Satan is a liar and the father of lies. That’s how Jesus defined it. He’s never had any interest in the truth, and in himself, in his nature, there is no truth. Since he is a liar and the father of lies, it’s not hard to conclude that he is the supreme father of all human alienation. Spiritual war is the great battle that the church of Christ, the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tm. 3:15, NIV), undertakes in the arduous task of freeing men who are captives of the lies and alienation.
The church’s mission, defined by Jesus in his sermon in Nazareth, is to announce the redeeming truth of the gospel, proclaim the freedom of those who find themselves trapped in every form of lie and deceit, help restore sight to those who are blind, and set the repressed free. This mission has always been a great spiritual war, and everlasting battle against Satan’s alienating lies.
Since this is an extensive topic, and any attempt to reduce it to speculative abstractions could lead us into another form of alienation, I decided to approach it from a biblical and pastoral perspective. In order to do so, I chose Job as an example of spiritual conflict. Job’s story is one of spiritual war that begins with a bet between God and Satan. Satan brings up doubts as to the true motives of Job’s spiritual integrity. Satan believes that no one worships and serves God selflessly, only out of love and devotion, without expecting some form of reward. God believes the opposite, that it is possible to love without expecting retribution.
In this wager, spiritual experience, in it’s most personal and truthful sense, is at stake. It causes reactions not only in the sphere of affection and integrity of each individual, but also reflects on one’s theology, on social structures, and human relationships.
It is also a bet where the main objective is not to compare forces and see who has more power, which is very common when referring to war; we will see that God never intends to dispute His power, as if His glory were at stake; we will see that the whole purpose of this great spiritual drama is to transform us and lead us to a better understanding of God’s ways.
It is in this context that I intend to reflect on the spiritual war Job endured. The way he faced it and the changes it brought to his life, theology, and relationship with God and those around him will be the focus of this study.
The first two chapters of the book of Job set the battlefield and the characters of this conflict. On one side, we have God, portrayed as sovereign ruler over all that happens on earth and in heaven. For Job, He is the Creator, the Judge, The Preserver of all realities created. Walter Wink stated that “faith in primitive Israel really had no place for Satan.” In the Old Testament, God was the one and only cause of everything that happened in heaven and on earth; He assumes total responsibility over good and evil. This is what the prophet Isaiah, speaking in the name of the Lord, affirms in relation to Cirrus, who, even though not knowing or fearing God, would fulfill his role in the divine purpose of redeeming Israel. God assumes responsibility for Cirrus’ acts when, in describing those acts, he concludes by saying, “I form the light and create the darkness; I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” (Is. 45: 7, NIV) This is an important concept that we will witness in the way Job deals with his spiritual conflict.
On the other side, there’s Satan himself, who presents himself before God alongside the “sons of God”. He’s presented to us as an accuser, an expression used later in the New Testament to describe his role. He raises suspicion about Job’s motives for being so righteous and pure before God. The doubts he brings up raise suspicion about God’s testimony and consequently, the relationship between God and humankind. People do not live nor operate under their own power or independent of God. Before bringing upon Job the catastrophes that would bring disgrace to his life, Satan proposes to God that God Himself extend His hands over Job, so that in his affliction, he blasphemies against God. It is in light of this proposal that God’s sovereignty over human life is recognized, in which God responds to Satan, “Very well, then, everything that he has is in your hands.” God takes on Satan’s actions as His own when He states that Satan had “been invited by God against him (Job) to ruin him without any reason” (Job 2:3). Satan also recognizes this when he says to God, “But stretch out Your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse You to your face” (Job 2:5). Even though the evil had been proposed and executed by Satan (neither it’s origin nor it’s execution came from God), Satan himself recognizes that it is God’s hand, in the last analysis, which was responsible for Job’s afflictions. Satan is not an autonomous being, independent, with full liberty to act and do as he pleases.
Then we have Job, the one about whom Satan raises suspicion and who, in God’s eyes, is a righteous, honorable, God fearing man who avoids evil. The target of Satan’ accusations is man and his relationship with God. He doesn’t doubt what God says about Job, His servant. His doubt lies in the motives and secret intentions of Job’s devotion. These suspicions not only compromise Job’s intentions, but also God’s alliance with His people. The suspicion is that no one serves and praises God without expecting something in return. Behind all the righteousness and integrity, man hides his real motive for serving God, which is the search for the reward he expects to receive from God. Satan doubts that anyone can love God without any ulterior motive, without expecting retribution. If Satan’s suspicions are confirmed, he will find justification for his own fall. The center of Job’s spiritual war is in the arena of relational and affective conflict and not the arena of power.
As you can see, this is about a wager. On one side, God defends Job’s integrity and fear of Him, and on the other, Satan doubts the motive of this relationship and makes a bet. God bets on the power of love, of the relationship that exists because of affection. This is the power that God uses against the bet that Satan makes. By nature, this power is fragile, and its strength is in captivating the heart and getting a personal, loving, and devoted answer from Job. Spiritual war, in Job’s eyes, isn’t a fight for power between two forces that quarrel over who’s bigger and stronger. It’s a conflict between God, who loves freely and unconditionally, and the accuser, who uses all possible resources to prove the impossibility of this love. What’s at stake in this bet between God and Satan is Job’s relationship with his Lord.
In a similar scene, the one of the temptation in the desert, the same thing is at stake. When Satan approaches Jesus to tempt him, the first question is, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” The doubt wasn’t whether or not Jesus could turn stones into bread or jump off the temple and order the angels to save him. The doubt was related to the Voice he had heard at the Jordan River saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Satan’s concern isn’t with Jesus’ power to turn stones into bread, or to put on a show that demonstrates his ability to manipulate cosmic forces; Satan is concerned with raising suspicions, doubts, and ruining the unique relationship between Father and Son. He is a liar and the father of lies; he presents a false reality to destroy the only true reality. He presents a false reality of power, to destroy the true reality of the Father’s eternal love for His Son. During Jesus’ whole life and mission, his spiritual struggle was to maintain the love, affection, and obedience he had for his Father. His last breath, after all the shame and humiliation of the Calvary, was used to declare once more his love for his Father by saying, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” It is this relationship of love and affection, of obedience and submission that overpowered sin, that brought the triumph of the cross. The cross is the triumph of love over power.
The choice for power is always a diabolic choice. That’s why both Job and Jesus refuse the ever so common and popular path of dualism that has the world divided between two great powers, two great forces that fight over the control of man and of history. Recently, a book was published in Brazil that defines spiritual war as the following, “In the world there are two kingdoms in conflict, two forces that collide in battle over the eternal destiny of all human beings, two powers in confrontation: the power of darkness against the power of light.” For the editor, the world is literally divided between two great forces, one good and one evil, and we need urgently to choose a side, take out our spiritual weapons and head off to defend our Lord Jesus’ threatened kingdom. Neither Job nor Jesus see the world in this manner. The Lord reigns, that is the great apocalyptic announcement. Right after being violently afflicted by the catastrophes caused by Satan, Job doesn’t say, “The Lord provided and Satan took, so now I should go and get back what was taken from me”; on the contrary, his statement reveals that, even though Satan is the author of all the disgraces that came over Job and his family, he continued putting God at the center of all that happened by saying, “The Lord provided, the Lord took, hallowed be Thy name.” When we embrace dualism, spiritual war becomes a fight for power; a test to prove who is stronger and most powerful. We enter the arena created by Satan himself and end up fighting with his weapons. We opt for power, for control, and fall in the great trap that Satan prepared for us. Jesus, when tempted, never used his power to prove himself to Satan or even to the world. One of the thieves that was crucified with Jesus said, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”, yet Jesus didn’t need to show off his power to prove that he was truly Jesus Christ, because his power and identity were proclaimed by the Voice at the Jordan River.
One of the dangers of spiritual war is that we may be led to use the same weapons that Satan uses, power weapons. The world is not divided between two forces. That’s why C.S. Lewis says that there is no spiritual war, but an internal rebellion and the rebel is under control. The power that overturned sin and Satan was the power of love, of incarnation, of deliverance, of giving. This is the weapon of our war. What Satan wanted to prove was that no one loves God for no reason; that no one searches for and serves God simply because God is God; that Job’s integrity and righteousness were nothing more than a means of getting things from God; that men only truly love themselves, and not God.
In this conflict, it is important to realize that God’s weapons are not the same as Satan’s. While Satan uses violence, destruction, suffering and pain, showing off his powerful arsenal, God uses the alliance made in His name. While Satan destroys, God builds; While Satan tries to alienate, God reaffirms His eternal, liberating truth. This dualistic comprehension of spiritual war that has taken over the Evangelical Church in Brazil and all of Latin America has caused many other predictable consequences, such as the spreading of the theology of prosperity and ambition towards political power. Both of these misconceptions come from the same spiritual vision where the cross is no longer the symbol of Christ’s victory, but now a symbol of the power that puts Christians among those who dominate the world. It’s a vision that puts Christians in the arena created by Satan, where Satan himself gives out the weapons, and in the battle for power, whichever it may be, Satan will always be the winner.
God has other weapons, which change our lives and the human soul, free us from ambitions of power, make us more submissive and obedient toward Him and His word, more committed to His kingdom and His justice, filled with love for Him, our neighbors, and ourselves. The Changes in Job As we have seen, Job’s drama reflects a wager in which God and Satan made about the secret motives that led him to be righteous and honest. God bets on selfless and unconditional love, while Satan bets on retribution as a sign of selfishness. The suffering brought upon Job was to prove which side he was on.
Then his friends enter the scene and try to show that his theology only strengthens Satan’s argument. For them it is simple: God blesses the just and punishes the sinner, therefore, if Job is suffering, it’s because he sinned. Hence, he should recognize his sin, and confess it, in order to get back what was taken from him. In other words Job should seek God; not for God’s sake, but for himself. God was the reason for his faith and his love. If he did so, Satan would have won the bet. Job, although in the beginning a believer in this retribution theology, rejected this idea and claimed his innocence. He considered himself innocent not because he wasn’t a sinner, but because he couldn’t find anything missing in his life that justified such great suffering. In his spiritual battle, he has three options:
1. Recognize that his friends are right and that God is just, which would lead him to deny his innocence and seek God for his own sake;
2. Recognize that his friends are right and that he is innocent, which would lead him to deny God, and think that God is unjust for burdening him with such great suffering;
3. Recognize that he is innocent and that God is just, which would lead him to deny his friends’ retribution theology;
Job opts for the last choice. This option led him to experience a deep transformation in his manner of referring to God, creating what Gustavo Gutiérrez calls the “prophetic language and the contemplative language.”
The prophetic language sprouted from Job’s statement that there are innocent people like him in the world, that are oppressed by those who thirst for power. He begins to speak to the poor and suffering with the language of one that understands the pain of the innocent. The contemplative language came from God’s revelation as a free and sovereign Lord, who’s acts of justice aren’t determined by man, but by the gratuitousness of His love. When Job recognizes God’s grandeur and majesty, he bows down and exclaims that now his eyes see.
The purpose of Job’s spiritual war wasn’t to test his capacity of overcoming hardships, or to show that God’s power is greater than Satan’s. The purpose was for him to surrender his heart, change his theology (since he thought in the same manner his friends did), and experience God in a way that would change his manner of speaking about God.
Satan’s defeat was not measured by power, but by the surrender to God’s free and unconditional love. I think this was the same spiritual war that Peter experienced when Jesus Christ himself called upon him and said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Lc. 22:31-32, NIV) When Satan asked to sift Peter, Jesus’ response was not that of our classical spiritual battles, “You are bound!” On the contrary, Jesus simply says that he’s going to pray for Peter, that his faith may not grow weak. It was necessary that Peter undergo the sifting. He was too impulsive, his arrogance and ambition were putting God’s kingdom at risk. His war weapons needed to be neutralized so he could humbly confess his love for the Lord. All Jesus wanted was a declaration of love, and not the arrogance of power. Peter was also transformed by the power of God’s love and experienced a new language with which to speak of God.
One common element in the spiritual wars experienced by Job, Jesus, and Peter, was God’s silence. It seems to me that in all these cases, God simply allows that which Jesus said to Peter: let Satan sift. God’s silence is not a silence of indifference, but of prayer and pleading. The final answer of this silence is the affirmation that, despite the pain inflicted by Satan, our hearts belong eternally to God. The assertion of the love we have for Jesus is the final answer to every spiritual battle. It’s not about a fight for power, to show who is most powerful and dominates the universe; Jesus overcame that temptation in the desert and proved it through the cross and the resurrection. God isn’t worried about showing off His authority or sovereignty, because His is in fact the absolute and sovereign Lord and that was never in question; He won’t share His glory with anyone, not even Satan. The purpose of spiritual war is to show which side our hearts are on.
Since this is the purpose, God remains silent, waiting for our answer. In certain biblical situations where Satan inflicts pain as an instrument to unmask our most hidden motives, we find God waiting silently for our answer. This is what happened with Job, Peter, and Jesus himself. The role of “accuser” shows us that Satan has an important part in God’s eternal plan: that of pointing out our masks and hypocrisies, our alienation and illusions, caused by Satan’s lies. That’s why Job, during his whole spiritual war, never turned to Satan, but to God, with the truth that is God. God is his lawyer and justifier, the One who defends his cause and it is from Him that Job wants salvation and redemption.
The view of spiritual war as a fight for power and control over man, the world, and history ended up leading the evangelical church into using the same weapons as Satan, and to forgetting the true and deeper meaning of spiritual war, which is to transform us, transform our understanding, values, and theologies that try to fit God into malicious schemes of power. Our calling is to go to Calvary, to suffer all the implications of love and servitude, and resist all the schemes that attempt to pull us away from the path to Jerusalem. Spiritual victory is the answer of unselfish and unconditional love for God and His kingdom. As long as we are righteous in our motives and desires; as long as we stick to the path of discipleship and the cross; as long as we are obedient and submissive to the Lord and His word, we will remain alongside the One who is, and will always be, the winner.