I have met a lot of Christ followers throughout the years who claim John 10.10 as their life verse. That’s not a huge surprise – who doesn’t want to experience life to it fullest potential? What consistently surprises me is that the same people who claim this as their life verse often ignore the first half of the verse. It’s admittedly scary, but that doesn’t make it any easier to dodge:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
If we are going to claim the promise of that verse, then we have to embrace the warning as well. The journey towards fullness of life includes a threat of a thief, and the thief’s desire is to steal, kill, and destroy that life.
This kind of imagery makes many people nervous… at least Western, educated people that is (most of the world is actually quite comfortable with the reality of an unseen battle happening between good and evil, but that’s a tougher pill to swallow for many in our modern age). There is no denying how prominent that theme is in the Bible though, so it has got to be dealt with head on.
I began a new blog series yesterday on Ephesians 6, looking at the Apostle Paul’s treatment on the presence of evil. He concludes his letter to the Christ followers in Ephesus by saying this:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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 6.10-20)
Those are some pretty serious words/phrases that he uses: rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
After hearing Jesus talk about the thief that steals fullness of life, and after hearing Paul talk about spiritual forces of evil a seemingly obvious question arises: How are we to make sense of the presence of evil?
The place to begin to answer that question is with a universally loved quote from C.S. Lewis. It’s amazing to me how many people from various streams have looked to him for the right words on this. He seemed to grasp the reality of spiritual good/evil in a way that helped a lot of people.
In his famous bookThe Screwtape Letters, Lewis follows a senior associate of the devil named Screwtape as he mentors his younger nephew Wormwood. In the thirty-one letters that make up the book, he shares detailed advice on how to leverage various temptations in the hopes of undermining the faith of the Christ follower that he has been assigned to.
In his preface to The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis talks about the balance needed when discussing the Biblical reality of the evil one. He cautions against one extreme that has an unhealthy obsession with the devil, and he also cautions against minimizing his presence.
“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 in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors…”
It does seem that most of us tend to move towards one extreme or the other when the topic arises. There are those that move towards one imbalance, and virtually “disbelieve in their existence.” For this group, talking about the devil sounds primitive and over-spiritual, and it’s hard not to go right to a cartoon version of Satan complete with the pointy horns, red tail, and pitchfork.
Others move towards the opposite imbalance, and “feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” The extreme members of this group can be tempted to think that the devil is behind everything from curse words to bad traffic.
What we need instead is a healthy, balanced, calibrated view that allows us to recognize the presence of evil, but to also recognize that the power that comes through faith in Jesus Christ is infinitely stronger.