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It’s all in your head

May 2, 2015

Well, the movie The Avengers: Age of Ultron is out and watching it reminded me of a Bible verse – sort of.  Ephesians 6:12 says:

“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.”

I can’t help but think that we might see the “wrestling” that we call spiritual warfare as in some way akin to an Avengers movie with the devil cast in the Ultron role.  No, I am not suggesting that Ultron is a type of Satan and that there is something satanic about the movie that evangelicals, unlike me, need to avoid like the plague.  Rather I wonder if we perhaps see Satan as something of an evil superpower that we, like the Avengers, heroically battle and manage to just barely defeat.  Certainly the verse above has sort of a “battle of super-powers” feel to it, doesn’t it?

But what does spiritual warfare actually look like?  Frankly, I think it’s all in your head.  Let me hasten to add that the phrase “it’s all in your head” does not mean it is imaginary or unreal; an altogether too common usage of that phrase.  It can be very real, just not what we might think it is.

Perhaps the most vivid description of a spiritual battle in the Bible is found in Matthew 4:1-11 where Satan wrestles with Jesus in the wilderness.  Only there seems to be very little actual wrestling.  The only physical activity at all seems to be when the devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and there is good reason to interpret that as something other than a physical trip. The whole thing sounds almost like a polite theological discussion on the meaning of various Bible verses.  It certainly does not come across as a climactic battle of good vs evil like The Avengers.

Could it be that our own spiritual warfare is more internal than external?  Perhaps wrestling with our impulses, desires, emotions and thoughts, however dull that might sound, and however invisible it may be to anyone who can’t see into our heads, is really what Paul was talking about.

The Avengers and superheroes like them are not the only things that cause us to have an image of spiritual warfare that is external and physical.  Christian fiction shelves are filled with exciting Christianized versions of superhero adventures.  They just substitute demons for Ultron  and have their heroes engage in dramatic battles that are barely won, closing with an all-too cheesy moral that encourage us to be on guard for our own possible battles with Satan and his minions.

But what is worse, they portray other people as those minions of Satan.  They have human enemies who are ruthless and altogether evil.  This teaches us that people who differ with, and don’t like, Christians are not only evil, they are out to destroy us.  Motives for these despicable antagonists are always evil and calculated.  They always have “an agenda” to stamp out faith and rule the world.

And we hear a lot about agendas don’t we?  There is the secular agenda, the feminist agenda and, of course, the gay agenda.  Just google that last one and you will find hundreds of links where Christians warn you about the gay agenda, sometimes in horrifyingly warlike terms that mimic the fear that the good guys in the superpower stories fear just before the tide turns.

Perhaps spiritual warfare is not an external battle against agenda-driven enemies.  Even if they have agendas perhaps they are little more than expressions of the way that they want the world to be, not evil tools of destruction.  Perhaps, if we allow ourselves to see other people as enemies out to get us and not people who need to see and feel the love of God in and through us, we have already lost a battle in the real spiritual warfare that take place in our heads.

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