I don’t have much patience for sentimental Christianity. You know what I’m talking about: the religious bookstore stuff of kitschy little trinkets with catchy sayings that don’t stand up in the real world struggle against the “spiritual forces of wickedness.”
Chad Walsh, in his book, Early Christians of the Twenty-first Century, says, “Millions of Christians live in a sentimental haze of vague piety, with soft organ music trembling in the lovely light from stained-glass windows. Their religion is a pleasant thing of emotional quiver, divorced from the intellect, divorced from the will, and demanding little except lip service to a few harmless platitudes.”
I agree with Walsh. I doubt the devil works very hard to keep people away from that kind of church. The spirituality that Jesus has for us is robust, but it can be brutal to a sentimental soul. Paul said we fight “spiritual wickedness in heavenly places.” Peter called the devil a ‘roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.’ We can expect following Jesus to be difficult.
What shape do those difficulties take? All kinds, some obviously evil, some less so, but none of them easy or sweet: boardroom intrigues and back alley deals that blow up careers, lawsuits that threaten a lifetime of savings and work because you took a stand for conscience, children killed in the bloom of youth, betrayal with a kiss from a friend.
These and many other kinds of evil in the world – the murders, the rapes, child molestation, and political oppression – cannot all be accounted for with psychosocial explanations. Evil is transnational, trans-economic, trans-educational, and trans-cultural. Race does not explain it. Nationality does not account for it. Wealth and poverty alike are fertile grounds for it. It reigns among the elite and the illiterate. It is found in the most sophisticated as well as the most common circles. Supernatural evil is present and real in the world. His name is Satan and he has been “a murderer from the beginning.”
Jesus warned us of him. The very first stage of his public ministry was a step into the arena of mortal combat with personal evil. He was tested, tried, in a forty day brawl with a vicious, subtle and deadly enemy whom he called ‘the devil’. Jesus eventually died fighting him. We are foolish to believe that our experience will be any different from his.
But as you know, the story doesn’t end there. Our savior, our leader, our glorious captain and king did not stay dead. No and neither shall we if we walk with him.
So allow me to offer a bit of black coffee theology; straight up spiritual advice for those days when we are not being carried, but dragged kicking and screaming into a desperately unwanted spiritual experience. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. ”
Jesus hasn’t left, hasn’t abandoned you. “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you,” he said, and he meant it. He is here, he is present, he cares, and he sustains. More than that, he is coming again in justice and judgment and when he comes, you will share his glory. So stand up, brush the sand out of your clothes, ignore the terror and tumult of the waves, fix your eyes on Jesus, and walk. Take the next step, and the next one after that, and the next one after that, your hand firmly gripped around his and he will lead you through to victory.