A WAR FOR THE SOUL
If I had to name what it feels like to follow Jesus in today’s cultural moment, I would say it feels like a war for the soul.
We feel this constant conflict not just "out there" in culture or our digital newsfeeds but inside the fabric of our own minds and bodies—a kind of inner tug-of-war that is emotionally exhausting and spiritually depleting, a tearing at the fabric of our souls' peace.
Why do we feel so tired? Worn down?
Why do we feel so battered and bruised?
Why does every day feel like a battle just to stay faithful, to keep following Jesus?
Here’s an idea: maybe because it is.
For centuries, teachers of the Way of Jesus used a paradigm that’s been lost in the modern era, that of “the three enemies of the soul.”
And the devil.
They saw the three enemies of the soul as a kind of counter-trinity to God himself.
While the exact phrase the world, the flesh, and the devil isn’t used by Jesus or the writers of the New Testament, the language and categories are. One of Paul’s most famous sayings is “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). He told the Ephesians to “put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11) and prayed that their pastor Timothy would “fight the battle well” (1 Timothy 1:18). Careful to note that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but . . . against the spiritual forces of evil” and that “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world,” he nonetheless claimed we have “divine power to demolish strongholds.” (See Ephesians 6 and 2 Corinthians 10:4).
This was very counterintuitive language for a church that grew up around the life and teachings of a rabbi who was fiercely nonviolent. Still, the writers of the New Testament and the early church fathers and mothers regularly used this imagery of war to describe the inner dynamics of the soul.
We might dismiss these three categories, but what about that incessant conflict in our chests that sabotages our peace? Why is the world such a mess we ask? Why am I?
In what ways do you feel worn down right now? Over the past year, how has it been a battle to stay faithful to following Jesus?