I regularly have conversations with folk who are keen to
promote ideas connected to ‘spiritual warfare’. While I hope I am gracious I am
also sceptical about much of what’s proposed. It’s not that I don’t accept
there are things which can’t be fitted into tight doctrinal systems, nor that I
deny God is at work in the world in surprising ways; rather the problem is the suggested
way forward. It seems to me most suffer from four main failings.
Flimsy Biblical support coupled with horrid hermeneutics.
I’ve read Ephesians 6 and the image of how the church is to stand firm in
Christ, his encouragement to pray for the proclamation of the gospel and the
setting of these in the context of a cosmic battle; but the imagery can be
pressed too far and any distinction between struggle (as in a wrestling match)
and warfare (as in the UK invasion of Iraq) lost.
Reshaping the faith. Most attempts at understanding a
spiritual battle move beyond the core doctrines of the faith which should
caution us to hold such ideas lightly, provisionally and hesitantly. It should
also encourage us to keep core doctrines at the centre of our thinking. Like
leaning out of a small rowing boat, the further one leans and reaches out the
greater the risk of falling into the water.
A duality between God and satan. Whilst it is entirely right
to make contrasts between good and evil any duality drawn needs to be
understood in light of the doctrines of creation, redemption and
sanctification. An overdrawn duality between God and Satan ceases to recognise
God’s sovereignty and continued sustaining of creation. Neither does it do
justice to the existence of evil, suffering and disaster, those occasions when
God seems silent or powerless in the face of horror. The sense of God
forsakenness can’t be overcome with grand claims, powerful stories or loud
Tabulating mystery. There is a place in church life for
using ideas from other sources: psychology, sociology, leadership studies and
many other things help us to understand and quantify the world and the results
can provide a useful framework for what we do, particularly when done in a
theological dialogue. Likewise when
considering things with a more obvious spiritual component there are insights
and experiences we can learn from others. Yet we are dealing with elements of
mystery; the church hasn‘t believed in satan in the sense of such belief being
an article of faith rather it has recognised the existence of evil. Creating
certainty out of vague pointers in Scripture is a failure of trust in God.
So I find myself walking a line of scepticism yet wanting to recognise and stand against the
enslaving reality of evil, the destructive forces of chaos and nothingness
which act in the world, and the horror of apparent God forsakenness.