Applying Ephesians 6

I had coffee today with a member of the Maryland General Assembly and a comment he made has stuck with me.  He said, “Brent, if Satan himself sat down with a pad of paper to design an environment effectively suited to derail a person from thriving spiritually, it would be politics.”  No field, according to this delegate, causes one to reject the crucial and eternal things of life and to embrace the fleeting and temporal things as much as politics.  That’s a significant statement coming from a politician.

C. S. Lewis, author of "The Screwtape Letters"

C. S. Lewis, author of "The Screwtape Letters"

It got me thinking about The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis’ effort to describe Satan’s strategy of distracting humans from following God (who is referred to as the Enemy in the book).  In a series of letters the demon

Screwtape, an experienced tempter, is writing his advice to his nephew, Wormwood, on how to draw his assigned human away from God.  Consider these quotes through the filter of the life of the believing or unbelieving politician (really buckle down and think about these; it’s not always easy reading):

“Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of really being at home on Earth, which is just what we want.”

“This, indeed, is probably on the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world — a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful until it became risky.”

“The Enemy loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions: Is it righteous? Is it prudent? Is it possible? Now, if we can keep men asking: ‘Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?’ They will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help make.”

“Talk to him about ‘moderation in all things.’ If you can once get him to the point of thinking that ‘religion is all very well up to a point,’ you can feel quite happy about his soul.”

“Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.”

Marriages can be devastated by working in the political world.  Satan knows this and exploits it, which is another reason to soberly pray for our leaders’ homes:

 “Make full use of the fact that up to a certain point, fatigue makes women talk more and men talk less. Much secret resentment, even between lovers, can be raised from this.”

Even when someone enters politics with the intention of being careful about Satan’s attacks, it is also true that

“Suspicion often creates what it suspects.”

When it comes to a Christian’s political involvement as a citizen, these might be helpful:

“We produce [a human’s] sense of ownership not only by pride but by confusion. We teach them not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun–the finely graded differences that run from ‘my boots’ through ‘my dog’, ‘my servant’, ‘my wife’, ‘my father’, ‘my master’, and ‘my country’ to ‘my God’. They can be taught to reduce all these senses to that of ‘my boots’, the ‘my’ of ownership.”

“On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything-even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience.”

The plan and schemes of the real “enemy” of men’s souls can be overcome, but only by God Himself.  Do you want godly leaders?  Are you praying for them to desire Him and His ways?  Are you communicating to them that you care for their souls more than their votes?

 Satan has conjured a plan to lead people astray from God.  Many inside and outside of the Church are falling prey to his subtle attacks.  We are in a battle in the spiritual realm and must know our enemy and his tactics, but also trust the One who has the power to defeat him.

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. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Ephesians 6:12, 13

The historic Dunker church at the Antietam Battlefield

The historic Dunker church at the Antietam Battlefield

I stopped by the Antietam battlefield today.  I do this from time to time to connect with my area’s historical roots and, since the battle was the single bloodiest day in American history, remind myself things could be worse.

Today I decided to do my daily Bible reading in the small Dunker church building around which much of the fighting took place early in the day on September 17, 1862.  It was a little cool for mid-June and all one could hear was raindrops slapping the window panes.

When I finished reading, I took a few minutes to look out over the quiet battlefield from the open doorway.  How could something so horrible have happened in such a peaceful place?  Then a challenging thought came to me: I’m in a battle.  I’m in a battle every day as a follower of Christ.

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 6:12)

I’m reminded, too,  that we in the Church must focus on this battle.  I’m concerned when pastors or political activists quote this verse (as I’ve heard them do), acknowledge the spiritual nature of our struggle, then spend the rest of the time railing against people – the very flesh and blood we aren’t ultimately fighting against.

After verse twelve, Paul lists the weapons of the Christian: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation and the Word of God.  Then he asks for prayer.  Not prayer to have success combatting bad government policy, but that

utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:19, 20)

Where is the virtue in winning a war we’re not even called to fight with weapons fashioned by the world’s political system?  When our involvement with our government looks suspiciously like the world’s approach, that’s exactly what we’re doing.