Resisting Evil Part 3: Masks, Disillusionment & The Light

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 6:12
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If we are being formed into the image of Christ, darkness within and directed at us is transfigured in light of the work of Christ and his promise of resurrection. At our core identity, we are also people of hope for those with spiteful disillusionment and even iconoclastic tendencies. We may, with the help of the Spirit, lift the mask and see the face of another under the grip of evil (personal evil or otherwise) and yet love the person in all their pain, misplaced hope, and even disillusionment. We can also have joy recalling our own dark past (perhaps present?) and yet perceive ourselves as belonging to God, understanding that this same hope, although painful, can also transform the iconoclast.

To finish my short meditations on resisting evil I will now zero in on directly battling against the powers of darkness with weapons of light and even placing oneself at risk for the sake of God's kingdom. Please note, this post is not about personal survival (I have other work in that direction), but of risk. Even still, I do not advocate for self-dehumanization or codependency as these ultimately benefit no one and do not reflect God's future. However, at the end of the day, prayer and formation are not meant to be private nor separate from our vocational calling to love the Lord in our everyday actions. We love and sacrifice for those around us even those bent on destroying us because we are people of hope.

Ultimately, risking oneself and standing against evil in the world are not added Christian bonuses to a life of prayer and Bible study, but are integral to our life purpose. Otherwise, why pray and why read? To think we are called to pray and not get involved misses one of the key purposes for prayer in the first place: formed obedience to God whereas the Spirit fills every crevice of our will and sense of self thus enabling us to act as agents of God's world yet to come. Our place in time requires risk by virtue of the world currently being under the control of the evil one, since we are under the power of the Spirit (hopefully!) and thus opposed to dark purposes. We must see this and recognize that we must fight our enemy as God places us in positions to do good whether it is forgiving or blessing an enemy, standing our ground, exposing evil behavior or putting even our own bodies at risk for another.

God Has Called You To Fight

We are called to resist darkness from within and without. The powers of darkness try and sell all of us a pile of lies that we must preserve ourselves at any cost. Lies that hope and loving-kindness are weak. And darkness deceives us into believing one is enlightened in disillusionment! But it builds us up just to tear us down and take us away from the God who knows our dark world intimately--who entered into despair & powerlessness--and became the light that the darkness could not overcome (John 1). Christ subverted the dark world in the form of being crucified thus giving suffering and unspeakable, horrifying evil new meaning turning our gaze towards resurrection. The amount of power we as little ones have to fight against the powers of darkness depends on how much we are dependent on the all-powerful God of love. Hope is vulnerable yet necessary to defeat evil. The key, however, is hope in God, on God's terms.

We Fight the Iconoclast

The iconoclast and others are not directly our enemies (even if they are in terms of position), but the dark powers that have ensnared them are. Often those trying to destroy us have themselves been destroyed by evil and continue to be used by their false gods even as they try and gain mastery over others.

In resisting the iconoclast we fight for both ourselves and ironically, for the iconoclast! The iconoclast thinks in zero-sum. In order for this false image of myself to persist, I must destroy you. The iconoclast both hates and admires the image they smash because the image of God is a threat to their god--themselves whether in the form of an idol or directly, ego. The existence of the divine image is beautiful and powerful and thus a threat to the iconoclasts' power. The divine image may be evident in one's personality, gifting, character or other abilities. In contrast to the iconoclasts vision of power, God's economy is one of interdependence and the diffusion of power. We resist the iconoclast by, with kindness, seeing through their mask and loving him or her as we worship the living God. We do not pretend the iconoclast has beauty he or she does not have, but we do recognize the light of the divine image whenever we do see it in them and if we fall short and are not able, then at least the potential of Christ within them.

Because we worship God and love him with all our hearts and out of this love the iconoclast, we do not make ourselves easy for the iconoclast to destroy. We say, "No, I will not let you destroy me because I bear the image of our Savior!" This further threatens the iconoclast's false image as one further represents Christ. The iconoclast is then in a bind. The more they mar the image of Christ in you the more you may resemble Christ exposing their behavior for what it is, evil in opposition to the good. Please note, the key here is not you uncovering faults with the iconoclast, but allowing the power of God manifested in your love and formation of character to do it, and allowing the Spirit to convict their hearts. The goal is to point towards the one you represent and in the process surrender one's own desire for revenge and ego thus becoming more animated with divine life and beckoning the iconoclast into this life. However, this will not be easy. False images masquerading as persons and objects of worship must be painfully torn down and surrendered by individuals entrapped by them and this is often a horrifying and threatening--even if necessary--prospect for the iconoclast.

How does one love an iconoclast? Romans 12 gives some excellent insight as do other parts of Scripture. Put simply, when they harass us we refuse to take revenge and instead try and bless them (vv. 13-21). We desire their good. I once had someone constantly trying to sabotage me at one of my jobs. I not only refrained from doing the same, I defended her when she was unfairly accused and praised her when she did good work. When she was sick I gave her medicine. I did this while refusing to let her walk all over me. This person would actually grind their teeth when I would show empathy towards her and once cried when her attempts to destroy me failed. She wanted me to wither away and be revealed as evil and after ultimately accomplishing neither of those things (though at first successful), all she was left with were her own actions and heart.

In terms of identity, we match the iconoclast's ego with our humility. We delight in the gifts of others even when similar or superior to our own and we joyfully lift up the strengths of others truly believing we are part of one another (vv.3-5). We utilize our gifts as best as we can even though it stirs the iconoclast's jealousy because we see them as gifts from God and use them worshipfully since this was why we were given them in the first place (vv.6-8). The world gives and "loves" with strings attached, we must do so out of the abundance of our hearts from the Spirit (vv.9-11 cf. 5:5). Welcome those around you who do not have social capital and provide for those in need without thinking you are better (vv.13-16). We do not give because we are "the bigger person" but because God is.

Lastly, stand your ground and pray (v12). Pray for the iconoclast. Ultimately we go where and do what God tells us to. Prayer is the way we connect ourselves consciously to the Spirit as agents in God's world. God often wants us to be consciously involved in his process and wants us to come to him with self-emptying obedience with our hearts directed towards him. Sometimes he even tells us or gives us clues for what is to come, but often not. The key is to act with God and not against or independent of him. Really, none of us can save anyone! To think so would be to retain a false image or idol doomed to fail and be exposed. All of us are saved by the power of God in Jesus Christ through the Spirit. At best we are the child given a small package by a parent and told "see that person over there?" go give this to them!

We Fight For Others Enslaved to Darkness

A friend of mine was in the process of earning his doctorate in addition to full-time ministry when he noticed a younger disabled man in his community being harassed by a violent man. The man would stalk or hunt him and then beat him up. The poor guy had no family and was especially vulnerable. My friend decided to call him his "son" and protect him. He helped him through the court system and when asked by the judge why he was involving himself the minister answered, "I am a minister of the gospel and this man was harming my son." Although he was busy, he could not avoid getting involved even though the harasser was now confronting him too. The minister battled the violent stalker for years and would not back down. You are also ministers of the Gospel.

If you are in a situation where you can stand up for another, give aid or give of yourself in some way then probably God has called you to the task. Don't wait to "pray" on whether to do good or manifest a slice of God's kingdom. God tells us in Ephesians that he has gone ahead of us and prepared good works for us to do ahead of time (Eph 2:10). Sometimes he matches us with peculiar situations suited to our own special abilities.

I test high on the empathy, forgiveness and patience scale, but also tend to have a highly strategic mind. Most of the time this manifests in my ability to come alongside others in more of a counselor role or make their day in little ways which I love to do, but sometimes God is sneaky. I do not especially like it when he does this, but he will sometimes interrupt my own flow of life and place me in very strange, even psychologically dangerous situations. Sometimes it has been to help liberate someone, but really, it could be anything he wants to do at the moment and most of the time I am in the dark. However, I can usually recognize God is using me for something specific when: 1) God has prepared me ahead of time emotionally and spiritually in some way, 2) often there is some sort of sign/knowledge of what is to come that I otherwise do not have access to, 3) God gives me the tools I need, and 4) After the event I can look and see that God accomplished a particular thing by giving me X knowledge and Y tool. 

For example, he had shown me a particular person in a dream before I met them the next day so that I would notice them and dig deeper. On the surface, they seemed rather nice and unassuming and I am already prone to liking everyone, but was bothered for months about the dream (I am not in the habit of seeing people I have never met clearly in a dream a day before I meet them). Long story short:  she had my friend trapped in a morbid web of lies! She had made him think he was personally responsible for her being raped by someone 3 times, having a stillborn baby she supposedly named after him (she was never pregnant) and a whole lot of other weird stuff all aimed at keeping him with her. It may sound ridiculous from the outside, but if you are in the middle of a manipulative person's web of deceit, you will gradually believe anything. She would also pretend to know extended network connections to get close to people. I ended up exposing her. God had seen the mess my friend was in and used extraordinary means to free him. I got to be part of it.

Sometimes we also need to pray directly against demonic spirits. We are not alone. Tied to and entangled with an entire host of familiar problems whether of character, systems or illness are also dark forces that love to feed off of the inflated and vulnerable. Once when I realized four individuals were doing everything in their power to destroy me, I immediately started praying against evil spirits, in this case spirits of deception and lies, asking the Holy Spirit to be manifest in that place. Immediately all sorts of truths began to surface that were otherwise hidden. Also, those who give themselves over to evil thinking they will have mastery over themselves and others, are not only ruled by it, they often have some not so welcome "friends" hanging around them that they are unaware of. Pray for God's peace and that you will be a good agent of his peace.

Why Do We Resist Darkness?

We resist darkness because we can't not! The more we surrender ourselves to Christ the less possible it seems to hand over anything to darkness. We are horrified when we find darkness within ourselves not out of dread, but out of love for the one who did so much for us. When we see evil in others we do not feel better or superior but have a deep desire for their good, God's destined shalom. When we see others being mistreated or harmed and are in a position to help (even if it involves risk), we hear the call of God on our lives. To resist doing good would be to dim the transforming image of God and miss an opportunity to become more like Christ. Basically, our end goal or telos is entirely different from the world's and its focus on survival and amassing good objects, status and perceptions for itself. Our goal is love from a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith (1 Tim 1:5). God is our inheritance and if we have him, that is enough even if we die in obscurity or a pool of character slander.

An ugly symbol of dominance, gore and humiliation signifies our hope and something to strive towards. And this is just as absurd to the world as our willingness to risk and sacrifice for the kingdom of God, our future. The cross is an ugly symbol and one that Christ appropriated in order (among other things) to explain to us how we gain new life in him. He does not ask us to do what he did not do in his every day life struggles or death. In Matthew 16:24-28 Jesus attempts to explain this. We try so hard to preserve what we call "life" trying to gain the world, but to what end? To follow Christ and be under his power is the reverse: to say no to oneself (because we go, do and move towards new ends) and instead exchange our selfish ambition for a symbol used of totalizing gruesome subjugating power at a victim's expense. But in embracing the cross we show ourselves to be agents of the kingdom of God and belonging to God, we realize we have gained life from the source of life who will resurrect even our mutilated bodies from the dead.

Embracing the cross and with it, the resurrection means that we look at others who harass and try and destroy us with love. And we fight--we stand our ground--refusing to die because of who we represent, but not despairing if we must die. However, our weapons are of the Spirit--prayer and formation--not returning evil with evil. After all, we see in our self appointed enemy possibility in the Spirit. Just as Eve was pregnant with hope, so also God's kingdom reality is just around the corner for those deceived and being used as tools by the enemy whether they identify as "Christian" or not. 

At the end of the day, we can be filled with delight (or at least not despair), during persecution, suffering, and trials because we see the Spirit's work in our hearts and we desire the good for our enemy (Rom 5:3-5). We revel in our belonging to Christ, realizing we are truly under his power and influence. The seed of the kingdom has grown into a tree and we may almost be distracted with this underlying reality, though perhaps only in moments.

God's kingdom in, with and through us. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trusting in Divine Providence While Experiencing Evil Part 1

  Deliberation  by Mario Sanchez Nevado

Deliberation by Mario Sanchez Nevado

Introduction

The best way for me to explain trust in God is to explain my life's story and how God's world and life flowed into mine. I used to hate it when asked to give my "testimony" and still do in some ways. I find the beginning of my story personally embarrassing if taken in a way that is supposed to make me special or is taken in a grandiose way. The way I see it, God visited me and this says more about God. The greatest difficulty concerning giving my testimony was in the reality that the dearest parts of my story were for a very long time traumatic throwing me into depression at best or a PTSD fit at worst. I would have to find some way to bury myself just to stay on the surface of my testimony and not relive it. Then there was the difficulty of how to explain having your personhood crushed and marred as a child by abuse causing physical and psychological harm extending on into adulthood--and yet, while being damaged also being overtaken by divine love to such a degree that I would do it all again without pause--yet not believing horrible evil is necessary for good. The first is not necessary for the other and evil is not part of some divine plan. That is just morbid. However, I am saying the latter gives meaning and light to the former so that a transfiguration of sorts occurs whereby something beautiful is present in something ugly. 

Coming out of my experience as a whole (more to come) I will explore the question: How does or should one trust God? The question is a difficult one to answer if thinking in terms of only one answer or when trying to distill trust in God down to an easy formula. How can one capture trusting God in one or two verses, abstractions or rules of thumb detached from the variety of narratives of God's people struggling to survive, and failing? How do I capture it in the midst of stories of PTSD, abuse and emotional destruction? Where was God?

The question of trust in God is all the more difficult if one is not prepared to empathetically enter into the experiences of those actually suffering and trusting in God. It is yet more difficult if verses are ripped out of the Bible without allowing for the diverse circumstances conveyed in the Scripture to speak to diverse people and realities today. And I hate platitudes because they are mismatched. They assume a reality (often times false) and enforce it onto a foreign circumstance (i.e. saying to the woman raped or a father who lost a child that they are experiencing a "blessing in disguise"). These platitudes are non-empathetic and yet proport to teach or comfort, neither of which they do. With all of this said, how does one trust God? 

Going forward, here is what I will NOT be covering: I will not be covering many particulars since they involve revealing identities and that is not good for me or others who have suffered abuse, at least not yet. All I have is my life in brief and how God has entered into my struggles and how I have come to trust him and how I have perceived trust in God in multifaceted and ever growing ways. It is from the angle of how I have balanced knowledge that: God is someone who is infinitely loving who provides for his people (and those who are not his!), is sometimes hidden, allows evil but is the source of love, and is everywhere present--in, among and around us. This is a story about God and who he is in part, through my eyes and out of this how and why I trust Him. 

Alright, no more stalling.

Light

I first met God when I was nearly six years old. I calculate it by the absence of my two adopted sisters and the church that we attended: The Marina Cathedra (probably "Cathedral" folks just pronounced it that way). I had just listened to a fire-and-brimstone sermon and, recalling I had pinched my little sister, was certain I was a great sinner. I had a choice: choose Jesus and go to heaven or say no and go to hell. My child-brain thought the former sounded better. I informed the Lord that I already had a dad and didn't need another one, but conceded I would be his friend and do whatever he told me. I then told my mom that I had to see Pastor Turner so I could get baptized to make it "official." However, immediately after saying "Pastor, I want to be baptized!" I fell to the ground praying something I do not remember and was immersed in pure light.

What I experienced is difficult to explain to people. I can't say much. I am in the strange predicament of having experienced something/someone of a different quality, more real than what I experience every day. Instead of having a hazy experience it is best thought of as ultra clear. By analogy, it is like a person seeing another basic color and then returning and trying to explain what it is and what it was like without their brain being able to retain the color itself. I used to just say this light was "whiter than white, lighter than light and more real than real." I was just immersed and existed in this personal light.

When I read other accounts of people experiencing this light I see why some describe it as being one with God or losing the boundaries between themselves and God because the unity is so strong. It's like you are a part of him. I was left with a profound sense of interconnection--God was coursing through me to the extent that I even breathed him in and out. It's more than immersion as the light is not only around you but through you. Yet, I was simply existing in the light completely caught up into it so there must have been a distinction between me and the light. We were not the same. Nothing was said to me during this time, I just knew who it was and communed. Sometimes I feel sad thinking about this time because I feel so terribly separated as though I am longing for home and the one I love all at once. You could say I often miss God even though I still interact with him in other ways.

In another instant after the experience of pure (uncreated?) light, I realized I was on the ground praying and sat up. The Pastor was praying over me, then asked: "Allison! Do you accept Jesus into your heart?" and a series of other questions to see if I understood my decision. He then agreed that I could be baptized and my parents took me away. I noticed something sticky on my head and my parents said that while I was praying he anointed my head with oil. I didn't tell them about my experience because I assumed this happened to everyone when they say yes to Jesus. However, before I left I felt as though God told me (that quiet inner voice) to remember what happened because when many people get older they forget this kind of thing. I reminded myself whenever I thought of it and took great pains not to change much, hence the short story. 

I didn't know it at the time, but I was going to reflect on this experience for years to come and it would give me hope in dark times (but also be a source of sadness as I remember and at times feel left behind). When I experienced extreme isolation it would remind me that God visited me and that even though I was alone and unloved by others, he loved me even if I could not feel his presence.

 

AQ

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through the years this experience has also made me lonely since I didn't know anyone else who experienced something similar. In later years I would read others that had similar experiences such as the desert fathers,  Wolfhart Pannenberg or a traveling preacher who escaped slavery. And at Fuller I finally met someone! Then discovered someone related to me who was not a Christian had this happen to him when he was a young man--this was the person I had been strangely compelled to talk about God with all these years as a child and the same was true for him--and then there was a good friend of mine who I would never have guessed! When I called her she was completely changed into her best self and had a similar experience only two days before we spoke! She has been struggling in many ways, but I can see God working in her beautifully and I am amazed.