“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Sun Tzu- The Art of War
In the ancient eastern book, The Art of War, the author Sun Tzu, makes the case that victory is predicated upon two conditions, knowing oneself, and knowing one’s enemy. He goes so far as to assert that one should expect to lose ½ of his battles, no matter his skill, if he doesn’t know his enemy.
In the Christian tradition, spiritual battle and warfare are common themes. The book of Revelation tells the story of a great cosmic battle that resulted in Satan being cast out of Heaven. As Catholics, we commonly pray the St. Michael prayer, which begins, “St. Michael, defend us in battle…”.
Yet, it is clear that many Christians know very little about the strategies that the enemy employs in their lives. As a result, even strong, well-formed Christians find themselves losing the spiritual battles in their lives, succumbing to temptation, and falling into any number of sins. Christians often find themselves mystified by the direness of their circumstances, not realizing that their enemy has beaten them because he understands them, but they don’t know him.
Oftentimes, we find ourselves thwarted in our effort to live a holy life. If we look dispassionately at what happens in those circumstances, we can see the “playbook” used by Satan. One such strategy can be summed up with 3 “ize”- terrorize, demoralize, and immobilize. This 3 step strategy is simple, yet effective in derailing the Christian life.
Terror can be described as ‘fear on steroids’. The Bible speaks often about fear as an emotion or spiritual reality that is contrary to God. St. Paul proclaims that ‘Perfect love casts out fear’. In other words, love is an indicator of closeness to God, while fear is often an indicator of a contrary spirit working in our lives.
The enemy’s goal is to create paralyzing fear and to make the Christian feel off-balance, unsettled, and unsure in every circumstance. Looking at modern terrorism, it is easy to see the effect of terror. Western countries live “on guard”, increasing security in every aspect of life. The threat of terror causes people to live cautiously, to rethink the activities of life, to avoid communal activities because of fear.
Terrorism thrives on the threat of the bad that might occur. It thrives on worry and fear. It is contrary to the constant admonishes of God to His people to “fear not”. The lie proposed in Satan’s terror plan is simple, “He can’t protect you.”
One of terrorism’s goals is to demoralize the opposition. Demoralized Christians lack hope, faith, and joy. Instead of living and preaching a gospel that is truly a witness to a broken world, they suffer despair and hopelessness. This demoralized Christianity is often betrayed by the attitude that “the world is going to hell”.
Biblical history is replete with examples of God’s people suffering from demoralization. One of the most famous examples is the 40 year sojourn in the desert by the Hebrew people. Even though God assured them and showed them the Promised Land, reports of ‘giants’ in the land demoralized the Hebrews, causing them to turn back to the desert. They did not believe that they could overcome. Neither did they believe that God could or would overcome on their behalf.
This demoralizing character raises its ugly head in our modern world as well. Despair, discouragement, and hopelessness have led to epidemic levels of depression, anxiety, and even suicide. The lie proposed in Satan’s demoralization plan is “You can’t win.”
The fundamental Christian call is to evangelization, whether through word, prayer, or deed. Immobilizing God’s people is the endgame of this three pronged attack. To immobilize literally means to deactivate, cripple, paralyze, or disable. If Christians stop, that is all that Satan needs. Fear and discouragement cripple our enthusiasm, hope, and faith. Without these graces and virtues, people give up the fight. Simply put, they quit. They stop trying, stop loving, stop moving.
St. Paul consistently exhorts the early Christian faithful to remain strong and “mobile” in the spiritual battle. He speaks of “fighting the good fight” and “running the good race”. These images are vital in imparting the active nature of Christianity.
Winning the Day
It is much easier to defeat an enemy when we know his capabilities and tactics. Recognizing the ways that Satan comes against us is important to our spiritual battle. When we are able to combat fear, worry, anxiety, doubt, and discouragement, not in our own flesh, but in the Spirit, we put on the mind of Christ.
Psalm 91 speaks beautifully to this spiritual battle, and to the victory that is given to the faithful person. It is an encouragement for the bitterness of spiritual trial. It reminds us that God is our protector, and that He will win the day. Some of the phrases excerpted from the first 9 verses can be of great benefit:
Say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust.”
He will rescue you from the fowler’s snare, from the destroying plague,
He will shelter you with his pinions, and under his wings you may take refuge; his faithfulness is a protecting shield.
You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day,
Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon.
…No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent. For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go.