“How do we like the government of satan?” asked early Quaker Stephen Crisp in a 1691 sermon. “I hope we do none of us like it.“
We are a generation of selective ears, like all the generations that went before us, different only in the kinds of things we filter out. For fourscore and seven years European-American males held it to be a self-evident truth that all men were created equal, but filtered out African-Americans, Native Americans and women. For seventeen centuries Christians have filtered out Jesus’ pacifism and worshiped the power of the carnal weapon. Today, of those that willingly hear of a Holy Spirit and a Creator God, many refuse to listen when the same scriptures that herald the Holy Spirit speak of “unclean spirits” too, or when texts declaring the might of God also warn of a “god of this world” opposing the Almighty. Many of us smile at the ignorance of first-century writers who, lacking the insights of modern psychiatry, could only impute pathology to evil beings; we read Paul’s “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) merely as a clever figure of speech. But perhaps this is just what the god of this world wants.
On the other hand, the First Epistle of John (3:8) reads, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil,” and Jesus’ own recorded words confirm that this is how He understood a major part of His own mission on earth: to “announce liberation to the captives” (Luke 4:18), to “cast out devils,” (Matt. 12:28, Mark 1:39, Luke 11:20, 13:32), and to empower His apostles to cast out demons in His name also (Matt. 10:8, Mark 16:17). For Jesus as for His contemporaries, the demonic world was real, and it had one ruler, whose grip on this fallen world was to be shaken loose by Jesus’ crucifixion and rising again: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31).
Now consider this contemporary reflection: “To the extent that we no longer realize the reality of the supernatural power of the demonic realm – against which we are powerless in our own unaided humanity – we no longer sense the need for a Savior, for Jesus Christ. Even for many professing Christians, Jesus has become simply an excellent teacher of values, among many other teachers, like Confucius and the Buddha. This is a major problem with the New Age movement: It fails to recognize the reality of the supernatural dimension of evil, and affirms that human beings are good and have tremendous untapped potential for growth if only they can discover how good they are and rid themselves of shame. Consequently, there is in the New Age system of thought no real need for a Savior; they see Jesus simply as a good man bringing a wonderful message of love for the human race.” (from Francis MacNutt, Deliverance from Evil Spirits: A Practical Manual, p. 33.) If you, like me, have a knee-jerk reaction to writers who speak of a “New Age movement” as if it were an intentional gathering of wills like the Labor Movement or the Civil Rights Movement, please put it aside; Francis MacNutt has a point here, and one of particular poignancy in these times when we see the Great Lie Machine gathering up its money and political power to trash all life on earth.
Yes, the Great Lie Machine. You don’t have to be a conspiracy-theorist to see the same spirit of selfishness, hypocrisy, and lust for power at work in phenomena as diverse as the consolidation of big money’s control over nominal democracies and their media, while it continues to back regimes that disappear, torture and slaughter their dissidents; the stealthy expansion of environmental pollution, debt-slavery, offshore sweatshops, surveillance, prisons, weaponry, information-management and crowd-control technology; and the insane race to degrade and destroy the earth for the sake of the wealth to be sucked out of it. The only question is whether there is one will and one master intelligence running the Great Lie Machine. Not yet having the mature discernment to answer this question for myself, I turn it over to my heavenly Shepherd, trusting that we who more want to do the right thing than get the best interest rate will be enlightened about it, mobilized and led by Him when the time comes for appropriate action.
Just recently I received a request from a friend to discuss the newly published Radical Jesus: A Graphic History of Faith on this blog (Paul Buhle, editor; published 2013 by Herald Press in Harrisonburg, Virginia and Waterloo, Ontario; ISBN 978-0-8361-9621-4; paperback). I like the book very much, find it beautifully illustrated, and hope to see my own life changed by reading it! It starts with Sabrina Jones’s masterly sketch of the ministry of Jesus, “Radical Gospel,” from His baptism in the River Jordan to His post-resurrection giving of the Great Commission. Taste and wit are shown in Friend Sabrina’s blending of scenery from first-century Palestine with images from the urbanized twenty-first century: the crowd around the Baptist is clearly of the ancient world, but when the Devil comes to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, we see a horned Satan with eyeglasses, who offers Jesus “all the kingdoms of this world” in a panorama that includes the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. The illustrations of Jesus’ parables likewise jump forward twenty centuries to show modern soldiers guzzling bottled water and a skeleton-like hunger-striker refusing food brought by a guard who could be from Guantánamo. It delights me to imagine the Gospel of Jesus Christ, made graphic through Sabrina’s richly gifted pen and brush, reaching people that might never take the trouble to read the Bible itself — except that here we see Jesus the teacher and Jesus the resurrected martyr but not Jesus the healer, and not Jesus the Savior who claimed, “all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18), draws all people to Him (John 12:32), and gives eternal life to whoever comes to Him (John 17:2). My prayer is that I’ll see these other sides of Jesus in Sabrina’s future work.
“Radical History,” by Gary Dumm, with Laura Dumm and others, introduces the reader to some of the Church history you might never get to know if you weren’t one of the contributors yourself, and it’s vivid and fast-paced, covering Wycliffe and the Lollards in 14th-century England, the Anabaptists and Hutterites on the Continent and in America, the Quakers in the Colonies; it ends with a one-page life of abolitionist Angelina Grimké (1805-1879). “Radical Resistance,” by Nick Thorkelson, brings the history up to the present day. The setting is a group discussion that could take place “last week, or 20 years ago, or next month,” “in Brockton, Massachusetts – or the hills around Sâo Paulo, Brazil – or the ruins of Port-au-Prince… – asking: … What are we called to do?” Different presenters tell stories of inspiring acts of witness, from the 19th-century mission of Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) to the Christian Peacemaker Teams of today. There the reader is left, wondering what he or she is to do now, and with whom?
There is One who can tell us what we are to do now, who said He would be with us “alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20); but if He is not a Savior, but only “a good man bringing a wonderful message of love for the human race,” then He can’t give us the new, courageous heart and Holy Spirit-guided discerning eye that we need in order to be turned from hesitant, comfort-loving Christian Peacemaker wannabees into the faithful saints that the condition of the planet now calls for. And this, in my view, is one limitation of Radical Jesus. The other is that the huge array of bad guys currently running things, and stupid or misguided or enslaved or indifferent people working for or complicit with the bad guys, is just plain daunting: convert one wicked person to the way of righteousness and you’ve made all heaven rejoice, maybe, but then what about the other billions? Don’t these people have a world headquarters that can be immobilized? Is there some master strategy that can be blocked, some hypnotizing chief enslaver that they can all be freed from?
Jesus said, “I testify of ‘the world’ that its works are evil” (John 7:7b), “but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). Yes, there is a chief enslaver, called in Scripture the prince, or god, of this world, and our Savior has defeated him (or “it”) already; it remains for us to unseat that god in our own hearts by saying “yes” to faith and love, and “no” to fear, pride, greed, lust, selfishness, anger — we may be given several opportunities to do this in any given day. And then we are to listen. We will surely be called and led.