Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! . . . . Then the devil left him, --Matt 4.10-11
The Lord God said to the serpent,
. . . cursed are you . . .
On your belly you will crawl
and dust you will eat all the days of your life.--Gen 3.14
Happy birthday to my sister, who has been reading these along with me each day and sending me encouraging texts along the way. I love you, you are a wonderful person and sister. So proud of you.
There were two defining visions that were part of my spiritual formation.
My sophomore year of college was this kind of cyclical trudging along in joyless obedience, begrudgingly yawning my way through in half-hearted attendance as I studied for my B.A. in Theology. My G.P.A. was a 1.8, I skipped classes, pulled pranks, and forced myself to volunteer at the local church's youth group for credit. I felt stuck and really wanted to be somewhere else(that's another story).
The first vision came in the form of a dream. I had returned from a Sunday morning church service, laid down to take and nap about 3 in the afternoon, and fell asleep. Instantly I was awake, wide awake in a cosmic state. My existence suspended in this vast expanse of God. I felt exposed, soul-naked, my life in minute detail was scrawled out over the length of what seemed to be a mile, and I was standing before the Life (that's the best I can do at describing what God seemed to be in that moment). The evidence, my story, actions, and attitudes disappointed me to no end. Detailed in minute-by-minute logs was my story,
Sunday May 1, 1988
10:00... slept in
11:00... went to church, sat in back, slipped out early . . . sermon was boring,
12:30... went to eat with _____ gossiped and made fun of _______, he's weird.
1:45... saw someone in need outside restaurant, but too busy to buy food or sit and listen.
2:00... wasted time playing games and listening to radio
3:00... took nap
This kind of blather went on and on, year after year... a story of self-serving, half-heartedness, living for me, living in the gullet of lukewarm monotony, unaware and uncommitted to the Kingdom of God, just building my own little empire in the sand.
Two haunting movements happened in the vision that live with me. First, I tried to back up, hands behind my back as a way of covering up the evidence. (Kind of like a kid with his tiny frame obstructing his mother's view of the cookie crumbs, where evidence of his little rebellion lies.) As I backed up I was aware that the evidence, a minute-by-minute log, was a mile long and my existence was a speck of sand, the smallness of my existence could not cover the vastness of my evidence.
Second, I crumbled to my knees, and then into a fetal position, and begged the Life to give me a chance to go back and relive my life. I pleaded for mercy, for one more chance to get it right. I experienced this deep awareness of the finality of it all.
n o t h i n g
to go back to.
Time was done.
And what was done was done and in the books. I begged, I acknowledged how wrong, how selfish, how foolish I was. I was horrified by this thought, I will have to live forever with that life.
Instantly I came to on my knees. And there was this overwhelming sense of gratitude that somehow I had convinced the Life to give me another chance. That moment I resolved to begin living wholeheartedly. It would take many months, a couple situations, and a lot of stumbling, but I was stirring awake.
The next vision happened more than a year later. The more awakened I became, the more fear I possessed. I had turned the corner of not caring and now I cared so much that I was afraid of failing. I woke up one night in that familiar state of paralysis that many people experience, frozen in dark fear, terrorized by the lack of control. My body could not move an inch and my voice could not speak a word.
I heard this voice, coming from the dark closet in my periphery, a manipulative and sinister whine, "Give me his soul!"
Dear God, Satan is in my closet! Why is this happening to me?
"No!" Said this peaceful Presence that flittered over me.
"I want his soul!"
"No! You can take his health, wealth, his successes, but his soul is mine!" (I sensed the Father was revealing to me what Satan wants and can't have. Not so much what God's will was for my life.)
This wrangling and bantering between the Defender and the Accuser went back and forth for 3 minutes or so and resulted in the darkness from my closet walking out and praise and worship coming to my lips. (I sensed the Father possessed my soul to free it, whereas Satan would possess it to bind it.)
These visions made me aware of several realities but for our purposes here these are the few I will share : (1) I am not sure if the Life was demanding an account of my life, but in that cosmic moment that is all I wanted, with everything in me. Just facing the Presence changed all my desires to wanting to please Him more than anything. (2) I was not certain that Satan was a self-autonmous personality in my closet, but I was certain that the nagging accusations filling me with fear and shame were satanic, I was certain that those accusations were REAL and they demanded to possess my life from the dark and closeted space.
The Bible gives voice to realities that our imaginations cannot keep up with. The war of the spirit worlds, vying for our essence, thru the capture of our desires and lusts, are described with very real and otherworldly language. This contagion of desire and vociferating antagonism, the sense of guilt (wrong-doing) and shame (wrong-being), the Bible articulates with courtroom language as a violent drama, suspended somewhere in the dark underworld. The cast in this drama includes:
Satan, literally, "prosecutor," accuser. The voice of accusation. Matthew describes him in three movements:
- Tempter: (exciting within us the desire to act independent of God and seek to be gods through power, prestige and possessions).
- Devil (fr. Greek meaning adversary): the relentless pressure and anxiety on our soul that tells us we need to do more to be more, we need more to be more fulfilled, we need to be over more to be more secure.
- Satan (fr. Hebrew meaning accuser): the constant voice of accusation and condemnation that rails on our soul once we have caved and fallen, that then tells us, "You are what's wrong with you!" "You are guilty!" Or get's us to turn that rage and ache on others around us, blaming them.
Paraclete, literally, "defense counsel," A defending attorney, (the Holy Spirit takes this posture)
World, the voice of the masses, the mob, weighing our life in the temporal scales of power, prestige, and possessions.
Yahweh, God's place as the ultimate and final voice, authority, deciding our innocence or guilt on the eternal scales of loving mercy, doing justice, and walking humbly before God.
Matthew concludes the temptation narrative with these words, "Get behind me Satan!" And then continues, "Then the devil left him."
And he walked out of the wilderness and the Spirit's power was on him. When you face the adversary and the accuser and you hold to the Voice of being God's Beloved, with the value of a thousands treasures, you encounter a different kind of power, not money power, not fame power, not politcal power, but Spirit power. The Holy Spirit is on you, yes You. Not your accomplishments, your possessions, or your empires, but your essence. And now you know the difference between the Holy Spirit and every other spirit.
And just like that, likety-split, you have left the spirit of Satan in the dust and been hoisted up to the kingdom not of this world.
THE FOUR GESTURES
Prayer. Pray a transforming prayer from "and the Spirit's power was on him."
Conversation. Cleapas with someone about the real source of power.