up righteousness as a breastplate, that armor that protects our vital organs including our heart, when we are united to Christ in such as way that He is our very life. He is our righteousness (Jer. 23:5,6). This is true in two ways. He is our righteousness as His perfect life is reckoned or imputed to our account (2 Cor. 5:21). He is also our righteousness as His life is imparted to us by His Holy Spirit, who enables us to live life according to the new man that was “created again in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24). It is this two-fold righteousness that protects us in the battle, righteousness imputed and righteousness imparted. Have we taken this up? Are we aware of the righteousness of Christ given to us in our abiding connection to Him?
Reconciliation as a place to stand
Thirdly, Paul says we have prepared our feet and our footing for battle by the preparedness of the gospel of peace. Understanding that we who were formerly His enemies have been reconciled to God, that He is at peace with us (Rom. 5:1,2), is foundational to our standing in the midst of the struggle. Having our feet shod with this awareness leads to a two-fold experience of the objective peace with God that we have in Christ and the subjective peace of God that flows from this understanding. Have we equipped our feet with the peace that the gospel declares is ours in and through Christ?
Following the first three pieces of fixed protection, we are called to take up the latter three. These are actively picked up and used as both defensive and offensive weaponry. The first is faith (pistis).
Faith (active trust) as a shield
It is significant that faith is part of the three latter as opposed to the three former pieces of the armor. If faith were simply a one-time event, it would make far more sense to connect it to the other three aspects we have examined. This is not the case, however. Faith, though initially exercised as the means by which we first became connected to Christ, is an ongoing part of the Christian life. The word pistis can alternately be translated as “active trust.” Trust is the heart of our relationship with God, and therefore, central to the fight against spiritual forces.
Faith in this sense is a large shield (thureos) that is utilized to extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy. William Still defines these darts as,
A series of sudden, totally unexpected attacks, usually very different from one another, aimed at shaking our faith in God, his revealed Word and will to his children, and our judgment, obedience and sincerity.
Sometimes these darts come in the form of interjected thoughts through the agency of our flesh. At other times, these attacks come at us through the human agency of others under the inspiration of the enemy. How then does this shield of active trust extinguish these darts? Faith always points to its object, never to itself. In this case faith, as a shield, points to God, His character and promises, as our very present help in time of trouble. Do we, in the face of adversity, take up active trust as a means of deflecting the fiery darts of the enemy?
Hope of salvation future as a helmet
Paul wrote to the Thesallonians to take “the hope of salvation” as a helmet (1 Thes. 5:8). If we take these two passages as parallel, we begin to understand what Paul means in the analogy of the helmet. The helmet protects our head (our mind, faculties, disposition, sanity). Hope in the future return and final victory of Christ protects our heads. This is most certainly the context of the first letter to the Thesallonians. This is the perspective of the not yet, the certainty of what is to be, brought into our present reality to inspire hope and confidence to persevere through trials. So, hope keeps us in our right mind. Do we put on the helmet, in the midst of the struggle, by reflecting on the eschatological hope of the coming consummation of the kingdom following the return of Christ?
Swinging the sword of the Spirit
Paul tells us emphatically that the sword of the Spirit is the “word (rhema) of God” (Eph. 6:17). A key method, and our only offensive weapon, for resisting the enemy is found in the use of God’s rhema as a weapon. Paul does not use the word logos here. He specifically chooses to use another term, rhema. The rhema word of God is a timely word for a specific situation, a word well-applied. Stedman defines it as “a specific saying of God, a passage or a verse that has special application to an immediate situation . . . the saying of God applied to a specific situation in your life.”
The clearest example of the usage of this sword in found in Jesus. Following His baptism, He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for a forty day period of testing. In the midst of the enemy’s temptation, Jesus was given a timely word as His response. To each of the three temptations, He replies, “It is written.” Jesus drew from His knowledge of Scripture, stored up in His heart and retrieved by the power of the Holy Spirit, to strike down the godless temptations of the evil one. So, following after the example of Jesus, do we use the timely word of God given to us in the moment to strike down the attack of the enemy?
The Power of Prayer
Prayer is our vital communication with God. It is both the speaking and the hearing that is the basis of our relationship with Him. In prayer, we connect with Him who is our ultimate Reality. He gives us His perspective as we cast our cares upon Him. He comforts us in all our tribulations. He hears our cries and is moved to action on our behalf. He is mighty to save. Prayer is the key. In conjunction with the Word, prayer forms the basis of our strategy. We will notice in future chapters that prayer plays a vital role in the area of conflict resolution or shalom in the midst of its non-resolution. In the midst of unresolvable conflicts, prayer is often that practice that most keeps us from the loss of faith and hope.
Having taken up truth as a girdle, righteousness as a breastplate, and shoes of a reconciled relationship with God, taking the shield of faith, the helmet of future salvation, and wielding the sword of the Spirit, the rhema of God, we are ready for the fight. The primary means by which we fight, however, is through prayer. John Wesley wisely said, “God does nothing except in response to believing prayer.” So, it is in the area of spiritual conflict. Prayer always and in the power of the Holy Spirit, who knows what we need and intercedes for us to that end, is our main strategy. Prayer is the very heart of our godly resistance of the enemy. It is in utter dependence and reliance on God that we stand. Just as Paul began by reminding us that it is “the Lord’s strength and the power of His might” (Eph. 6:10), so he ends by connecting us back to this most basic principle. The battle, ultimately, is the Lord’s!
Evil and Conflict
The prevailing wisdom of our day is naturalistic. Even among believers, many of us have been intimidated by the scientific community to abandon, or at least downplay, our supernatural worldview. Perhaps as a result of charismatic excess, we have moved away from life lived in hope of supernatural intervention. We pursue doctors, instead of prayer for divine healing. We see counselors, instead of sorting things out with our loving Father. We default to natural diagnoses and therefore natural solutions to our problems. Christianity, however, is, by definition, supernatural. The entirety of our faith rests on the reality of the supernatural, a personal Holy Spirit, not a mere force or power. In our conflict situations, it is easy for us to follow the natural path so prevalent in our culture. We can use the best human techniques that the growing science of mediation has to offer. The whole while, however, we can be completely oblivious to the presence of evil behind the curtain.
We have a real enemy. His name is Satan. He has many fallen angels in his ranks who are set on carrying out his diabolical plans to bring theft, death and destruction into our lives. He has a special hatred toward those of us who are in Christ. We are his enemy. He is always working behind the scenes and ever present, though disguised, in conflicts between us. As we sort out roles and responsibilities in conflicts, we perhaps need to add another layer to our analysis. Consider the following proposed working definitions of conflict:
A horizontal conflict is the presence of broken relationship that has resulted from the commission of sinful actions growing out of inordinate or sinful desires on the part of one party, the offender, under the influence of demonic activity against the other, the offended.
A vertical conflict is the presence of a broken relationship that has resulted from the commission of sinful actions growing out of inordinate or sinful desires on the part of people, the offender, under the influence of demonic activity against God, the Offended.
So, evil in the form of satanically originated opposition is a key aspect of our paradigm of conflict. Conflict originated with him in the throne room of heaven and will not fully cease until he is finally destroyed. Satan himself is a foe who never ceases to oppose God and His followers. Whether we acknowledge him and his wiles or not, he nonetheless, fights on. So evil, in the form of Satan and all who follow Him, always underlies the presence of conflict.
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Warfare: An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10 to 13 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976), 39.
 Benjamin B. Warfield, Studies in Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1932), 27-29.
 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan, 1961?), 32.
 John A. Murray, “C. S. Lewis and the Devil: Admirers of ‘The Screwtape Letters’ Range from Monty Python’s John Cleese to Focus on the Family,” The Wall Street Journal Online, August 5, 2011, accessed at http:online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424053111903454504576486441729097076.html.
 The gospels do not distinguish between demon oppression and possession as we have been taught to do. Instead, they simply refer to people being demonized (daimonazo). Jesus delivered various people who were under demonic influence at various levels.
 It is interesting that we call such things “natural disasters” on one hand indicating our belief that they are not caused by anyone, but merely by nature. On the other hand, we still refer to such things in our insurance policies as “acts of God.”
 William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour: A Treatise of the Saints’ War Against the Devil (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1995), 124.
 This is the term used by Paul in Ephesians 6:11. Methodeia is translated as the devil’s schemes, his wiles, his overall methodology of seeking to destroy God’s work.
 God does not allow him this desire of his heart, however. His effect on us is limited by the God to whom he gives account.
 Gurnall, 86.
 There is a difference between the accusing voice of the enemy, our own conscience which are imperfect, and the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit. The devil loves to blur these lines. He would like nothing more than to convince us that the condemnation that we hear in our heads is the very voice of the God who has rejected us. Fortunately, this is almost never true. Those accusations against us that are contrary to the purposes of grace God has in our lives are almost never the Holy Spirit, but our own faulty conscience, provoked by the power of hell.
 In the NASB, diabolos is translated thirty-four times as “devil.” The other three occurrences are translated “malicious gossips.”
 Ray C. Stedman, Spiritual Warfare (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, 1975), 97.
 In Isaiah 59:14-17, the LORD is portrayed as wearing the armor as the Divine Warrior. He is the Intercessor that brings about justice for Himself. The implication is that we can trust the armor as that which God has used in the past to achieve victory. It is the armor of God (possessive), “God’s armor.”
 William Still, Toward Spiritual Maturity (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1992), 44-45.
 Logos refers to “the expression of thought, embodying a conception or idea” as opposed to rhema which refers to “that which is spoken.” W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Jr. eds., Vine’s Expository Dictionary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985), 683.
 Stedman, 150.
 Jesus was fully human. He studied and memorized the Word of God as a human being. Relying on the empowering of the Holy Spirit in His daily life, He hid God’s Word in His heart. It was this vast knowledge of Scripture that was available for the Holy Spirit to draw from in resisting these temptations. If Jesus committed God’s Word to memory so that He would have it available in the day of testing, how will we survive the enemy’s onslaught if we have no ammunition in our hearts?