I have been thinking a lot both yesterday and today about tragedy and sadness. Most people, if they have any compassion at all, feel some level of sorrow when they hear about incidents like the explosive devices going off at the Boston Marathon. We want answers as to who and why and how and we want them now. Once the investigations are complete and the culprit has been found theories will abound as to what ills in our society have led to a tragedy such as that. People will point fingers and try to discern what, ultimately, was the real cause beyond the immediately identified cause whether that be individual or entity.
It seems almost trite to point out the real cause behind tragedies and troubles in the world is the evil that is in the world. I think dismissing its effect as trite is part of the work of evil. We have become so accustomed to being surrounded by evil forces and having them permeate our lives, it becomes easy to dismiss them as irrelevant and to become complacent about evil’s existence. What do I mean by that?
Despite the beauty in this world God created there is a powerful spiritual force of evil which is present all the time and which we tend to forget to acknowledge. Paul wasn’t just painting a nice picture when he warned us to put on the armor of God every day. I think he had a pretty clear understanding of what this world is really like and the damage living constantly surrounded by evil, seen and unseen, can do to humanity. It wears away at every part of us.
I keep thinking about the warnings Paul gives in Ephesians 6:8-10:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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.”
It is pretty clear he is warning me right here it might seem like people are the problem, but ultimately they are often tools for evil and not the root cause. A spiritual battle we cannot see rages heavy and constantly and it affects the world and those of us immersed it. One of the greatest victories for evil is when people become immune to it or dismiss it.
It’s kindof like watching movies. We see and hear a lot of things in the movies - like foul language, violence, cheating, lying, stealing and etc. If we watch enough and listen to enough of them we become immune to the fact those are things people should not do. I can’t tell you how many times I have had people ask me why a movie is rated “R” and then when they hear it is because of the violent content, say something like, “Oh, just for violence, that’s not so bad.” Not like a lot of sex or drugs or something I guess, things they wouldn't want their children exposed to - violence is apparently okay. Human nature is adaptable and we become immune and don’t notice the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle influence evil spiritual forces have on us. It is a lot easier and makes the world seem to be a much safer place if I dismiss spiritual warfare as not real and relegate it to Hollywood entertainment. But Paul didn't know about Hollywood or the “Paranormal” movies or anything like that - he just knew there was spiritual warfare happening all the time, everywhere on Earth and that nobody is really immune to its effects.
So he admonishes us:
“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. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Paul warns us to protect ourselves from head to toe and every place in-between. We are vulnerable to attack and can be seriously affected physically and mentally by what is going on around us spiritually. We need truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation and the Spirit to protect ourselves. And he actually tells us we have to put all that on. It is a combination of spiritual disciplines which will in turn help protect us from the physical, emotional, and spiritual damage living in such a world can cause. Imagine buckling up a belt of truth. In order to do that, we have to understand Truth. If we don’t know what real Truth is, we have no way to discern who or what to believe in and follow. As much as our post-modern worldview would like to have us believe there is no foundational Truth for life - people are wired to believe in some kind of Truth and they will find something to believe in.
I challenge you to open your Bible and read it - straight through beginning to end - no matter how many days it takes you. I challenge you not to find Truth in those words.
You will find Truth about human nature and about the world and about life.
And what about our righteousness? I don’t mean some smug feeling of I’m-right-you're-wrong; I’m talking about a yearning and desire to see right and honorable things happening in the world. If we are not filling our minds with things that are right and good, we are filling them with things that are not. Part of filling our minds with things which are right and good is deciding and owning what we believe. I don’t think there is an in-between. How can I stand up for right if I don’t know what I believe in? And in addition to the clear cut areas of right and wrong - what about all the grey areas? Am I going to keep myself out of those as well? I have to decide and follow through.
For example, I have often found myself baffled as to why I witness so much bullying in the school setting - and sometimes even the church setting. I wonder how, with all the anti-bullying education and campaigns and bracelets and publicity - how can there possibly still be bullying in our society? Why haven’t we wiped it out? It is certainly a cause which receives tons of attention and the high school students who do try to stand up and fight it get a lot of praise and accolades. Yet bullying is just as prevalent now as it has been for as long as I can remember.
I wonder if it’s because people often say they are against things like bullying because they know that’s the right, socially acceptable thing to say. But when the rubber meets the road, inside, they haven’t thought it through enough to really embrace and understand the damage bullying does. They haven’t been convicted about it so much it offends their sense of righteousness and desire to see right in the world - to the point where they can’t stand by and ignore it.
That happens in a lot of areas of life. The people who should be seeking righteousness fail to heed Paul’s words. I think every time I witness an incidence of bullying or a situation which is not right and I find myself too tired, or just not bothered enough to deal with it - a piece of my righteousness is chipped away. If I let it happen too often and don’t ever try to replenish and make sure I know what I believe and I believe so strongly I will stand up for it - eventually there won’t be anything of substance inside of me and that breastplate of righteousness will be gone and my heart will be both vulnerable to spiritual attack and hardened to evil.
Paul also says, and I think this is yet another key element:
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
So I guess what I really wonder as I contemplate the evil and pain and suffering in this world, is how much of it is brought about as a result of spiritual warfare ceaselessly raging? We can’t see it, but I think it drags Christians down, causes complacency and leads us astray if we are not diligently putting on the whole armor of God and praying in the spirit - ALL the time. Paul apparently thought the battle was important enough to caution us to watch out and to prepare. War cannot be fought without preparation and we have been warned that spiritual warfare is real and it’s happening all around us. We can choose to ignore it and neglect the continual putting on of the armor we need to protect ourselves from it - but there will be consequences. I think we see and experience them often, because I would hazard a guess most Christians are not well-armored most days. I wonder how different this world would be if we truly “prayed in the Spirit on all occasions” and faithfully built up our armor to protect against the spiritual forces which drag us down?
Protection is not free or easy. There is a price to pay - first, we must acknowledge spiritual forces are real and can have evil purposes; and then we need to invest our time in reading the Bible and allowing what we learn from it to guide us as we contemplate and sort through our faith to make sure we understand what we believe; and finally, we HAVE to spend time in prayer and constantly, desperately seek after God and the security He offers.
If we want to turn back the tides of evil washing over our world, we need to start with ourselves, our hearts, and our faith and get those in order. It begins with the Word and ends with us on our knees. Then we will be protected and ready to take on the Enemy and I think we will change this world for good.