Who is the real enemy of our Christian faith? I’ll never forget the matter-of-fact-ness on her face. The utter lack of shock and surprise. Even doubt. This teenage African girl looked at us as certainly as one who knows the day of the week. She informed us the reason her sister’s baby had just passed away was because a witch had put a curse on her.
In training to become a missionary to Sub-Saharan Africa, topics like animism, witchcraft, traditional healing, and African Traditional Religion are addressed at length to prepare missionaries for what they’re likely to encounter. But no amount of classroom lectures could have prepared us for the expression we saw on her face that day.
“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.”
—Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)
There is a real enemy.
For western-minded thinkers, witchcraft, magic, spells, potions, and curses are at best the stuff of Disney or J. K. Rowling; or, the creepy movies we watched on muted volume in our parents’ basement at worst. But rarely, if ever, were these types of issues raised in the context of a serious discussion.
As a dad, when talking with your child about why someone’s journey was delayed, we’re likely to bring up things like traffic, flight cancellations, weather conditions, missing baggage, or bad directions. We wouldn’t necessarily talk about issues like spiritual opposition, divine protection, and “journey mercies.” When discussing the condition of someone’s health, we’re likely to cover things like medical history, diagnoses, prescriptions, and prognoses. We tend to neglect issues like spirits of infirmity, curses, and supernatural healing.
My wife and I quickly learned our western way of seeing things was not universal. In fact, the phrase “majority world” to describe developing regions — which lie somewhat outside modernist and enlightenment influence — seems to indicate western thinking is not only in the minority of history, but even in “majority” of humanity. Our African friends were giving us a window into how they viewed the world and, while this took us off guard, we had to admit there was something in this way of reasoning that resonated as somehow more biblical.
“There is a real enemy. It’s not who you think.”
Contrary to common perception, the Bible is not a sanitized and systematized book of moral principles and lessons. Instead, what we find throughout Scripture is an epic masterpiece filled with angelic warriors, mythic quests, supernatural visions, revelations and miracles. And central to this storyline is the existence of a spiritual enemy who is utterly opposed to God, God’s people and God’s purposes in the world.
This young African woman had grasped this idea, albeit in a culturally twisted way, with much more conviction and understanding than most trained theologians I’d ever met. I began to realize that I, too, needed to be aware and beware, because the Bible teaches there is indeed an enemy, Satan, who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
Now, even the godly dad can run the risk of falling into one of two equal and opposite errors outlined by C.S. Lewis in his The Screwtape Letters. On the one hand, we can take Satan “altogether too seriously.” In this scenario, we end up ascribing any and every difficulty or hardship to the work of the devil and end up giving him more credit than he is due. This is a real danger and one we must be particularly vigilant to guard against in the “majority world” context.
But I am convinced the error us dads are in much greater danger of committing as westerners is we would “not take him seriously enough.” Make no mistake, there is an enemy who is still at work in the world, in each of our lives and in our children’s lives—who wants nothing more than to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). And the first step to victory over his devices, is to know they exist (2 Cor. 2:11).