July 27th, 2019
On Tuesday morning, Karin and I went to coffee with a friend after Mass. Our friend is a good man, and he takes his faith seriously. He is very concerned about the bad things that are happening in the world. He believes that Satan is on the move. He talks about being engaged in spiritual warfare.
I don’t like the phrase “spiritual warfare”. It sounds dramatic. It also sounds wrong somehow. It implies an endless struggle between the forces of good and evil.
It reminds me of a story…
Ten years ago, I started going to an orthodox synagogue. I still go there. At the beginning I was eager to learn more about Judaism, and I wanted to ask questions. My rabbi at the time was a busy man, and I knew that he didn’t have the leisure to answer all of my queries. Rabbi Levin suggested that I meet with Avi, an older rabbi who did not have his own congregation. I followed his advice and I contacted Avi.
I met Avi at his home on the east side of Milwaukee. He greeted me at his door. Avi was in a wheelchair. He had undergone surgery on his left foot. He didn’t have a right one. He rolled himself into his dining room, and we both sat at his heavy, wooden table.
A house can tell a visitor many things. For instance, if somebody comes to our house, they would soon realize that Catholics live there. Every room in our home has a crucifix, and/or an icon. Avi’s home told me things too. The walls were covered with Stars of David and Hebrew writings. He had mezuzah scrolls on very doorpost. The house clearly said that its occupants were Jewish.
Avi looked tired. He asked me,
“So, do want to convert?”
I quickly replied, “No.”
He looked perplexed, “So, why are you here?”
“I have questions.”
He nodded, “And so, what are your questions?”
I thought for a moment, and asked him, “What’s a Jew?”
Avi shrugged and said, “So, what’s a Jew? Where do I start?”
We talked for over three hours, and we never adequately answered my question. However, we spoke of many things, including the Book of Job. I mentioned to Avi that Job did not show God in a very positive light, and it made me wonder about the role of the devil in the universe.
Avi looked at me with something akin to pity. He sighed and said,
“You Christians, you have such a Manichean worldview. You think that there is an even fight between God and the devil? The two sides aren’t equal. God is always in charge. Always.”
I asked him about Satan.
Avi sighed again.
“Okay, look at it this way. Let’s say you take a math course in college, a really difficult class. It comes time for the final exam. Do you think that the proctor is going to ask you to draw a triangle? No! He is going to ask you the hardest question that he can! He’s going to test you!
What do we call Satan? He is the ‘tester’, the ‘accuser’. Even he does the will of Hashem.”
I asked Avi, “So Satan is God’s quality control guy?”
Avi shrugged. “You could say that.”
So, God is always in charge. If that’s so, then what are we worried about? I have heard Christians say the same sort of thing. When a person has some horrible, intractable problem, it is not unusual for a Christian to say something lame like, “it’s all part of the Lord’s plan”. That statement can mean almost nothing, and it is often irritating to the person with the problem (it certainly is to me).
As I understand it, Christianity is all about the victory of Jesus over the forces of evil. Listen to any Easter hymn and you will hear about the triumph of Christ over Satan and Death. Well, if He won the war, then why are we still fighting?
The folks who talk about spiritual warfare seem to want it both ways. Christ won the victory, but Satan still reigns on earth. To me that makes no sense. Either we are saved, or we aren’t.
Let’s say that Satan still has some power. Evil still exists. So does good. How do we combat evil? Scriptures clearly say that we do it through love. Other faith traditions say the same thing. Violence is not the answer. Violence just makes evil stronger.
The word “warfare” implies violence. Even “spiritual warfare” implies violence. It is a slippery slope from “love your enemies” to “jihad”. A person may start out opposing abortion because they love babies. That same person may eventually become bitter and end up hating abortionists. I’ve seen that. It can be the same way with peace activists. They start out loving peace, and end up despising soldiers. I’ve seen that too.
Sometimes people ask me what I believe.
I believe that love wins in the end. Everything else is superfluous.