In my last post, I mentioned that We Need Encouragement Because We’re All in a Battle. Today, I’d like to look at the nature of the battle between good and evil.
It’s hard to talk or write about evil without sounding weird. The topic of evil makes for great novels, TV shows, and movies—as long as we feel like we can shut it off. But, when people talk about the real thing, we get a little uneasy. I do too! We’re not sure exactly how to react or how to process it. We like to hear stories of God at work causing good to happen. We’re not quite sure what to do with stories of the devil at work causing evil and destruction.
But it was different on April 15, 2013.
On that day, Marathon Monday in Boston, even hardened, cynical journalists and newscasters couldn’t help but notice and label acts of evil.
It started out promising to be a beautiful day in New England. In April, that’s not something we take for granted. I have lived about an hour north of Boston for the past 8 years, but not being a runner, I was pretty oblivious of the Boston Marathon. I knew it existed and had friends I respected for participating. But, I really didn’t know that much about it myself—until that day. For some reason, I decided to find out what all the excitement was about. I was working from home, so I was able to keep the TV on in the background and check in periodically.
I loved it! I was struck by the overall atmosphere surrounding the phenomenon of the Boston Marathon—particularly the size and the spirit of the crowd. It was a joyous, festive, family occasion. What struck me the most was the absence of the usual rivalries that mark so much of Boston sports—sometimes fun, sometimes scary. The Marathon was sports at its best. It’s the ultimate “open”. It welcomes the “Elite” runners from all over the world. It also welcomes the average Joe from down the block. The crowds were active supporters offering cheers and occasional refreshments. As President Obama would later say of the Marathon “…it’s a day that draws the world to Boston’s streets in a spirit of friendly competition.”
All that was impacted by a senseless and cowardly act of violence which threatened to turn a celebration of discipline, training, and achievement into a time of chaos, fear, and pain. It was a day of amazing contrasts. Extreme fear after extreme jubilation. A sense of wonder at the power of human achievement and then of a human’s capacity for destruction. As we marveled at the level of devastation, we then saw the bravery of professional first-responders as well as ad hoc heroes who just responded to the need of the moment to help in any way they could.
That day was a vivid reminder for me that evil exists and when evil is at work, people suffer.
My focus here is not the particular ethnic or religious background of the two individuals responsible. I believe they were just pawns in a much greater battle of good and evil. History is full of examples of people of every nationality, race, and religion who have given us great accomplishments and also caused great devastation.
I am more concerned about the unseen aspects of this. The J.B. Phillips paraphrase of Ephesians 6:10-12 puts it well.
“In conclusion be strong—not in yourselves but in the Lord, in the power of his boundless resource. Put on God’s complete armor so that you can successfully resist all the devil’s methods of attack. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organizations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil.”
In my previous post, I mentioned John 10:10, where the essence of the battle is described. Jesus said “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (ESV). The enemy of our souls derives pleasure at the pain and destruction he can bring. Quite the opposite of bringing destruction, Jesus is committed to his followers to point of laying down his own life that they may live a life worth living.
The New Testament commands Christ-followers to not forsake meeting together (Hebrews 10:19-24). This isn’t just a trick to keep churches full on Sundays. The early believers faced many challenges to their new faith—from their former religious leaders, family, and friends who didn’t understand, and from government authorities trying to “keep order” with the threat of beatings or imprisonment. We see a picture of a life and death struggle for the souls of mankind. In that same passage, the writer urges us to draw near to God and hold fast to Him. After that, we are told to consider how we may encourage one another and stir one another on to love and good deeds.
With this post, I’ve made a subtle shift. Previous posts have started with “We Need Encouragement Because…” With today’s post, I’d like to get us thinking a little differently. Rather than looking for people to encourage us, let’s start thinking about how we can encourage someone else. The essential key is that we draw near to God first and renew our commitment to Him. Then, knowing that He has our backs, we can focus on encouraging someone else. That’s what’s at the heart of the Great Commandment to love God and love our neighbors.
In the coming posts, we’ll continue to explore these thoughts. But for now, please remember that the Bible paints a fuller picture than happy saints singing songs on Sundays. We see a picture of a life and death struggle for the souls of mankind—including yours and mine. That’s why we need to encourage one another.
In the comments, please share one way you can encourage someone today. Think of it as a warm up for the next time you meet with your friends at church or in your small group.