Imagine yourself alone in a friend’s country guesthouse in the woods far away from any city or town. Your friend is due to arrive in a few hours, and he has left a key for you under the front mat. So you let yourself in and begin exploring the house.
Suddenly, a violent storm arrives, and the power goes out. The house is completely dark, and you can’t find the candles or flashlights. Thunder cracks in the sky, the wind howls through the trees, and you begin counting the seconds, wondering when the lights will come back on. As time progresses, you find yourself feeling insecure and anxious. Everything is so unfamiliar! But then, the power is restored, and darkness gives way to light. A feeling of peace and security washes over you, and all is well again.
This story gives us a clear illustration of the difference between light and darkness in the physical world. However, it’s not always this easy to identify the difference between spiritual light and darkness. That’s why we need to become alert to these forces. We need to learn how to guard ourselves against the darkness so that we can enjoy more and more deeply the light that is our heritage as citizens of the kingdom of God. We need to be alert to the spiritual battle that is going on around us, a battle between the fiercely competitive powers of light and darkness.
An Unseen Battle. St. Paul used military images when he spoke about the Christian life. He referred to Archippus and Epaphroditus as fellow soldiers (Philemon 2; Philippians 2:25), and he urged Timothy to be a “good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3). He also spoke about himself “as a soldier” (1 Corinthians 9:7) and about spiritual “weapons” with which we can “destroy arguments” that raise themselves up against Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5).
In his most explicit military allegory, Paul spoke about how our battle is with the “principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12). He then told his readers to “put on the armor of God” so that they could push back the darkness (6:13). Paul saw that the devil is our number one enemy. He saw that we are engaged in a spiritual battle, and he wanted everyone to be alert to this battle—especially since the devil’s influence can be hard to detect.
The fact that we are engaged in a battle against an invisible foe poses two threats. First, because we can’t see him, the devil can go undetected. As a result, we forget about the battle and become easy prey to his tactics. If you were in an ordinary war zone, you would know it! You would hear the explosions, smell the gunpowder, and see signs of the enemy’s work all around you. You would naturally be on guard, your body tense and your senses alert all day long as you wondered when the next attack would come. But because the devil is a spirit and because he is so devious, it can be easy to miss his attacks.
The second threat is that we can think that our real struggle is only with the people around us—the ones we can see. When someone hurts us or gossips against us or lies to us, the offense is clear, and we have a negative reaction against the offender. Of course, justice tells us that something wrong has been done to us, and reparations should be made. But while we are focusing on the hurt we have suffered, we may miss out on the spiritual dimension. Paul tells us that our battle is not with “flesh and blood.” He also tells us not to do “battle according to the flesh” (Ephesians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:3). We need to see that quite often the devil has had a hand in whatever conflict has arisen. Satan, “the accuser of our brothers,” is often the unseen force moving us to say and do things against each other (Revelation 12:10).
This is how the devil likes it. He wants to remain undetected so that he can pit us against each other. He likes to instigate trouble by whispering accusations and suspicions in our ears—just enough to start us down a negative, divisive path. He plays off of the weaknesses in our fallen nature so that we will turn against each other or turn away from the Lord. Just one or two words of doubt may be all he needs, especially if we#8217;re not onto his ways!
This is all part of the devil’s strategy to weaken and overthrow the kingdom of God. For what good is a king if he doesn’t have any subjects? What good is a kingdom filled with discord, animosity, and division?
The Spirit’s Strategy. The good news is that the Holy Spirit uses a similar strategy—but he does it with the grace and power of almighty God! Like the devil, the Spirit is also invisible, so we need to be just as alert to his presence and work. Like the devil, the Spirit also whispers thoughts to our hearts, trying to bend us to his will.
But this is where the similarity ends. Instead of pitting us against each other, the Spirit encourages us to forgive and care for one another. Instead of sowing doubts about God and his care for us, the Spirit tells us that we are beloved children of God. He tells us that our Father will never abandon us. He helps us see the grace that Jesus is offering us in every situation.
While the devil appeals to our fallen nature, the Spirit appeals to even deeper drives and desires in our hearts. He helps us come in touch with our longing for God and our desire for unity and peace. He reminds us that we are made in God’s image, and he tells us that everyone else has just as much dignity as we do. Day after day, in situation after situation, the Spirit is at work, urging us to live as the citizens of the kingdom that we truly are. Moving and shaping our hearts with his love, he helps us build each other up so that the kingdom of God can advance in this world.
Darkness Defeated, Darkness Alive. With all this talk about the spiritual battle, it can be helpful to know that the kingdom of God is eternal. Nothing, not even the devil, can overcome it. No matter how difficult things may seem, Jesus will win the battle, and the devil will be vanquished. That’s because God has authority simply by virtue of who he is as the holy and mighty Creator. Satan, on the other hand, has authority only when we give it to him.
It may sound odd at first, but we empower the devil. If we go about our days unaware of his tactics, we are leaving the door of our hearts open to his lies. This is why Paul urges us to put on the armor of God. By contrast, when we open the door to the Spirit, he comes in with even more power and authority. He comes in to rescue us and restore us. He comes in to fill us with his love and to empower us to live a life of holiness and purity.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus wants everyone to come into his kingdom. He doesn’t want to lose one single person. That’s why he died for us. That’s why he promised to be always with us. It’s why he continues to reach out to us every day. He never stops seeking the lost. He never stops propelling us into the world with the good news of his kingdom. Isn’t it good to know that he will always help us win the battle?
Overcome the Darkness! Jesus wants us to live in the light of his kingdom. But because he respects our free will, he allows us to make our own decisions. So let’s choose to stay alert. Let’s wake up every morning eager to advance his kingdom. The more we strive to live in his light, the more we will find his Spirit giving us the strength to overcome every dark area of sin, both in our hearts and in the world around us.
Can you imagine the impact on the Church if all of us were to put on the armor of God every day? Imagine the effect it would have on the selfishness, judgments, and resentments in us and around us. Imagine how much more love, generosity, encouragement, joy, and forgiveness there would be in the world.
So let’s pray together, “Jesus, I want to commit myself to living in your light every day. I want to put on the full armor of God so that the devil will not find a foothold in my life or my family or my home. Lord, help me to stay alert to your Spirit’s promptings in my day. Empower me to turn away from every kind of darkness. Jesus, may your kingdom come!”