Just 42 people hold the same wealth as the 3.7 billion poorest people in the world. The Australian government has recently decided that climate change can be ignored in forming an energy policy. Asylum seekers are held in indefinite detention. Everywhere women are paid less than men. Slavery still exists today. And priests of the church have been found guilty of abusing children.
The news is not pleasant. Have you ever asked yourself, ‘Why can’t these problems be fixed? Why do the same problems keep happening, over and over again?’
We have been hearing in recent weeks about the need for trust in the divine presence of the Lord in the eucharist. Now we shift gear, and reflect on how we live life as a follower of Jesus. Especially how do we live in a world which at times seems to be overrun with evil.
St Paul’s answer for living in our world is straight and simple: ‘Let the Lord make you strong.’ As simple as his answer is, I find that too often the place where I start is in my own strength; only when I discover that to be pointless do I let the Lord make me strong.
How does God make us strong? By the armour which God has provided for us, says Paul. The armour of God includes: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, all the while praying at all times in the Spirit.
What are we really up against? Why do people make such a mess of things? So challenging are the circumstances that we are in that we need to put on armour the armour of God. Because, Paul says, we are up against the devil’s evil plans.
In Paul’s world it would have been easy and appropriate to compare God’s strength to armour. If you lived in Jerusalem or any other city of the Roman empire at that time, everywhere you turned you would have seen Roman soldiers. They were responsible for establishing the largest empire the world had ever seen, and holding it all together. And the strength of the armies of Rome was there to be seen, in the individual soldier’s full suit of armour.
It was also easy for Paul in his world to speak of the devil as what we are chiefly up against. While we can accept his word picture of wearing God’s armour, to speak about a devil is not so easy for us now. And yet maybe there is a force in the world that we cannot control by our own strength, an evil which goes beyond our own abilities to defeat it.
Do you know the book called ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’? It was also a film. CS Lewis who wrote the story had a wise thing to say about the existence of a devil. He said there are two extreme views on the devil, both of which do us no favours. On the one hand there are very modern people who say there is no such thing as a devil, that it’s all primitive superstition.
You would think that would be what most people say today. Yet surprisingly on Friday there was this headline in The Age newspaper: ‘Malcolm Turnbull made a deal with the devil, now the devil has called time.’ Very interesting, coming from a very secular newspaper.
The other extreme view about evil are those who see devils everywhere and have an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. Both extreme views, denying the devil’s existence, and finding demons everywhere, are quite foolish. The best view, said Lewis, is a healthy balance.
Jesus found it useful to describe his time of testing in the desert as being tempted by the devil. It was what his listeners would have understood in the 1st century about temptation. And yet Jesus also in his lifetime displayed God’s power over all kinds of evil. And on the cross he defeated evil once and for all. So we now live in a mopping up operation until Jesus returns, when his victory and gentle rule will be present for all to see in a new heaven and earth.
CS Lewis wrote another of my favourite Christian books called The Screwtape Letters. It is full of down-to-earth wisdom about evil. Screwtape is a senior demon, and he writes letters of advice to Wormwood, a junior demon. Screwtape advises Wormwood how to make his human give up and fall away from God. Screwtape says that the Enemy, who is God, wants humans to be concerned with what they do. But a demon’s business is to keep humans thinking about what will happen to them.
Someone else once said that God will help you with real problems, but he won’t necessarily help you with problems you imagine out of nothing. Too many times we go through our days worrying about this or that thing which might happen—despite the fact that 99 times out of 100 our fears are wholly unfounded. How many times have we worried and worried about some future event, only to find that in reality there was nothing to worry about?
We can only be sure of what we have today. Today we have obligations of duty and love. Today let us do those things. As Jesus tells us in the Gospels, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” This is our way of life when we allow the Lord to make us strong.
Screwtape in another place tells Wormwood that there is nothing worse from a demon’s point of view than for a human to keep holding on to faith and remain obedient to God, even when every trace of God seems to have disappeared. This is what Jesus did on the cross. When he cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’, he felt the whole weight of God’s apparent absence. And yet he still commended his spirit into God’s keeping.
We usually think of love as an emotion. And it is, like falling in love. But a necessary part of love is a decision, an act of the will. Human emotions come and go. Love is a choice we make every day.
We feel better on some days than on others; we even feel better at some times of day than others. But no matter how we feel at any given time, God’s love is constant. God loves us no less on our bad days than on good ones. Wearing the whole armour of God, we can live in his love, return it to God, and give it away to our fellow humans.
A concluding bit of wisdom from Screwtape: if we are feeling spiritually dry, and if we can get through it by relying on the whole armour of God, we are much more difficult to be tempted. It seems that Mother Theresa was burdened with spiritual dryness all her life because of doubts about the existence of God and because of depression. But she made her life an act of the will to love, and so was able to carry out her mission of serving the very poor.
It can be the same with us. Spiritual dryness will come to us, sure as night follows day. Yet the whole armour of God can feed our spiritual needs: reading God’s word, entering into the prayers, being spreaders of peace, taking up the sword of the Spirit. Evil will at times appear to be strong, but it has already been decisively defeated by Love.