I sat in my New Testament class wondering about this professor. He was talking about how Jesus had committed an ethical flaw. He cast the demons into the swine and the swine went mad and ran down into the sea and drown. What was the ethical flaw? Well, the swine belonged to someone and so they lost their herd and their income. Well, I couldn’t let that stand, so I raised my hand and said to the professor that he was mistaken. In fact, Jesus had given the owners a whole new industry. What was that? Deviled ham.
I’ve often heard converts who are preparing for Orthodox baptism say that as they get closer to the ceremony, life seems to get really difficult. Friends and family begin to express serious doubts and some become hostile. Work or school becomes more difficult. Physical ailments become more acute. Doubts about Orthodoxy abound. The list can go on and on, but it is a real spiritual opposition.
I remember having the same experience before my baptism. It was like walking into a strong wind. You lean forward and your legs work hard. Most of the time you move forward, but sometimes the wind is so strong, you stumble back a little. Why is it such a struggle and where does this wind of opposition come from?
The Orthodox believe that there is an invisible world, and that part of that world is evil. This belief is mocked in our culture and it’s not kosher today to speak of Satan as a personal force of evil. Yet, Satan is not omnipresent or omnipotent. In fact, Satan is limited, but is effective in the midst of those limitations.
Let me ask you – have you ever had a direct and personal experience of the devil? I’m not talking about the experience of temptation that we all have, but a face to face encounter. We read about it in the lives of the Saints, but we rarely hear of it now except in Hollywood movies about so called exorcisms. Even with the excesses of Hollywood, spiritual evil seems to be able to fragment so that it can be in many places. Demonic presence and possession can be a real thing.
Now don’t panic. I have this conviction that most of us will never have a direct experience of the devil or of demons. We simply are not holy enough. I think God, by the grace of His Spirit, shields us from any direct encounter. He knows that in our state, we would fall to pieces or be easily tempted if we had a more direct encounter. Of course, we all have indirect encounters with evil through suggestions of disobedience, lust, and willfulness.
This leads then to a final conviction. Direct encounters with the devil or with demons will depend on what you are doing. For example, when he notices that you trying to build a spiritual life, he becomes interested. If you do well in building your spiritual house, the he starts to worry and he begins to take a more personal interest in you. If you are building well, you become a threat to him, so it is time to come and test what you have built. When you attain a more perfect state, then the full battle is on. Here, God knows that you are ready to fight and stand against all spiritual evil and nothing will move you or frighten you into submission. You have reached spiritual maturity. You are a friend of God. You are a saint.
Let’s examine then how well we build our spiritual house. We have the material: faith, hope, love, patience, forgiveness, etc. We have the tools: knowledge, Liturgy, prayer, fasting, etc. With this material and these tools, we can build a spiritual life that is like a fortress that cannot fall or be shaken by any demon, devil, or temptation.
This being the case, it is amazing then that so many of us live in spiritual shacks. God would have us in mansions, and although He is the finisher of my faith, he leaves the building to me. Take heed, my friends, and build well. The devil does not sleep and will even live in pigs, if he has to. We can’t afford to sleep either or we may find ourselves among the pigs going insane!
“Direct encounters with the devil or with demons will depend on what you are doing. For example, when he notices that you trying to build a spiritual life, he becomes interested. If you do well in building your spiritual house, the he starts to worry and he begins to take a more personal interest in you.”
I can relate to this, especially during Lent. In fact, I believe that we all can. Since we are building a stronger spiritual life during Pascha, Satan ramps up his attacks on us to try to stop us. The good news in this situation is, if we are loyal to God, He will help us through it all.