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.

Photo by Jake Melara on Unsplash

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

24 Comments

  • David Hoekema says:

    Thank you, Kate! A powerful and moving meditation on the world we live in. In studying philosophy I was always looking for rational and causal explanations of things I didn’t understand. Living in Ghana and Kenya and Uganda for a time, I began to see the world in which Jesus’s followers there dwell, catching glimpses of disturbing realities that cannot be explained, let alone fixed, yet must be faced. We live in a dark time, but despair is a win for the diabolos. Let’s keep our hands on the plow, our eyes on the prize, and hold on.

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    This was good.

  • Grace Shearer says:

    Thanks, Kate. I need the challenge to focus on the Gatherer this week.

  • Marty Wondaal says:

    Reverend Kooyman,

    Satan is the Accuser. He tells us that we cannot escape from the sins of our past, even the past of our ancestors. He tells us that, because of the ethnic group to which we belong, we are inherently racist and evil. He also tells us that if we don’t believe the secular humanist cultural narrative, we are damned. Of course, Satan doesn’t buy air time on CNN or Fox News, he uses proxies, like college professors who promote CRT and racial hucksters who write books about White Privilege.

    Satan loses, however. Ultimately, he really loses – our victory has already been secured. In the short term, also, he will lose. 20% or more of African-Americans will see through the hate and vote to end this chaos.

  • Nancy VandenBerg says:

    Amen, Kate!
    You clarified the confusion, the weariness – and sometimes judgmental attitude – that we in the church are feeling. So much pain and chaos.
    I so needed to be reminded to keep my eyes on the great Gatherer. Thank you!

  • Steve Van't Hof says:

    I’m trying to be very careful here because maybe I’ve misconstrued the intent of one of your examples. However, when you allude that fellow Christians who “fly a ‘thin blue line’ flag” help drive the wedge into the “vast… gulf between us”; well, I have a problem with that. I am a Christian (over 40 years in law enforcement), as is my brother (43 years), as is his son (5 years and counting), as is one of my best friends (43 years), as is my brother-in-law (the last officer at our agency to be shot in the line of duty who, by the way, was unarmed at the time). I could easily continue with this list. Maybe you think “thin blue line” paraphernalia is indicative of a direct opposition to the stance of Black Lives Matter, or whatever else you uphold as right. It is not, at least not for many of us. I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt. You’ve spoken of divisions, of pretending and lying. Maybe, just maybe this example was mistakenly proffered as a half-truth.

    • Kate Kooyman says:

      Thanks Steve for your gracious question and giving me a chance to explain. First, I apologize for the hurt that this line caused to you and your deep history of service through policing. I know it comes with sacrifices. I understand the policing is a difficult and dangerous career, it doesn’t receive widespread respect from the community, it doesn’t pay enough, and it costs police officers enormously through the trauma they experience. As the spouse of a public educator, I see a lot of parallels between the two. I’ll clarify what I meant: I see the “thin blue line” messaging as being supportive of the culture of immunity that police receive, even in the midst of overwhelming evidence of incidences of corruption, violence, and misconduct. It sends the message that the police are over/against the communities they serve. I don’t understand it to be participating in the work of holding the powerful (of any career) accountable for abuses of power, which is what we need to do if policing is to be better respected and safer for communities of color. I’d be interested to hear your perspective on the message that it sends.

      • Steve Van't Hof says:

        Kate, thank you for your response and the willingness to hear me out. Admittedly, much of my response will be anecdotal. I have not had the experiences of those who see the “thin blue line” as a proponent of a “culture of immunity…even in the midst of overwhelming evidence of incidences of corruption, violence, and misconduct.” I do not deny their pain or oftentimes justified anger. But boy is that a two-way street! There are numerous agencies right here in West Michigan that are the antithesis of what you’ve just described. The overwhelming majority of officers from the departments I had the privilege of working and interacting with take pride in what they do and see the “thin blue line” as a banner of their professionalism. They do not condone the acts of a certain few that absolutely sully the reputation of law enforcement. And when headlines proclaim that the “police” did this or that bad thing, we get irritated. Not only does this often promote unproven narratives, but the “police” did not commit this act, usually it was one individual officer that did. Furthermore, when you state that this symbol of professional pride “…sends the message that the police are over/against the communities they serve”, well, that verbiage comes off with an assumed finality that only your viewpoint is the truth. It may seems that way to some, but certainly not to all. Rather, I see the “thin blue line” as a proclamation of support for all good law enforcement personnel as opposed to an in-your-face challenge.

        One mantra that I tried to live by in my career was the following text: “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” Proverbs 18:17

        • Linda Cook says:

          Steve, Thank you so much for your service!! Kate, I had the same reaction as Steve and I believe it is only one more strong example of the schemes of Satan. I do believe it is a time of testing and when we stand at the Judgement seat of Christ we will be without excuse as we give an account of each word / action. We have definitely been given a chance to look at what is important to us and what “flag” we choose to fly, whether on our bumper or in our heart. Every police officer I know went into their profession to make a difference in lives for the good, not to join “a culture of immunity” – Praise God for each police officer who seeks to be not only a public servant, but a servant of the Living God – To Steve our prayers are for you and your Blue family – may the Lord bless you as well as those who love you and worry about you each time you put on the uniform – may God’s wisdom, protection and strength be yours as you seek to serve Him in your difficult job and may His peace fill you and yours as you witness often first hand how Satan is winning battles here and there… but… TAKE HEART… as Jesus said in John 16:33… in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

    • Eric Van Dyken says:

      My son is a police officer and I can say unequivocally that there is no group in this country that does more to value, honor, and protect the lives of black people (along with every other group – all while putting their own lives in danger daily) than law enforcement. While so many others are talking about valuing black lives, law enforcement officers are putting that into practice every day. That they do so while being maligned and slandered (even from the church!) is remarkable. To be a police officer is to be lied to and to be lied about on a daily basis. The most fashionable “othering” in the church today is the othering of law enforcement. It’s not godly, and it violates the ninth commandment. Steve, thank you for your life of service.

  • Doug Vande Griend says:

    Kate: Respectfully, you have too much assumed the worst in others and interpreted the worst in their words, while at the same time claimed the best in yourself and those who of your (political) views and insisted on the best interpretation for your and their words.
    I’ve never thought of “thin blue line” as referencing — by anyone who uses it — being “supportive of the culture of immunity that police receive, even in the midst of overwhelming evidence of incidences or corruption, violence and misconduct,” nor that it “sends the message that the police are over/against the communities they serve.” Why do you?
    Mind you I’ve practiced law for 41 years, for 15 of them, I did court appointed criminal defense work (that would be opposite the police). I currently am a member on a citizens advisory committee for a county sheriff’s office. I’ve had my disagreements with particular police officers in particular matters — both in terms of policy and specific actions — but they are no more as you characterize them as, say, “public educators.” Hey, my city has had a rash of “public educators” in the past years who have been terminated for sexual involvements with students. And yet I don’t broadbrush them as you do in this articles with police.
    There is more I could say about other broadbrushing condemnations in your article but I’ll stop there, with the parting observation that you seem to think consistently in rather polar terms as to pretty much all matters political, and that is helpful to no one.

    • Mark Zietse says:

      The thin blue line may be misinterpreted by some but from my experience where I most often see the blue line flag flying is alongside the trump flag or in protests opposites black lives matter supporters. My perception is (right or wrong) that it is trying to say ‘no, black lives don’t matter’ or police lives matter more than black lives. The fact that it didn’t come out until after the black lives matter movement would seem to support that. Maybe a lot of people don’t intend that but obviously a lot of people do. I don’t think anybody believes police lives don’t matter or that we don’t need police but it is time to stand up against the bad apples and police brutality by holding police officers accountable for excessive profiling and excessive force. If you don’t think we have a problem with that in this country, well then you’re not understanding the reality.

      • Eric Van Dyken says:

        Mark,

        Thin blue line dates back as far as 1911 as the earliest reference and more widespread since the 60’s and 70’s. It is not a reaction to BLM. Your perception that it says “no, black lives don’t matter” is nothing more than projective slander. You would do well to be slower to assign wicked thoughts and motivations to others.

      • Doug Vande Griend says:

        Mark: The reason for the “blue lives matter” and “thin blue line” references is because BLM wishes to get rid of them, whether entirely or, arguably, partially. And the reason you might see those phrases on banners along with others that support Trump is because there are generally only two sides in these incredibly confused “march conversations” (quotes intended), and Trump is on the side of thinking blue lives do matter and the thin blue line has to be preserved.

        Do “black lives matter”? Of course they do. No one believes otherwise (OK, maybe .001% of Americans might argue), but BLM marches (the organization) and BLM itself is about a whole lot more than that. They are politically astute, which is why they lead with a unobjectionable phrase (“black lives matter”) that mimics their name. Once you agree to the phrase, they can say, “well, then how can you disagree with what BLM “stands for”?

        In a real way, all of these kinds of marches, and sloganizing, are rather grade-school childish. There is no nuance to the conversation that marchers say they want to have. But they can and do — just like in grade-school — create a great deal of polarizing side taking that in general only hurts and doesn’t help. No good will from the the current polarization.

        Bu, you say, “it is time to stand up against the bad apples!” Well, it’s always been that time of course, but just that has been in fact going on for very, very long time now. Have all the “bad apples” been removed from all police forces in the country? Of course not — but they never will be. Are all the bad pastors, teachers, contractors, lawyers, bankers, workers, (endless list) been removed in the country? Of course not — but they never will be.

        What is new in all of this is not the demand that the “bad apples” are removed from police forces, but that all police be eliminated (with argument as to whether that really means all police), and that demand tends to be driven by literal mob action that screams invectives at police (of all colors), spits at police (all colors), throws rock and other projectiles at police (all colors), all of which has been supported (remarkably), whether by commission or omission, by elected public officials! And this unbelievable state of affairs is why some people come out with counter marches, holding signs that communicate phrases like “blue lives matter” or “thin blue line” or “all lives matter,” etc.

        According to you I may not understand reality (“If you don’t think we have a problem with that in this country, well then you’re not understanding the reality”). I’d argue I do, and perhaps based on as much experience with real police forces as anyone who writes for or comments on Reformed Journal. To repeat my earlier comments, I’ve had my complaints with police. Oh my goodness I have. But then I’ve also had complaints with people of pretty much all other professions and occupations too. What is going on right now is nothing short of post-modern hysteria, intentionally created for the purpose of driving a political agenda that has precious little to to do with “profiling” or “holding police officers accountable” or “excessive force.”

        As Lileth Sinclair, who is a self-proclaimed “non-binary, Afro-Indigenous, activist who is a sex worker” in Portland (these are her words, the Portland marches/riots (they are largely the same people) are “organizing for the abolition of not just the militarized police state but also the United States as we know it.” That was an unremarkable statement for the BLM marchers around her — of course they are.

        Many Americans believe that “abolishing the United States as we know it” is not a good thing, even a bad thing. Believe it or not, I oppose that and think you should too. But make no mistake, BLM (and Lilith, a BLM spokesperson/activist in Portland) believes it is a good thing — at least marches, screams and riots for it.

        And one of BLM’s first steps in accomplishing that goal is to get rid of that “thin blue line,” and recognize that “blue lives in fact don’t matter.”

  • Tom Eggebeen says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful writing … I’m with you in this “great divide” currently shredding, scattering, splintering, our nation. The Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression and now, we’re engaged in a serious struggle for the soul of this nation. Like it or not, choices have to be made: to stand with the King of England or seek independence; support the extension of slavery throughout the nation or put an end to it; allow the market to work it out or use government to regulate and create; and now, to support a Libertarian hands-off view of things for government, or a more nuanced and compassionate role for good government, along with Black Lives Matter, immigrant rights, universal health care and public education.

    Sensitive hearts might long for agreements that would ease the pain of having to choose, but history doesn’t allow for that in times of crisis. Perhaps you’re wrong’ that’s always the possibility, and perhaps I am wrong, too, but that doesn’t relieve us of having to make decisions based upon what we know in Christ through Scripture and the large traditions of Christianity, and other traditions, too.

    I hear you loud and clear, and I journey with you on all of this. You’ve made your choices, and I believe they’re the right choices, for living out your faith in Christ, to God’s glory, and for the welfare of Creation.

  • Excellent! One who scatters and divides versus One who gathers and loves! May we be loving uniters and not dividing scatterers.

  • Diana Walker says:

    Doc Rivers nailed it last week by stating “It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back.”
    I ponder just why, seemingly in a nano second, the Blue Lives Matter endeavor was created when the ink was hardly dry on the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement.
    That certainly feels like scattering to me. Why the divide? Keeps me awake at night.

    • Marty Wondaal says:

      Doc Rivers is wrong.

      Every game night Doc Rivers must pencil in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George into the lineup. Then he must appear to be coaching them. For this, he is paid $11,000,000 annually, plus endorsement.

      This country has been very very good to him.

  • Cory Van Sloten says:

    Thanks Kate… grateful for your voice and perspective.

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