In January 2011 I was invited to travel to Liberia to speak to young leaders. I knew very little about that country, so I began to read about the place beforehand. I found out that Liberia had two civil wars almost back to back; the first war was about 8 years. Then there was three years of peace before another civil war of 4 years occurred. War for 12 years! Those wars killed one out of every seventeen people. Everyone I met was able to tell me a horrible war story. The young man assigned to drive our team for a week told us of how he was just coming home from school the day that the war broke out. When he got home there were rebel soldiers in his house and he saw them shoot and kill his older sister and her baby before his eyes. He ran and hid for days and had to drink water from a hole he dug in a ground. The memories still haunt him. Another told about how a rebel soldier might catch you and ask, “Which tribe are you?” There are 16 different tribes there. If you answered wrongly, you could get killed then and there on the road. He was asked one day this very question. He answered, “Which tribe should I not be from today?” The would be executor laughed and let him go. Although the war is over nine years now, there remains little laughter in a country racked by deep divisions and mistrust among the different tribal groups.
My heart burned in me recently when I read the New York Times about the five year trial of deposed Liberian president Charles Taylor, the man who was at the leading figure of the destruction in Liberia and Sierra Leone. He was the first man convicted of war crimes since World war two for atrocities committed against humanity in neighbouring Sierra Leone. They did not try him for well-known war crimes in Liberia in order to not reopen wounds and arouse more divisive sentiment in Liberia and thus reignite the simmering hatred. The civil war cost over 300,000 lives and is infamous for child soldiers being recruited and encouraged to kill, even their own parents. This trial cost the world 250 million dollars to find out the obvious, that this man was extremely crafty and as rotten to the core as the proverbial apple in the African barrel.
Chilling stories of lines of tribal people marched out by rebel soldiers to receive their punishment of ‘short sleeves’, ‘long sleeves’ or the ‘smile.’ The Times report that “A sinister rebel vocabulary pointed to the horrors: applying “a smile” meant cutting off the upper and lower lips of a victim, giving “long sleeves” meant hacking off the hands, and giving “short sleeves” meant cutting the arm above the elbow.” Today thousands live maimed by the evil tactics abetted by Charles Taylor and his evil thugs.
War is ugly. It is always ugly.
World War 1: 15 million deaths!
World War 2: 60 Million deaths!
Vietnam War: 5 million
The1994 Civil War in Rwanda that lasted 100 days was responsible for 800,000 murdered! (20% of population).
The total estimate of people killed by war on our earth according to Wikipedia is about 453.9 million people. That is what we humans have done to each other.
Tragic and horrible are too tame to describe the incredible loss, waste and unspeakable pain of war! My own Mom was made an orphan at the age of four by war. As kids we would ask Mom what it was like living through war. But she never talked to us about her loss because of that war until much later when she was older and even then as she talked about the hardships of living through war it would bring tears to her eyes. There were still emotional scars years and years later.
The Loss and Tragedy of War 2
Talking about war and warfare is not the easiest thing to do. Its a slap in our human history’s face. My belief is that all war is what happens when mankind chooses not to be led by goodness, a term to describe God. It is inspired by the King of Liars himself, the devil who incites humanity to deface the beauty of the earth of which man has been given to look after. That may sound hokey to you the readers of this blog, but it truly is a sign of the depravity of man. As one Rwandan pastor clearly said, “In our war, it was like “every demon in hell was let loose and came to Rwanda!”
The fact is, if we take the focus off our own lives and really look around us, we’ll notice that this world of ours is not a playground, it is a battlefield. This planet bears wounds so deep that it could cause the whole planet to cave in with it’s pain! We can no longer be like the ostrich that puts his head in the sand and pretend there are no problems happening on the earth. Everyday people are getting robbed and raped and even beheaded. Millions in our generation are at risk of emotional trauma that will never find healing. Just open the pages of the newspapers and read of the hurt and the untimely deaths caused by our own fleshy hands. Then I think about the natural world in which we live and it’s the reckless weather patterns that have given to us famine, natural disasters, freak accidents, lethal viruses, and great poverty.
As I took walks down some of the streets where I used to live in Thailand I could see the prostituting of bodies of young men, young women and know immediately that something is not right about us. Call it darkness in our souls or call it depravity. This is no longer the ‘Garden of Eden’ that our Creator meant for us. There is an ancient battle ever raging between good and evil. This war is far more reaching than all the wars started by dictators and despots and warlords. It is a battle for survival of the most evil, a try at the control of the hearts and minds of people everywhere. It is the same scheme of the ancient serpent in God’s pristine garden, his method is to lie his way to our minds and our demise and destruction.
If you take the Bible seriously, even a bit, it says this traitor used to live in heaven with God. He was one of the top angels! He knew how to worship. He exudes intelligence. He is not a little kid wearing silly horns that reasons that he is now scary because of his horns. He has always been fearsome and crafty. His beauty and intelligence led him to start a rebellion in the world from where he came from before falling to his abode here. Now his jealousy has led him to the goal of ruining the beauty of God in you and I. And he has succeeded to a great measure. And he has had a long time to perfect his craft, after all, he’s called the ‘ancient serpent’ in the Bible for a reason! He’s tricky and cunning and always at work. So Paul writes to believers a warning: “I don’t want Satan to outwit us. After all, we are not ignorant about Satan’s scheming.” (2 Corinthians 2:11)
How can we remain ignorant of the devil’s plans? If I open the first few pages of the Bible I read about Adam and Eve,two pure souls in love and who had a close relationship with God, and yet were still outwitted by the snake in the Garden of Eden. There’s a warning in that too, the enemy can play the role of your best friend perfectly to a ‘t’ while in friendly disguise. Heck, he’d pick you up in his best sports car and drive you wherever you wanted to go, he’d sit with you at the gambling table and chat you up! What is worth noticing is that the very first words on the snake’s lips are suspicious of the things these two had heard from God, their friend. He opens his mouth and says, “Um, did God really say you shall not eat of that wonderful looking tree in the garden?” And the second words on his lips were a subtle lie “Ha! You will not die.” His tactic is flagrant: Doubt God and surely doubt his good intentions towards you! The first two lovers believed the serpent’s sly lie and something was birthed inside of them to want more than they had. They wanted more than just a perfect life in perfect surroundings and enjoying all things perfect; they wanted to have more power and say over their lives, over the world even, even if it meant disobedience to their close friend and maker. The rest is history, as they say, (and a sad one at that.)
So in a world at both physical and spiritual war, it is not surprising to see the metaphor of warfare and combat in the Bible. Here is perhaps the best known verse on warfare: “We wrestle not against flesh and blood…”
Now notice the word, “We…” that means every believer needs to know about the intentions of a spiritual combatant. We need to have the wrestler’s stance, eyes wide open. From the day you had your spiritual birth to the day when you have your natural earthly death, you need to standing up fully aware of what is at stake. Whether you like it or not, you are in the combat with Satan. This Satan hates you. This Satan will tempt you. This Satan wants to cut your arms and legs off and then turn you away from God. This Satan wants only your destruction. We can’t afford to sit back passively saying nothing or doing nothing about the faith we have been given. That’s the sure way to defeat and taking a mighty bad beating.
In High school I loved wrestling. True wrestling is primarily a ‘one-on-one’ hand combat where one opponent singles out another and enters the wrestling mat with him. It is not the fake WWF tag-team sport that we see on the television in a hotel room with fake blood and fake chairs breaking over the heads of the opponents. It is a call to fight to render the opponent useless. It was sweaty close contact, not fighting from a distance. Its not like an army shooting canons from a distance and never seeing the result. It’s not like snipers hiding in a window shooting at you. It’s close in fighting.
Think about the picture of Jesus alone in the desert with the devil. The enemy worked his skills to subtly sow doubt in Jesus heart about his identity which would potentially lead him to the real goal, lead Jesus on a path of subservience. Yes Jesus and the devil were like wrestlers exerting spiritual force and strength against each other. Jesus resisted every advance, every accusation and temptation to disobedience. The devil finally left him alone, knowing he could not find any chink in Jesus’ armour. Nice going Jesus!
But here’s the reality: If he went after Jesus, he’ll come after you and I too. He will challenge us at every opportunity. He will sneak up from behind when we are not looking. When we are planting seeds for the Kingdom he will try to get our attention… to distract … to get us to stop what we are doing for God, even if for just a short time. He will interfere with God’s plans for you. As Paul said to the believers at Thessaloniki, “I would have come to you several times, but Satan hindered me.”
Like I said, he’s been around and is well-versed in wrestling. He has many moves. He has many disguises including the famous ‘angel disguise.’ He knows how to find a weakness and stands ready to pounce. Like a good wrestler he will try to grab and fasten himself on one part of your body, the most vulnerable part, to bring you down. So what are we to do? First of all be alert. This is no war game. It’s for mastery over you and control of your future. People who have fought in a war have said, “There is something about war that sharpens the senses . . . You hear a twig snap or the rustling of leaves and you are immediately in attack mode. Someone coughs nearby and you are ready to pull the trigger.” (RJ) So be alert, a war footing keeps you awake and vigilant. Secondly, resist him! That’s right, don’t be intimidated. Don’t think you can outsmart him. Don’t think you can out-argue him. Simply resist his advances and subtleties.
Finally, be ready for your ‘super-power’ move. Okay, that sounds like a silly statement after all I have said, but hear me out. In the old days, wrestlers used to put oil on their bodies so that the enemy could not keep a hold on them. That’s ‘Old School’ Greek wrestling strategy. Oil makes you slippery and so your power move is to get God’s oil on you! You will become slippery to the pursuit of the devil’s grasping fingers. He can flex all he wants but he has no way to get a grip on you. So in a spiritual way, we need to get back to putting oil all over us!!!! This to me is wisdom for us today, to make sure that we are covered, smothered with God’s oil. The oil of God’s presence will help you evade the enemy’s grip. That’s the way, then, to not get outwitted, but outlast the powerful warlord called Satan.