I enjoy movies that end with a twist; Christopher Nolan, who helmed such movies as Memento, Inception, The Dark Knight, and Interstellar is one of my favorite directors. One of my favorite movies with a twist, however, is not a Nolan film. The Usual Suspects, which made Kevin Spacey a star, has one of the most unexpected endings of all time (I won’t spoil it here). It also has one of the most profound lines of all time, in which the movie’s villain, Keyser Soze, claims that, “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
In our naturalistic world, one in which many believe things don’t exist if they can’t be seen, heard, tasted, touched, smelled, or quantitatively measured, the idea of personified evil is as much a part of the fabric of reality as Bigfoot or The Great Pumpkin. And, yet, even in the Church, among the people of God, many act as if there is no devil, as if we’re never controlled or affected by anything other than those same natural forces, or by some vague notion of fate.
As Christians, we’re given a different perspective on creation, one of a cosmos at war, a spiritual war. And it’s really important that we take this stuff seriously. C.S. Lewis, in his great satirical work, The Screwtape Letters, wrote that, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest.” Lewis is saying that, while one error is to not believe in the devil at all, another is to believe that every time you get a headache, your boss yells at you, or you lose cable reception, it’s spiritual warfare. Each perspective contains its own dangers.
It’s wise to not only believe in the devil, but to be wary of the devil’s schemes. First, the Bible tells us to be aware and wise. Ephesians 6 tells us to “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Maybe an even better reason to believe in the devil’s work is because Jesus believed in him, too. When talking to the Pharisees, Jesus replied to their claim that they were children of Abraham (in what was one of the greatest rebukes ever): “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8).
So, according to Jesus, the devil is a person, an actual being, not imaginary. He is also a liar. His nature is to lie, and he trades in lies. His intent is to kills us, because he is a murderer. Peter tells us to be on guard, because “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). We may be tempted not to take this seriously because, like the guy who only believes in what he can see, the devil is out of sight, out of mind-which is how he wants it (see my Keyzer Soze quote above). But this is really serious stuff.
If you’re close to my age, you probably remember the urban legend where the woman gets the creepy call late at night asking, “Have you checked on your children?” Freaked out, she calls the police to trace the call. The police call back and breathlessly tell her, “Ma’am, the call is coming from inside your house!” That urban legend captured our attention when we were young, because the idea of a murderer in your home, just steps away from you, threatening your children, is terrifying. But the Bible warns us that this very thing is happening to us and to our families every day. The devil is a powerful being, he’s after us, and as children of God, he is our enemy. We can’t pretend he doesn’t exist, and we have to be on guard.
But we don’t need to curl up in the fetal position, either, or feel helpless, like the people in the horror movies who just sit there screaming as the killer advances, when they have the parked Subaru running behind them. The “excessive and unhealthy interest” that C.S. Lewis exhorts us not to take includes being so obsessed with the devil and his power that we live in fear, living with a kind of fatalism, where everything bad that happens in life is spiritual warfare, and not simply the consequences of living in a broken world. It also means not feeling powerless on those occasions when we really do face temptation by the powers of evil. James encourages us to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” As children of the living God, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, we have been given all the power we need to defeat this enemy, the power that raised Jesus from the dead and dealt the initial, fatal blow that will eventually result in the devil’s ultimate destruction.
We are in a war against the forces of evil, and it’s critical that we be battle tested against the enemy’s devises.
Our Grace Community School theme for this year is “Battle Tested.” In 2 Corinthians 10: 3-5, Paul encourages us not to see this world and its challenges as those around us see it: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
John Mark Comer, in his excellent book on spiritual warfare, No More Lies, reminds us that for millennia the Church has taught that the enemies of our soul are a kind of unholy trinity, mirroring the real thing: the world, the flesh, and the devil. He notes that our enemy, the devil, has a strategy- to use deceptive ideas (lies), to play to disordered desires (appealing to our sin natures, our flesh), that become normalized in our broken, fallen culture (the world). That’s how the system arrayed against us works, and that’s how it’s always worked since the fall of people in the Garden. The devil hasn’t had to change his tactics, because they are tried and true.
We’ll revisit this general issue of spiritual warfare throughout the year, and several of its intricacies. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this school, 50 years of hurling Spirit-filled agents of beauty, truth, and goodness against the gates of hell, it is more important than ever for us to recognize who our enemies are and are not, to be wise and properly armed and arrayed against them, and to ready our kids for the lifelong battle they will face against their lifelong foe.