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  • Ross Moughtin

When to be frightened


Just like President Trump with the coronavirus, you can’t simply dismiss the threat of evil as if it wasn’t there. As he enters self-isolation he has ample time to reflect on his observation in February “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” Similarly evil – it’s there, whether we like it or not. And not just out there, somehow remote and disinterested, it’s here powerfully and purposefully working against us. To deny its presence is to court danger. As you know I am steadily working my way through Fleming Rutledge’s excellent book “the Crucifixion.” And the cross of Jesus, above all, displays the reality and reach of the power of evil. In the words of Jesus himself, “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10). He is referring, of course, to the devil. “How can people seriously believe in the devil?” asked psychologist Phil Zuckerman five years ago. “The year is 2015, not 1315.” Speaking for our contemporary worldview, he concludes “Only a completely uninformed, poorly educated mind with little knowledge of things like evidence, could believe in the devil.” Maybe Zuckerman should have a conversation with Roméo Dallaire, the French-Canadian general who was in charge of the UN forces during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, “I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists and therefore I know there is a God.” The problem for many of us is that for most of the time the power of evil is mundane, tamed even by technology and usually non-threatening. Just like the coronavirus, it probably won’t harm you – just an inconvenience of not being able to go shopping. Even wearing a face mask is a ridiculous over-reaction. But then, we glimpse it for what it is – in the words of the apostle Peter, “a roaring lion seeking for someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8). For as Rutledge teaches, the New Testament imagery shows us that this world is a dangerous place. And we need rescue, deliverance. For in the words of the Collect for the second Sunday of Lent, “we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves.” There are certain parallels between the power of evil and our current fight against the coronavirus. We can’t see it but it’s there, it has the potential of doing us great harm, it damages even destroys relationships – and we have no sure defence against it. And more, it picks out the poor and vulnerable . We can’t simply wish it away in the words of President Trump at the beginning of the year “We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” However, there is one big difference. Evil is not an impersonal force lacking intelligence like the Cofid-19. It has acumen, a definite purpose, its own agenda. As Flemings observes: “The beginning of (our) resistance is not to explain but to see. Seeing itself is a form of action, seeing evil for what it is.” (p434). We all need the prayer of Elijah for his servant: “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” (2 Kings 6:17) And what do we see? “Evil suggests a mysterious force that may be in business for itself and may exploit human agency as part of a larger cosmic conflict – between good and evil, God and Satan.” (p436) For Rutledge the primary purpose of the cross of Jesus is “Christus Victor,” his defeat of “the principalities and powers” which would demean and then destroy us. As the apostle John teaches: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 John 3:8). Amazingly, such is the grace and mercy of God, we may enter into his victory, even as “more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) We are no longer to be intimidated by the prince of this world, menaced by the grave. Here it is not so much as choosing sides but changing sides, a decision only I can take for myself. We are called to be not conscripts but volunteers into God’s band of resistance fighters –a fight in which the outcome is now certain as demonstrated by the resurrection of Jesus, his defeat of the tyranny of death. As the apostle Paul, chained to his prison guard, memorably taught we need spiritual armour and spiritual weaponry for our warfare is spiritual. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 612) Certainly my experience in church leadership over the years showed me that whenever there was a spiritual advance, either for the individual or the church, there would invariably be a spiritual counter-attack. We may not understand the power of evil. As Rutledge writes: “There has never been a satisfactory account of the origin of evil, and there will be none on this side of the consummation of the kingdom of God. Evil is a vast excrescence, a monstrous contradiction that cannot be explained but can only be denounced and resisted wherever it appears.” (p64) But in Christ’s name we are called to take up arms. As the apostle Paul urges us “Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:10). #deliverance #rescue #cross #victory

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