Monday, 16 May 2011

Spiritual Warfare

William Hogarth - 'Satan, Sin and Death' c.1735
Someone said something out loud yesterday on a matter that normally I suffix with an inner-monologue comment that is normally in the vein of "Flippin' Whacko". They spoke of spiritual warfare, which is to say, on the matter of the battle that exists between the forces of good and the forces of evil courtesy of one Mr Satan D'Evil. Others have spoken about spiritual warfare in the past, and I have cast it aside unkindly as I have just suggested.

Please don't think me uncharitable, but I am not given to this stuff. It feels a little voodoo-esque to me and it might simply be that I have discarded that with which I cannot contend. I am a man who preaches a God of love, err towards a Universalistic theology of heaven, have little concept of Hell as a fiery pit or that my God of love would allow me to smoke for eternity in some timeless incinerator. The Prince of Wishful Thinking I might be, but that is how it is. 

However, my irrational and often unconditional rejection of such things does not mean that I don't then ponder on them. And this I did, after the luminary theological educator before me yesterday was next in line for the label 'Whacko". I remember the process by which I came to ordination. For those not in the know, it is a process of meetings and deep-and-meaningfuls that that tend to end up in myriad forms and written statements. This body of gathered knowledge then forms an application to selection before a panel who white-ball or black-ball us. The bishop of the diocese in which we are testing your vocation takes that recommendation and generally acts on it, and we are either sent off for training, or not! Trained, ordained, ministry (hopefully long and fruitful) and then a gentle death to the soundtrack of an angelic Magnificat. Badaboom. That's how it happens, or at least should. 

Only as I pondered the process by which I came to Orders did I remember something that struck me those years ago. There times when silly little events conspired either to stop me getting to meetings, posting forms, thinking stuff through. Normally, I overcame those things (one being finding not a single shop in the centre of Oxford that had stocks of stamps so that I could post my forms, and then when I did, ne'er a postbox could be found; or another being a car failing me a day after a servicing when I needed to get to a meeting with someone crucial to the process). There were times when I was convinced that something was at play designed to prevent me becoming a priest. I almost became paranoid about it. At one point, I clearly articulated that someone somewhere really didn't want me to be a priest. 

In recent times, I can offer accounts of times when my normally well-oiled extrovert thinking brain would fail to finds words for prayer. I never 'dry up' in prayer normally, but for a couple of occasions. Every once in a while, I have sensed an ill-wind - although I have immediately cast it aside as silly. You may also be familiar with that tendency at times when things go so wonderfully well, only then for something to go really rather badly. The good times are never un-fettered it seems, and that good actions seem to be haunted with the very occasional and easily-missed bad counter-action. 

I am not given to the spiritual warfare being about red demons. I regard satanism to be a strange whimsy (why would anyone adulate evil and death?). I am not given to taking this stuff with a bucket-load of emotion or a paranoid sense that there are spiritual trip-wires and bounding mines set by Satan and his imps - but I do acknowledge that there is more that I do not understand than I do. This will include forces that can or should be labelled 'evil'. 


  1. You might find this interesting:

    (you'll have to turn the volume up - it seems to be a bit quiet I'm afraid!)

  2. I could have written much of that, David, as I feel very similarly to you on the subject. Yes, there is evil without doubt, great evil sometimes, but I cannot bring myself to personify it.

  3. A very interesting post and also the recording Dan King posted adds further 'fuel to the fire.'
    Excuse the melodrama.
    My own view is that there is no Devil/Satan/Lucifer but that evil is simply the opposite of good. By that, I mean it is a choice, just as any other path is a choice and a part of human behaviour. I do not believe evil has an existence outside of human behaviour, nor that it is a malevolent force which somehow exists in the ether and is self-motivating.
    As for the 'someone, somewhere is out to get me' syndrome, that is pure coincidence and in most cases exacerbated by a touch of paranoia.
    Sorry, have to stop and investigate, there's a distinct whiff of sulpher!

  4. "Flippin' Whacko". I dare say I've encountered a good many of them in the course of my considerable years. Come to think of it, some of THEM might consider ME among their own collection of Whackadoes (my synonym)! :)

    I don't spend any time pondering this subject deeply, but I don't disregard it either. It's why I take so seriously the armoring-up disciplines so clearly outlined in scripture; and prayer.

    I'm not in favor of witch-hunts, but whackado hunts are perfectly OK.


  5. Jesus believed in Satan and wrestled with him in the Wilderness , and whilst I could glibly say that is good enough for me I have reason to believe not only in the Devil and His angels(demons) but also in the presence of Gods Angels and in the efficacy of Spiritual Warfare . I am not going to post a troll like sensation here , but write a Google Doc which I will send you David.

  6. Thanks to you all for this. As is often the way, a day with a post in it is a day when I have thought about little else (at one level), and your contributions are valued.

    I acknowledge that my views are perhaps puerile and uninformed, or that I have a reductionist view of all of this, so I appreciate the learning that you provide. Your point, Margaret, is made well and I take a lot from it.

    I guess this fits into the darkness/light thing. What is the need for love if we are not in places of potentially being unloved or vulnerable. I didnt put that well, but perhaps you will know what I mean! Either way, a 415am awakening means I have a headache - so will catch up on this later! D

  7. ooh, funny, I posted on ephesians 6:12 today. I am of the camp that does believe in the devil. Not in a sensationalist way but certainly in the way you describe - like a force that sometimes seem to be against us. I can also list occasions as you did, but also for the positive too, as I wrote today. It's a really interesting subject though as it really does divide people. I think it goes back to the whole: how much of the bible is allegory or symbolism, and how much should we take literally... never an easy one to answer ;)



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