He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. Get behind me, Satan! he said. You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.
The epistles, the gospels, and the stories are chock full of references to supernatural evils and malevolent, invisible personalities, yet I hardly ever think or talk about them. My life runs on an OS that largely treats all problems as either my fault, your fault, or the fault of someone over there (wherever that might be, usually across the Atlantic).
But rarely do I attribute the evil in this world to something as preposterous as evil spirits, dark powers, demons, or Satan. And yet the Bible makes it abundantly clear that there are dark powers at work in the world that we should take seriously. These powers cause storms (not all, but some), they cause wars (not all, but some), and they inflict disease (not all, but some). They create conditions like blight, famine, malnutrition, oppression, and violence. They work to destabilize governments and overthrow just leaders. They infiltrate churches and plague God’s people. Not all of the time, true, but some of the time.
Maybe it is so difficult to accept the existence of these powers because it is so frightening to think they might be real. It’s even more frightening to think they might be targeting me, working through people close to me, or even affecting me directly.
This is what Jesus addresses with Peter in the above passage. When Peter tempts Jesus with disobedience to God, Christ calls him ha-satan (a Hebrew word which means “accuser” and from which we derive the name Satan, referring to God’s chief adversary). Peter is being influenced by forces in opposition to God, and Jesus shows neither tolerance nor fear of such a force.
I am not advocating that we all run around labeling demons, but I think Christian people must acknowledge that there is an invisible war going on around us. There is a world behind the one we see, affecting the world in real ways. We participate in that war through prayer, the careful reading of Scripture, and obedience. Just knowing you’re in a war makes you that much more likely to come out on top of every skirmish.
As an avid fan of Lord of the Rings, I like to puzzle out the biblical precedents for Tolkien’s characters and their archetypes. Saruman gives us a good picture of the spiritual contest I am describing. After the battle at Helm’s Deep, he has lost much of his power and all of his armies, but his malice remains.
Later, at the end of The Return of the King, the final book in the trilogy, the hobbits return home to the Shire and are dismayed to find that it has been burned and pillaged and is now controlled by Saruman. He has used his diminished influence to convince mean-spirited people to punish the hobbits’ home as retribution for their victory over his army. Once the hobbits discover who is behind all of the mayhem, they quickly trounce Saruman once more and send him running.
The devil and all his powers are like Saruman. They have been defeated. Their strength is meager and paltry in comparison to God and to His people empowered by His Spirit. But the fight must be fought nonetheless. Before the hobbits knew who was behind it, the possible threat seemed greater and the final resolution seemed much more distant. But once they knew who they were fighting and the limited measure of his resources, they quickly sent him running.
What I’m hoping to convey here is my desire for every Christian person: a brief acknowledgement that we have a foe, that we must fight, and that we can have confidence as we do fight, because our foe has already been defeated. Any spiritual battles we fight now are tantamount to a retreating enemy doing as much damage as possible before being imprisoned and halted for good. Our responsibility during this ‘mopping up’ of the dark powers in our world is to stay grounded in the truth of the Scriptures, covered in prayer, and alert for any further signs of enemy activity.
Because it’s not enough to simply know that the victory has been won or the enemy has been routed. He needs to be run out of our homes, out of our churches, and out of our hearts and minds.
This post is from Seasons of Christian Spirituality.