In the best tradition of the Apostle Paul, Ephesians 6.11-12 says, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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.” Apparently, for many Christians the verse reads like this. “Put on the nasty rhetoric so that you can take your stand against those who disagree with you. For our struggle is against flesh and blood, but not against the rulers, authorities, the powers of their dark world. In fact, we struggle against the physical forces of evil in the earthly realms.” This blog is not the place to debate the meaning of this group of verses. Interested readers can consult my book Right Texts Wrong Meanings where I discuss the meaning and implications.
This week, a conference named “Overcoming the World: Bring a Christian in a Post-Christian Culture” comes to town. The name says it all. The World is the Enemy, and our country WAS once Christian. Obviously, when our country becomes post-Christian (whatever that means), the world has become the enemy. The metaphor of war has been thrown about since the ancient time. It is often used on the pulpit to demonize the opposition. The blog sphere is also a prime piece of cyber estate for such keyboard warriors. They would rally their troops to go on cyber space to wage their own war. Quite often, they would completely take over people’s Facebook walls or internet forums. Sometimes, a more subtle form of this battle comes in the inquiry of “Are you pro-___ or anti-___?” as if life is full of black and white. Before such vitriolic language reaches fever pitch, I want us to think a bit deeper.
Is living in this world as a Christian really ONLY about a battle? Are there not other metaphors in the Bible that describe the Christian life? I won’t go into all the metaphors, but the simple answer is “yes.” Even when the metaphor is about a battle, it is not a battle against human beings. Since many love to attribute opposition only to the devil, the devil gets entirely too much credit. It is easier to say that the devil has caused the dissenting voices to speak against us instead of trying to understand dissent. It is easier to say that the devil is behind all that is wrong in the world instead of doing our best (in our best Christian efforts) to make the world a better place. The devil must be happy as a lark because he’s getting credit for stuff he didn’t do. When war metaphors are thrown around too loosely, we risk praising the devil more than he deserves.
All this comes down to worldview. For the person who sees life as a battle, everyone looks like enemies and every tool looks like a shotgun. I would dare say that battle metaphors are not a majority metaphor in the New Testament. The only book that is dominated by the military imagery is Revelation, and the war there is not the kind of cultural war we imagine. I won’t elaborate on this theme. For my Chinese readers, you can access my two books on Revelation, one of which is still in active print. If we look closely, terms related to discipleship (which implies learning) or household are much more prevalent. At the end of the day, I’m not saying that the battle metaphor is unbiblical as much as it is inadequate. When we make a small group of metaphors in the Bible into a major metaphor describing our lives, our lives look funny as Christian witness. So, maybe it’s time to beat swords into plowshares and let the cultural war cease. Even if it is an uneasy truce, I hope people would see life beyond battle lines and radical opposites. As my former professor liked to say, “Most people want things in black and white when life is just many shades of grey.” As for color metaphor describing life, I vote grey.