Know Your Spiritual Enemy

It’s hard to believe that this year will mark 20 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Those attacks rewrote the book on how nations think about warfare. In previous wars, you had a defined entity, usually a nation with a clear political leader, but the 9/11 attacks weren’t carried out by a nation. They were perpetrated by citizens of several countries, many of which were allies of the United States.

After 9/11, Congress wanted to declare war, but they weren’t even sure whom to declare war on. Previous wars were named by easily identifiable enemies, like “The War With England” or “The War Against the Axis Powers,” but this was a war against—terror. The strategies for fighting it were also different. You couldn’t just build up an army and go after the enemy because there were no territories they really called home.

So, we started to hear about things like “sleeper cells” and “radicalized operatives.” These realties required different strategies for fighting and different security protocols, and of course, that gave rise to new dangers, like the invasion of privacy and racial profiling. Many of the hit drama shows of the time, like 24 and Alias, played on the premise that we’d better learn the new rules of engagement in this dangerous war or we’d never survive.

There are parallels to that premise in how Jesus instructs us to approach the Christian life in Luke 11, when he drove out a demon that was mute. You see, just as in the War on Terror, our enemy is not one entity we can isolate and identify. He doesn’t have a headquarters; he’s not at work only in one particular culture, nor is he isolated to one political party. You’ll certainly find him at work in each of those areas, but the most effective work he does is in our individual lives. If we don’t recognize the real nature of the Enemy and employ new strategies to engage him, we’ll be ill-equipped to survive the battle.

Jesus believed that some physical and psychological problems were caused by demons, and the idea that there are supernatural forces at work in all areas of life is consistent throughout the Bible.

Maybe that strikes you as naïve. We now know, for instance, that diseases have viral causes. Emotional and spiritual problems can be explained by psychological and physiological causes, or as the result of past trauma. While that’s not inconsistent with what Scripture teaches (God did give us the scientific method, for example), Jesus would say that if you think all of life’s issues can be explained completely by physical factors, maybe you are the naïve one.

Do you really think that at the root of the Holocaust was just a man with chemical imbalances? Is the strife and division we experience in our society now simply a result of differing political ideologies? When we see the rage that animates the discussions we are in, how can we not see evidence of evil spiritual forces at work, whose intent is to divide and destroy?

Today, when we look at our society’s disregard for the lives of innocent babies in the womb, how do we not see the evidence of spiritual forces at work? When we think about the tragic history of our blindness to racial injustice, how do we not recognize the hand of the Enemy?

Evil in our world has physical causes, but believing that physical factors explain all human evil and suffering keeps us from an awareness of its influence in our own lives and the spiritual power needed to confront it.