Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6)
I have two kids, and they make such a mess of my house. One minute my living room is pristine, the next everywhere I look there’s a dirty sock, a crusty spoon, a sticky popsicle wrapper, a Calvin and Hobbes book, a jar filled with crickets. And a line down the center, like the Red Sea. My kids are scatterers.
Scattering bothers me, especially scattering that happens to me and not by me. Scattering is stressful and exhausting. It makes me feel crazy.
I thought of this scattering, and how crazy it makes me feel, because I doing some research about the devil.
I admit I’m not usually one to spend a lot of time thinking about the devil, fancying such things to be a bit off-brand for my kind of Christianity, but here we are. 2020, friends: never. say. never. All the heavy, hard stuff of the last week has made me think about Ephesians 6, and the “wiles of the devil,” even if it is *so* not me.
Usually when I feel queasy about stuff in the Bible, I try the Greek. Here’s what I learned: the word “devil” is diabolos in Greek, and it has a lot to do with what’s true and what’s false. Often translated as “slanderer,” or “false accuser,” diabolos is used when lies are intended to hurt people, to break apart relationships. If 2020’s taught me anything, it’s about how hurtful and harmful lies can be in churches, communities, nations.
I learned that sometimes diabolos refers to being unjustly critical with the intention of harming someone. Sounds like a lot of Facebook these days (including my own participation there). Or sometimes it’s condemning someone in order to cut off a relationship with them. Raise your hand if you’re not in the midst of a cut-off relationship at this moment. None of us? Sounds right.
Diabolos has two roots: dia which means “through” or “apart,” and ballo which means “to throw.” So, more literally, diabolos means “to throw apart.” To scatter.
Maybe you, like me, feel defeated and hopeless when thinking about the church in our time and place. Frankly, I can’t make much sense of my fellow Christians in this moment, but I do resonate with what it feels like to have been “thrown apart.” Sometimes I read my cousin’s posts online about the pandemic, or hear what a fellow pastor believes about Black Lives Matter, and I’m struck by how far apart I feel from them. We believe such wildly different things.
It feels like a set up. Like we’re being punked, or (dare I say) tested. It feels like we’re being flung to totally opposite corners of the house.
The devil divides. The devil throws apart. The devil scatters.
I feel this so deeply, the division and the scattering. I will admit I’m past the part of the journey where I’m willing to suggest that ignoring our differences will solve them. Pretending and lying are the same to me, both “wiles of the devil,” especially when I’m pretending not to see that the deepest, most foundational of our beliefs are so fundamentally different. When Christians defend Kyle Rittenhouse, fly a “thin blue line” flag, pledge fidelity to a President whose policies and rhetoric alike have dehumanized so many image-bearing humans, it reveals how vast is the gulf between us. Pretending won’t solve that.
So where do we go from here? Scripture says, “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh” and, on my best days, I muster up the gumption to believe this is true. There are times, I admit, when I’m mad at the real actual person with the flag flapping behind his truck. But then I remember learning about the saints who sustained the Civil Rights struggle of the ‘60s, and how they trained themselves, practiced in their bodies, a different way. And they pointed the eyes of the world to a truth that was spiritual, that the struggle was “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.” The creativity of a truly non-violent movement exposed the evil without ever hating the human who was acting on its behalf. And it showed the way of Christ.
This is the way of the great Gatherer, the one who returns the lost sheep, breaks down the dividing wall of hostility, welcomes the dehumanized, restores healed cast-offs to community, crosses over to “the other side,” hems us behind and before. This is the way of the one who is “the truth,” which offers a binding together instead of the lies that scatter us into tribes and factions and into isolation.
Church, it sure feels like we’re in a “stand against the wiles of the devil” time. May we refuse to hate those who feel so far off. May we glean from our mothers in the faith who were students of another way. May we learn in our time to expose the tricks of the devil who scatters. To fix our eyes on truth. To find our more excellent way. May we pledge ourselves to the one who gathers.