Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God…
Yikes! Get me a light! I think I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole!
That’s how I felt this morning after reading the day’s news. I was Alice in Lewis Carol’s classic fantasy about a little girl who followed the White Rabbit down into a strange, confusing, hard-to-escape wonderland. I go down that rabbit hole where good is called evil, evil is called good, celebrities are called wise, wise are called fools, and politicians pretend to be leaders. I am left wondering, “What’s going on in our crazy upside-down world?”
I think I have a clue from today’s scripture in which the apostle Paul writes to Christians about the news in first-century Ephesus. He reminds the Ephesians that their “struggle” is not against “flesh and blood”, but against “rulers…authorities…comic powers…spiritual forces…” Clearly, there is something bigger going on than what they realize.
Bible students debate how we are to understand the powers and authorities Paul says Christians battle. Some understand these to be fallen angel spirits. New Testament theologian F. F. Bruce, for instance, believes they are “cosmocrats”, or, high ranking fallen angels wielding authority over specific territories. Bruce calls to mind angel princes of Persia and Greek who battled Michael and God’s people in the book of Daniel (Daniel 10:12-13, 20). Bible commentator Ben Witherington says these powers and authorities are common terms for fallen supernatural beings.
Other commentators such as Walter Wink understand the powers and authorities not as angel beings, but as powers in the personal, social, political, and economic systems. There is a point at which these powers can become demonic. Wink writes:
“The powers that be are more than just the people who run things. They are the systems themselves, the institutions and structures that weave into an intricate fabric of power and relationships, the Powers than surround us on every side. They are necessary. They are useful…But the Powers are also the source of unmitigated evil.”(Walter Wink, The Powers that Be)
I see yet a third way of interpreting the authorities and powers against which Christian battle. Rather than seeing them as either angel powers, or socio-economic and political powers, we see a spiritual dimension at work in all of them. Bryan Walsh and Sylvia Keesmat write about this interaction of the demonic with the personal, social, economic, and political powers:
“So this is a clear reference to something that goes beyond socioeconomic structures of political and military power. We believe in demons, and if we had the eyes to see we would discern their destructive power in both personal and structural dimensions of life.”(Brian Walsh, Sylvia Keesmat, Colossians Remixed)
Shakespeare said it well in Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Yes, there are more things going on than we can imagine. Just as one moment we see Simon Peter confessing Jesus as the Messiah, so in the next moment Peter becomes Satan’s mouthpiece (Matthew 16:16-17, 22-23).
Paul said that the Roman government had delegated power from God to govern as “God’s servant (Greek: “deacon”) for your good” (Romans 13:4). Jesus also said people should pay Caesar his due taxes (Matthew 22:21). Yet both Paul and Jesus knew that Rome’s power and socioeconomic structures could be demonized for the purposes of crucifixions and idolatrous emperor worship.
Powers and systems in first-century Ephesus could become demonic. And, so today, powers and systems God intended for good, might well be demonized.
So if political, economic, and social systems can be demonized, we will not find answers in them or any rabbit hole. Our answer comes when we first recognize that the battle in which we find ourselves is spiritual. Recognizing that the battle is spiritual is to be followed by waging a spiritual battle. Paul speaks to this in this Ephesians 6 passage:
6:13: “Therefore take up the whole armour of God.”
6:18: “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.”
There’s nothing fancy here. Nothing you probably have not heard before. We’re not looking to Rome, Washington, or the Rabbit Hole for the answer. We are looking to Jesus to help us fight!
A fellow traveler,