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Monday, August 20, 2012

Objectifying Evil

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should (Ephesians 6:10-20) NIV.)

When we think of the martyrdom of the early Christians, too often we assume that their martyrdom was primarily the result of a difference in condign power. That is, the early Christians were martyrs because they lacked sufficient brute force. Actually, a profoundly different reality obtained. For the early Christians it was not a matter of insufficient condign power, but of overwhelming conditional power – the power that arises from certainty based upon religious belief. We need to take quite literally Paul's assertion that: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. The simple fact is, if the early Christians were to make up an enemies list, it would not include the names of anyone. They simply did not see other people as their enemies. Following the example of Jesus, they even fully identified with their enemies. They saw instead that their enemies were not material, but modes of thought and belief to which they too could be susceptible – such constituted their enemies list. They made a radical decision – we will not fight with the weapons of flesh and blood, we will only fight with the weapons of spirit. This decision was based upon the simple fact that the weapons of condign power are inappropriate instruments in conditional-power combat. Ideological wars in which unspeakable atrocities are committed only serve to testify that death is the only way that anger and rage find to close off thought – though we know from history that thoughts are not interred with the dead. Hence our enemies are not mortal, but are comprised instead of principalities, powers, and thoughts. To be fully realistic we must come to see that thoughts have an existence outside the cortex (however notional this may seem).

In our own time we have seen this viewpoint exercised in the actions of Dr. Martin Luther King. His enemies list included no man – not even the most rabid racists. His enemies list included only modes of thought to which he in abject honesty realized that he too could be susceptible. He identified the real enemy and in love skillfully applied the right tools in effective opposition.

A great advance in civilization will occur when the limits, even mortality, of condign power is recognized and the forces of conditional power (including principalities and powers) are accepted as vital working hypotheses. The most significant immediate result will be an increase in compassion and empathy and a concurrent decrease in cruelty.

(An interesting read that treats condign, compensatory, conditioned power is The Anatomy of Power by John Kenneth Galbraith.)

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