Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Spiritual Warfare (I of IV)

Be Sober. Be watchful.
Your adversary the devil prowls about
like a roaring lion,
seeking one to devour.

I Peter 5.8

Talk given on Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 at Saint Ambrose in Latham, NY
[The following segments are not meant to be an all encompassing presentation on spiritual warfare, but rather, they are simple reflections from my own understanding and encounter with spiritual warfare. The first lesson is "Know the Way of God." The second lesson will be "The devil will attack you by attacking the ones you love." The third lesson will be "The trial comes when we are strong." The fourth lesson will be "The Good fight."

First Lesson: Know the Way of God
Key Text: Genesis 2.16-3.19

Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths,
 where the good way is;
and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” [1]

            Looking at man’s first encounter with spiritual warfare, we find several lessons to gain wisdom from. The first is knowing from whence shall come the fight. This is called learning about the near occasion of sin. If the commandment of God is not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then the last place you should spend time is anywhere near that tree. Why spend time in a place where temptation exists? Consider for a moment the story of David and Bathshe’ba. At the beginning of the narrative, we have the curious verse, in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go forth to battle, David sent Jo’ab, and his servants with him, and all Israel…but David remained in Jerusalem.[2] Notice what has happened. At the time when kings go into battle, King David is found not where he is supposed to be, but rather has stayed home. Had King David gone into battle, he would never have seen Bathshe’ba bathing from his roof. Had Eve not been within sight of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the serpent would not have been able to entice her to look at it. This bring us to the next point of consideration. We must have custody of our eyes, as the Psalmist reveals, I will not set before my eyes anything that is base.[3] Our Lord himself revealed, the eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great the darkness! [4] Thus we cannot be surprised in Eve’s reaction when we read, the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes.[5]

The Latin word for "bad" is 'malus'
The Latin word for "apple" is 'malum'
The reason we think of it as an apple is because of a Latin pun.
  Now, one can ask, how can one know where the near occasion of sin is? It is for this reason that we are given the commandments of the Lord. As Saint Paul writes, if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ [6] So it is important for us to know the commandments of God. As is written by the Psalmist, how can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to thy word.[7] Now we see how this failed to happen in our Genesis text. When Eve was asked by the serpent, Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden? [8] Eve responded, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” [9] However, the actual commandment from God had been, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.[10] Now we can go back and see how where Eve sees that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is good for food, had she been mindful that the commandment was against eating it, and that in eating it would death follow, she might have been more on guard. This is the first lesson. Know the way of God. Know His commandments. As our Lord said, if you would enter life, keep the commandments.[11] Knowing the Ten Commandments, knowing the teachings of Christ, knowing the teachings of the apostles and of the Church, in all these things we are given assurance that we are on the right path.
            There is a further truth to be gained before we move on though. We must first of all keep in mind that in Christ Jesus, we find the perfection of who we as humans are made to be. The serpent tempted Eve by saying, You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.[12] Yet we know that God created man in his own image, in the image of he created him; male and female he created them.[13] We were already there! Yet we went about trying to accomplish what we were made for on our own, rather than walking with God. Christ, in taking on our human nature, has shown us the way back toward our original calling, our first vocation, to be an icon of God. As Christ Jesus himself said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life[14] and that we shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.[15] Part of knowing the truth is confessing the truth that we are sinners.
In the realm of spiritual warfare, this part is critical. The devil does not tempt sinners who are far from God, for they are already far from God, and separated from him. If he, the devil, can keep us from confessing our faults, he keeps us from turning towards God. As the beloved apostle wrote, he who commits sin is of the devil [16] and again, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.[17] Note that when Adam and Eve have sinned, they cover themselves, representing how we try to hide our sins from one another, and they run from God, showing how we try to hide our sins from God. When God asks Adam and Eve if they’ve eaten of the tree, he already knows that they have. He is wanting them to make a confession, to admit what they have done. As the Beloved Apostle writes, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.[18]
             This is why at the beginning of every mass, we must make our confession before God, the Church triumphant and to one another, that we have sinned. That it is our fault. When we try to blame others for our own sins, we our hiding our own shame, and the garment we too often clothe ourselves in is the fig leaf of hypocrisy, wherein we are angry at the faults of others, rather than looking ourselves. It is easier to be angry at the sins of others than of our own. Thus we should be honest with ourselves. As the Apostle writes, therefore, putting away falsehood, let everyone speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another [19] and our Lord himself said, you hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.[20]
Oh, and go to confession.

Part II tomorrow

[1] Jeremiah 6.16
[2] II Samuel 11.1
[3] Psalm 101(100).3
[4] Matthew 6.22-23
[5] Genesis 3.6
[6] Romans 7.7
[7] Psalm 119(118).9
[8] Genesis 3.1
[9] Genesis 3.2
[10] Genesis 2.16-17
[11] Matthew 19.17
[12] Genesis 3.4-5
[13] Genesis 1.27
[14] John 14.6
[15] John 8.32
[16] I John 3.8
[17] I John 1.8
[18] I John 1.9-10
[19] Ephesians 4.25
[20] Matthew 7.5

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