If you hang around Christians long enough, you will eventually hear the term “the enemy” used. This is a term that refers to evil forces at work to harm humanity and attack God’s children (the universal Church). To speak plainly, when Christians use this term they are talking about Satan and his followers.
Spiritual attacks by the enemy can come in various forms. They can be physical as in health or safety problems, they can be emotional as in struggles and conflict with others, and they can be spiritual.
The question is occasionally raised as to how to deal with such attacks. It is a question that has a bit more depth than we might initially think.
The first problem in dealing with spiritual warfare is that we do not always know the source of our suffering. Yes, sometimes suffering can be demonic in nature, but it can also come from natural sources. Because we are fallen creatures, health and emotional problems can find their source in us. As far as I am aware, there are only two stories in the Bible in which the Devil directly tempts people. The first one was Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the second one was Jesus in the wilderness. In both cases, the person being tempted was sinless.
Satan does not need to tempt us to do the wrong thing because we are already predisposed to sin. We need to be rescued from our condition not encouraged to remain in it.
There are biblical examples of spiritual attack being directly responsible for physical problems such as in Job, but it is interesting in that particular story that the one afflicted never learns the identity of his tormenter. In regards to Job, it seems God’s purpose was to bring Job into a deeper trust in Him rather than to teach him about the spiritual reality behind his suffering.
As the source of conflict and suffering is often unknown to us, it seems that our focus should not be on whether or not demons are causing our suffering but on how we are to react in such times.
First of all, we should pray. Regardless of the cause of our sufferings, if they bring us closer to God they will have been worth it. Thus, our first reaction as Christians should be to recognize our need for God.
Second of all, we should reflect. Ask yourself, “What have I done to cause this suffering?” If a sin comes to mind, confess it. If you have wronged someone, apologize to him. If you have been foolish, start living in wisdom. If you are doing something wrong or stupid, stop it.
However, even after prayer and self-reflection, it is possible that you cannot discern the cause of the suffering.
Years ago, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. It was a terrible and aggressive cancer that could quickly kill its victims. To make it worse, the cancer came as the result of a rare form of pregnancy that caused a miscarriage. In a matter of weeks she went from the joy of expecting a child to being on the verge of death due to the ravages of this disease.
The good news about this cancer is that everything that made it so dangerous made it curable as well. The bad news was that the cure required months of one of the most torturous regimes of chemotherapy in existence. It was a very dark time for us.
At one point Sasha asked me, “Is there some sin that God is punishing me for?” I responded, “Does anything come to mind?” Nothing did, so we proceeded under the belief that this was not discipline for sin. If your suffering comes because God is correcting your behavior, it is a good bet that you will know what He is correcting.
Yet not having a reason why is frustrating to the one suffering. How are we to proceed in such circumstances?
We are to continue to trust God and keep our eyes focused on Him.
The enemy would like nothing better than for our focus to be on anything other than God during such times. He would like nothing more than for us to think that he is the source of our suffering and to ignore the one who loves us. He would have us look at the waves we are sinking in rather than on the one who can keep us from sinking. Anything that takes our eyes off God is good enough for him.
This is the true nature of spiritual warfare. The goal is not to hurt us temporarily through momentary pain. The enemy wants to hurt us long-term by causing us to focus on anything other that God. The only way to win is to keep our eyes looking to our Lord.
Have you ever wondered why some people do not seem to suffer much? Have you ever wondered why wicked people sometimes seem to live a good life? Perhaps it is because they do not need to be visited with suffering to lose sight of God. No spiritual enemy needs to attack them because the enemy is winning that battle.
Yet ours is not a faith that seeks mere earthly comfort. It is a faith that seeks a relationship with a righteous God. He is reaching out His hand to us. The enemy wants us to put our hand anywhere else.
When you are under attack, put your hand in Jesus’ hand. Only He can win this spiritual war.
(This article is dedicated to my former professor Dr. John Heart whose teaching helped me through the darkest time of my life.)