Soldiers in a Spiritual War

“_MG_7177” by dharma communications is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The words “integrity” and “integrated” come from the same Latin root, integer, meaning “whole.” I’ve never felt comfortable compartmentalizing my life. I recognize that the physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual are various realms of our humanity. But something does seem wonderfully whole about viewing all parts of who we are as one, integrated whole.

In practice, this integration can raise issues. Probably nothing risks offending others like the concept of us as spiritual beings. Attitudes range from complete disinterest and disbelief in any spiritual realm to those who spiritualize most everything.

My fairly orthodox Christian viewpoint is that, indeed, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” (The origin of this quote is in dispute, but it is often credited to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.)

Because I want to be sensitive to other beliefs, I am careful how I express myself about spirituality. And because I want to be integrated in my life, I do evaluate most everything from a spiritual standpoint.

I recently heard a sermon about spiritual warfare and it prompted several thoughts. C.S. Lewis wrote,

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

I try to keep a healthy balance between the extremes of disbelief and obsessiveness.

I think our society, especially evangelical Christians, often portray spiritual warfare as taking place in our society. This is an easy concept, but it is fraught with bias based on politics and other factors.

The more important spiritual warfare is the one that goes on within us. We are tempted to do what we know is not best. Sometimes the battle rages, and sometimes it is more of a gradual slide into unwanted territory. It is played out everywhere, every day, and far eclipses what happens in society. In fact, it is reflected in society.

In the spiritual realm, it is all about perspective. You have probably heard the phrase, “the letter and the spirit of the law”. In this case, ‘spirit’ is used differently but it is instructive in how we live our lives: are we doing things in the spirit of our beliefs?

For example, in the 1960s, President Johnson’s wife Lady Bird took on a project to clean up America and stop litter. Seen strictly in material terms, this was a civic-minded and patriotic effort. Seen from a spiritual viewpoint, this aligns with the realization that God would want us to care for the world He has given us. Almost everyone in America loves to see the views afforded by the Grand Canyon or Yosemite Park; to see them is to lift your spirit, and to see them damaged would hurt the soul. By caring for our world, we are being good soldiers.

To this point, I’ve avoided references to Scripture, despite the fact that it makes many allusions to spiritual warfare. For example:

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. (Ephesians 6:12)

One of the more dramatic stories occurs in the book of Matthew:

When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. ‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ they shouted. ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?’ Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, ‘If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.’ He said to them, ‘Go!’ So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

On the subject of demonic possession, we have to consider mental illness. Anyone with any mental illness needs proper medical attention. This in no way lessens the value of spiritual care for such individuals, even if this is a silent prayer for peace. I have experienced individuals close to me who suffered from severe mental problems. And I could see that their soul was in torment.

And so the battle rages. Forces unseen but not unfelt. The stakes are high, the battles continue, and, in the end, the war is won.

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