A Villain Disguised
"If you are having trouble taking in all of this, let me ask you: Have you had this experience? Something bad happens, and you start telling yourself what a jerk you are. Do you really think the source of that is just you? Or God? Think about it this way: Who would take the most delight in it? Take it all real slow if you need to. Start by simply entertaining the notion that the source might be something besides your "low self-esteem."" - Chapter 9, Waking the Dead
"MAURICE: Please! Please, I need your help! He's got her. He's got her locked in the dungeon.
MAURICE: Belle. We must go. Not a minute to lose!
GASTON: Whoa! Slow down, Maurice. Who's got Belle locked in a dungeon?
MAURICE: A beast! A horrible, monstrous beast!" - Beauty and the Beast
Why is it that when we speak of spiritual warfare, we think we sound like crazy people? This occurs to me every time I have stopped to think, or dared to suggest to someone, that there may be more opposing them than just natural forces. Even my approach is telling. I don’t directly tell someone that Satan is at war and manufacturing all sorts of injuring chaos in their world. No, just a hint in this direction makes you look paranoid.
It reminds me of the scene in Beauty in the Beast when Belle’s father, Maurice, bursts into the town tavern and declares, “He’s got her locked up in a tower!! Won’t someone please help me?” Gaston asks with a chuckle, “Who? Who’s got Belle locked in a tower?” “A beast!!” Maurice answers, eyes wide with fear. “A horrible monstrous BEAST!” There is for once, silence in the tavern, only to be replaced by roaring laughter. Once they throw him out, the consensus is, “Crazy old Maurice! He’s always good for a laugh!”
Never mind that this was absolute truth. It could not be seen. And we are so used to the realm of the physical world, the familiar. Our culture barely has tolerance for stories of angels and miracles, but stories about Satan and his armies? It sounds ridiculous. And again, I must quote one of the final lines of “The Usual Suspects” when Kevin Spacey declares, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.” Because you are more prepared to fight an enemy that faces off in open combat, Braveheart-style. That is when you are already on your guard, and your face is streaked with blue paint and you’re belting out your war cry in unison.
But that is not the approach that Satan takes most of the time. His is guerilla warfare tactics. Hide over here in this distraction or that controversy. You may know the allegory about how to boil a live frog. If you throw him into boiling water right away, he’ll jump out. But if you place him in tepid, lukewarm water, he’ll stay put in his comfy bath. He’s not on alert and senses no danger, so you can turn the temperature up slowly, and kill him without even triggering his internal warning system.
So where might these attacks be hiding? In a dysfunctional work environment, particularly one at a church or a Christian university. In political battles that seek to isolate us from one another. In the ever present need to maintain our brand, lifestyle and appearance. In what you regard as your own thoughts. I have a very dear friend who is plagued with disturbing, violent thoughts or images and feelings of being deeply unworthy. I needed to help him create distance between his view of himself and these lies, so I told him that I too, hear what I refer to as “dark whispers”. I let him know that not only are these not true, they are not even coming from his own thoughts. It is as if Satan knelt down close and whispered these awful things in his ear.
This is only scratching the surface of what we encounter. It will take us being on high alert to really grasp the weight and frequency of these attacks in our own lives. And it will take bravery to talk about them with others and call them what they are.
I can tell you that even in the small space of writing this blog for our church, I have wrestled with computer viruses, program freezes, technical difficulties I can’t explain and more distractions than I can count. I stopped writing one post early because the keyboard stopped working, and I just hit “send” before the program froze and I lost all content. Now, does that sound like coincidence? Do I sound crazy?
The truth is that these attacks are subtle and we are probably only aware of the tip of the iceberg. But recognizing them will give us distance, sometimes in our strained relationships with each other, and sometimes just with our own perceptions of ourselves. And declaring this opposition out should wake us up, put us on guard and speak to our warrior hearts.
- Bekah Arias