On May 25, 2020, George Perry Floyd of Minneapolis, MN and Houston, TX died in full view of the nation. A police officer knelt on his neck and head as he cried in pain and eventually stopped moving.
The officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck has been charged with third degree murder and manslaughter, and the three other officers involved in the arrest also face charges.
Nevertheless, at the current time, several American cities are seeing riots that are widespread, have lasted for days, and that are pervasive to an extent that the nation has never seen. While some protest police violence, others with more nefarious motives join them. There is anger in our population, of both the righteous an unrighteous flavor.
As a Christian, it is clear that “the Enemy” is among us, whoever that may be. And as that raises the eye-rolling concept of “spiritual war,” we need to talk about that because it is not as eye-rolling as it first may seem.
On the Phrase “Spiritual War.”
In Christianity, the word “spirit” is often-used and often-misunderstood. It is from the Greek word pneuma (πνεῦμα). Based on how it is used in the Bible, there is both a Holy Spirit of God and also individual spirits inside every single person. We need to explain these things.
The original Greek word pneuma simultaneously means both “spirit” and “wind,” and the metaphor should be acknowledged. It is something unseen that has an effect on the visible world. It moves where it wishes. It is sometimes calm. It is sometimes fierce and strong. It can bring rain. It can bring heat. It can damage and destroy. It can cool and soothe. It can freeze and chill. It can heat and burn. It is always invisible, but pneuma, whether holy or not, is always moving and active.
As a consequence of holding this idea (which in previous times was not uniquely Christian), modern Christians often speak of “Spiritual warfare.” If someone is “poor in spirit,” then their motivation and their will to act has been burdened almost to its end. If someone is strong in spirit, then he is motivated and can endure hardship and adversity. An evil spirit manifests in evil desires. If you ever feel yourself “drawn” to anything, whether it be food or a woman or fame or wealth or torque or horsepower or athleticism or politics or a championship or whatever, the desire is a manifestation of the “spirit” inside you.
In other words, contrary to popular belief, “spirit” isn’t some special religious word. It’s a broad and ordinary word that references the influence on human desire.
But as far as it’s mentioned in the Bible, the concept of “spirituality” and “spiritual warfare” is sometimes accented by some Christians more than others. In my experience, those that accent it the most tend to understand it the least. Those who ignore it completely are worse than the latter.
Whatever one knows or believes about “spiritual” things, the Christian fact of the matter is that it definitely exists in Scripture. Therefore, we must confront it. It is most clearly mentioned in scripture in the following passage:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:11-13)
I would like to make the controversial claim that in light of the worldwide issues we are seeing, we are presently in a spiritual war. Since I know that sounds ridiculous, let me continue to clarify through a description of what we’ve all lived through in the past few months.
A New Description of the Present Situation
Only a few months ago, things were going on like normal, or at least much more normal than they seem today.
But suddenly, a new and highly contagious unseen sickness passed through the population. It started somewhere in Asia and spread with great speed across the entire world. In its wake, economies came to a halt, millions upon millions immediately became unemployed, and those who became sick with that virus found they were able to breathe but not able to absorb the air into their lungs.
As a consequence of this unseen thing, we have retreated to our homes, and we avoid contact. We cover our faces in public. Public places are closed. With orders to wear a mask and stop the spread of the virus, what before was normal attire is now officially viewed as unacceptably “naked.”
We used to be afraid of our enemies. We used to be afraid of our political opponents. We used to be afraid of those who are not like us. We used to be afraid of those who were exhibiting obvious sickness. But now we are also afraid of the invisible “asymptomatic” people. Now, we are also afraid of passive carriers who unknowingly spread sickness. Now, not only are we afraid of our enemies, we are afraid of our friends. Now, not only are we afraid of those unlike us, we are afraid of our families.
When this sickness comes, there are no rashes, bumps, or tumors. There is a dry cough and the absence of oxygen in the blood. It is spread from person to person through the air. It is a virus, neither living nor dead. In other words, we are afraid of something that we cannot see, that is inside of us, and that has changed the entire world before our eyes faster than we ever could have imagined. It is invisible. It moves in the air. It has no mass to speak of, but our entire world is bent under its weight.
On a seemingly unrelated note, there is race-based strife. However, this is not as unrelated as it first appears. Though the issue is not new, something has changed.
And as of late, the spark that lit our entire civilization on fire was a man screaming in pain, “I can’t breathe,” as the wind of his breath departed. What this unleashed was a wave of anger that has touched the entire world. We see protests and riots, but we cannot distinguish between protesters and rioters. We see our neighbors, but we cannot distinguish between our friends and our enemies. We see our leaders, police, and law enforcement apparatus, but we cannot distinguish between our protectors and our oppressors. We fight what we cannot see.
That, my friends, is a Spiritual War. We’re in one right now.
Old Concepts Applied to Ordinary Life
To accept this claim is not to adopt any strange or mystical cosmology about unseen angels and demons doing battle over souls. I don’t mean it like that. My claim is not a claim about myths and an unseen parallel universe. Instead, I’m talking about the universe you see, but organizing it in a different way.
“We are in a Spiritual War” is a technical identification of a very strange and seemingly diffuse set of circumstances. To accept this claim, you do not need to adopt my Christian cosmology. All I need for you to do is understand the objective definitions of the word “spirit” and the word “war.”
And to drive the point home, I’ll note that in the Bible, the word “soul” is from the Greek word “psyche” (ψυχή). It simultaneously means “breath” and “life.” Note the metaphor.
If we understand the metaphor, we can objectively say as a matter-of-fact that evil “spirits” have descended on the soul of our nation. They have taken many of us captive. The forces of this “battle” were gathered before we knew of the invasion, but as soon as we saw a man die as he cried “I can’t breathe,” the war came.
We are in a Spiritual War for the soul and life of our nation. This war is touching every individual who feels anger and sadness at what they have seen. It touches every individual who feels joy or fear in the midst of a riot. It touches every person who loves his friend while hating his enemy. It touches every person who fears another or dominates his neighbor. It touches us all.
The word “spirit” is a reference to the influence of human desire. So examine your soul. Where are the thoughts and intentions and passions of your heart and mind? Where is the unseen wind of this moment pushing you? Is it anger? Is it fear? Is it hopelessness? Do these outcomes sound good to you?
That is Spiritual War.
So What Do We Do?
If you are a Christian and have never had the opportunity to understand the words “spirit” and “soul” in that way, then perhaps it is time to revisit those “weird” verses in the Bible you know exist but like to avoid.
The next time you see a fire lit in a riot or see violence in a rage of anger play out in front of you, remember these words that you may have heard but never fully understood:
You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
And if you are a Christian, you can be confident that you have been saved by the work of Jesus Christ. He did not merely live, die, and rise two millennia ago. He has sent his own Spirit, his own influence, and his own unseen effect on the world.
But examine your soul. You are not out of the battle yet. If you remain faithful to your king, the risen Jesus Christ, then his Holy Spirit will turn your desires to him. But there is still a battle to be fought. That is why were are commanded:
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11)
So let’s get down to business, for the times are evil.
Be Strong and Courageous
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12) Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
Be sober-minded. Be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8) Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7) In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, (Ephesians 6:16-17) for the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:16-17) As for the enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, that we have seen? I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
And remember this about your Bible:
Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:4-7)
As for specific instruction:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:19-22)
And finally, remember what Christ has told us:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
So be strong and courageous and do not be afraid.