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.
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 to our child 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 that 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” (Jn 10:10). And the first step to victory over his devices, is to know they exist (2 Cor. 2:11).
It's not who you think.
Our problem is not that we don’t realize we are under an attack of some sort. Life is full of many “dangers, toils and snares” that constantly frustrate our efforts to survive during our days under the sun.
Now, we would never deny life is hard and things don’t always go the way we want. As missionaries in Africa, we often use a saying that goes “A.W.A.—Africa Wins Again.” This is a useful little phrase as it summarizes the realities we face: everything from power outages to fuel shortages, tire punctures to cracked windshields, long lines at the bank to empty shelves at the grocery. There are so many things about life in Africa that are outside the realm of one’s control it’s helpful to simply say, “Hey, AWA!” But occasionally, my perspective isn’t quite this optimistic.
I can allow the steady onslaught of frustrations to build inside me, until the moment comes when my wife or one of my children brings me yet another interruption, and that’s when I snap! Why did I do it? That person didn’t cause the water heater to break down (again!). That person didn’t cause the shower drain to clog and overflow (again!). That person didn’t cause the bank ATM to be out of cash (again!). All that person did was vie for some of my attention at a point when all these other things had been happening and the stress had simply been building.
But, unlike the A.W.A. scenarios, whenever you live with your family, you need to understand that while there is an enemy, that enemy is NOT your wife, not your kids, and not even culture. Though these are all easy targets. Here’s the deal: biblical fatherhood understands that my wife or child interrupting me is not something I “just have to accept”. This is something I can address and put a stop to. “Will you just leave me alone?!” With the right facial expression and the right tone of voice, that’s all it would take for my wife or interrupting child to take their problem someplace else and finally just give me some peace and quiet.
But, just think about what has now happened in the fallout. Think about the wedge that has been placed into that relationship. Think about the root of bitterness that has been planted in that person’s soul. Think about the witness I have compromised before my family to whom I am supposed to be a model of their Heavenly Father (Eph. 3:15).
This is precisely what Satan wanted all along. Now, I am not claiming a demon directly caused the water heater to break (although that’s not a biblical impossibility!). Nor am I saying a demon caused the shower drain to overflow or took all the cash out of the ATMs. But, what I am saying is that all of these things worked together to fulfill the desire of the enemy to frustrate and complicate my life to the point of tempting me to sinful anger.
And in my weakness, I failed to see the spiritual realities behind what was happening in the moment. I misidentified my enemy and misdirected my response. The Apostle Paul says, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12). But a flesh and blood enemy is much easier for me to direct my anger and marshal my forces against, so when the situation reaches a boiling point, the “flesh and blood” which happens to be nearest tends to catch the brunt of the heat.
Satan is well aware of this reality. He’s had thousands of years to observe, research and learn from human behavior. He knows precisely how small tweaks of details here and there can affect our emotions and cause us to react. Satan also knows the kinds of ripple effects those reactions can cause in our marriage and parenting. This is precisely why Paul warns, “in your anger do not sin” and “do not let the sun go down while your are still angry” because these are the very things that can “give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:26-27).
This is also why, when a brother has repented of his offense, Paul urges the Corinthians to “forgive and comfort him” and “reaffirm your love for him,” and the reason Paul gives is so “Satan might not outwit us” (2 Cor. 2:11).
Paul knows Satan is out to steal, kill and destroy and one of the chief ways he manages to accomplish this is by getting us focused on the wrong enemy. What makes this tactic effective is the lines can easily become blurred between our true spiritual enemy and the “flesh and blood” around us. After all, it is the same Paul who also explains unbelievers who are following their own passions and desires are actually, in doing so, “followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the air” (Eph. 2:2).
John explains the “whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 Jn 5:19) and the ancient serpent (called the devil and Satan) “leads the whole world astray” (Rev. 12:9). So, with this kind of power over the “minds of unbelievers” (2 Cor. 4:4), it shouldn’t surprise us that Satan mounts his attacks through other people. In many situations for us dads, it’s often difficult for us to separate the true spiritual enemy from the vehicle; but, this is a discipline we must strive to master.
Question: As C.S. Lewis pointed out, do you take the devil too seriously—or not seriously enough? Is there one of the errors to which you are more prone than the other? Why? Tell us in the comments section below, tweet us @manhoodjourney or you can always email me.
About the author > Nicholas A. Moore, M. Div.
Nick (M.Div, Ph.D Candidate at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is married to Kyndra and they have seven children – three boys and four girls. After nine years of pastoral ministry in Kentucky, Nick and his family relocated in 2015 to Gweru, Zimbabwe where he now serves as Vice-Principal and Academic Dean of the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zimbabwe. Learn more about Nick here and grab his Field Guide Wrong Enemy.
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