THE BATTLE FOR GOOD: EVIL AND THE CHRISTIAN LIFE by Iain M. Duguid for Core Christianity
Christians have a dangerous enemy.
In the book of Ephesians, Paul spares no effort in describing the seriousness of our opposition. We don’t wrestle with flesh and blood but against the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers of this present darkness (Eph. 6:12). If that sounds scary, it is because it is meant to. The devil is a very real, very powerful opponent, far too powerful for us to take on in our own strength. This is a salutary reminder to people in our Western context, who are inclined to ridicule the idea of a literal devil.
Many find the idea of a cosmic being whom we can’t see, feel, or touch and who promotes evil in this world unthinkable. Of course, the devil in whom they don’t believe is, in their minds, often not the biblical figure but a rather ridiculous image with hooves and horns. Who could seriously believe in that creature? It is convenient for the devil when people don’t believe in his existence. Then he can pursue his nefarious schemes unsuspected and undetected.
Yet who doubts the reality of evil in this universe? Almost everyone agrees that some things are not merely tragic but genuinely evil. Gassing millions of Jews in the death camps of Poland is evil. Press-ganging young African children into an army, getting them high on drugs, and then sending them into battle is evil. Trafficking women in the sex industry is evil. Where does all this evil in the world come from? Man’s natural inhumanity to man hardly seems a sufficient explanation for evil on this scale. Is it possible that there is another factor, a supernatural spiritual dimension, to all of this moral depravity?
If you believe that the universe you see around you is all there is, then you have no rational basis on which to be shocked and outraged at evil. What we call “evil” must then be interpreted simply as an emotional response within us to dangerous things, triggered by evolutionary biology. But the Bible has a richer and deeper explanation for the sad world we find ourselves in, an explanation that allows us to recognize the profound reality of evil and the invisible spiritual forces that lie behind its constant reappearance in different shapes and forms.
The Ephesians to whom Paul was writing were not modern materialists. They were very well aware of the spiritual forces around them, as people in other parts of the world continue to be. Yet even to them, Paul makes a point of highlighting the power of the opposition we face: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness” (Eph. 6:12).
Some of the terms that Paul uses here may have been in use in Ephesus as titles for various spiritual beings; Ephesus was a hotbed of occult interest, as Acts 19:18–19 makes clear. To these people, already convinced of Satan’s reality, Paul strongly underlines the power of the opposition that faced them—the same power that faces us. To use Peter’s language, Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).