Monday, January 10, 2005

Job and "Spiritual Warfare"

Have been reading the book of Job in the wake (no un-PC pun intended) of the recent tsunami.

Was shocked to discover how lightly I've been treating sin. In fact, embarrassingly enough, I've probably been more worried about collecting demerit points and losing my driving licence than about avoiding sin and losing my salvation (oh dear. A can of worms with an extra baker's dozen thrown in for free. The once-saved-always-saved and grace-and-works discussions we shall not have here. Suffice to say, I guess, that "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God."(Hebrews 10:26-27))

Any mention of spiritual (that is, non-material, non-physical) beings (angels, demons, Satan) always rings evangelical alarm bells. Yet, we cannot say we take the bible seriously and yet at the same time ignore references to such beings. Mere imagery and metaphor perhaps? Looks unlikely. There really appears to be a personality who accuses ("Satan" means "Accuser") us in front of God and who tempts us away from living under God (that is, tempts us to sin) as he did Adam and Eve.

The evangelical fear is that overemphasis on spiritual beings would blind us to our own responsibility for our decision to rebel against God and lead us to absolve ourselves from all responsibility for sin. So instead of mindfully living under God and putting to death the old man with its sinful practices and desires, we would simplistically run around casting out demons/evil spirits from each other. God’s word doesn’t quite go to this evangelical extreme either. It states both that (1) sin is man’s decision and responsibility and that he (and no one else in his stead) will be held accountable for what he has done, and also (2) the reality of spiritual powers at work in the world and in man.

And a right view of reality according to the word of God should be quite a healthy thing. As Verbal Kint/Kaiser Soze said in "The Usual Suspects", "the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist".

In the eponymous book, we almost see Job as a battlefield on which God and Satan are fighting. Except it's not quite your usual equal good-light-versus-black-night type of battle. It's not as if God and Satan are both waiting with baited breath to see whose side Job decides to join. Through it all, God’s rightly confident because he’s in control all the time. He points Job out to Satan,"Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" (Job 1:8), he allows Satan to tempt Job to turn away from God but sets certain conditions,"Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand."(Job 1:12) and later,"Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life." (Job 2:6).

The complete control of God with Satan being kept on a leash and allowed only conditional permission is consistent with other parts of the Bible where we see that Satan has to get permission from God to tempt people (the "you" in Luke 22:31 is plural) but God is faithful and he will let us be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).

It's horrible and scary to think that every time I decide in the blackness of my sinful heart to pretend that God isn’t there (oohhh…don't mind me…just this teeny little thing…not anything anyone would notice…just this itsy-bitsy once…), I'm actually going over to Satan's side and foolishly thumbing my nose at God. That's like (or rather, it's in reality) taking orders from my father's enemy and deliberately and viciously slashing at my own father while claiming to still be part of the family and demanding all the privileges of kinship. And my father's no wimp. Seeing the great and powerful God he is in Job 38-41, surely the right and just thing to do with such pitiful insolence would be to lift a fly-swatter and squish me dead.

And yet…here I am…still alive, living on borrowed time, kept alive by God himself. Where can I hide? How can I continue living like this? How can I not repent? Sigh. The undeserved generosity of God is indeed overwhelming.

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