The Spiritual Forces of Wickedness ©

A while back, I was in a worship service where someone joined the United Methodist Church via a profession of faith. As the pastor went through the vows, the following question from our official order of worship was asked: “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sin?” (The United Methodist Hymnal, Baptismal Covenant II, p. 40) The answer was in the affirmative (thank God!). As repeated shootings take place in the United States and violence flares again in spots all around the world, I found myself wrestling with that trenchant vow.
 
The sheer evil of random shootings in places like El Paso, Dayton, Toronto, Midland/Odessa and Mobile offer imperial data to the presence of evil. Last night, my wife and I watched the news of missile strikes in Saudi Arabia and possible war. I keep remembering a book I read in one of my seminary theology classes where the author asserted that the doctrine and the presence of evil were empirically proven beyond any reasonable doubt.
 
Take reflections a step farther. We, as both a country and a world, are awash in people who are convinced that they are right. Pent up rage (even in us!) stalks the streets of planet earth. Self-righteousness, even in the best of us, has gained a cultural place of honor in the 21st century. The result is more violence and an increase in (wait for it…. dare I assert Methodist doctrine?!) “the spiritual forces of wickedness.” 
 
A recent blog by Dr. David Watson noted a connection. I quote: “In one of the 2019 Democratic debates, Marianne Williamson spoke of a 'dark psychic force' that is afflicting our nation. I don’t agree with Williamson on very much, at least not religiously. And yet, with all the Christians in the presidential race, it took a new age purveyor of American pop religion to name the fact that our nation doesn’t just have a set of policy problems. Our nation has a spiritual problem. I wouldn’t call it a 'dark psychic force,' but I’m grateful that somebody–anybody–has named the fact that we have a serious and abiding spiritual problem in this country. 
 
"When Christians are baptized, we renounce what my tradition calls 'the spiritual forces of wickedness.' Other traditions are more specific, renouncing 'Satan and all his works.' When we do this, we acknowledge that things can go wrong with us not just mentally and physically, but spiritually. We are not just organic material that has attained self-awareness. There is a spiritual component to every aspect of our lives. Likewise, our problems nationally are not simply matters of policy. They are matters of the heart. They are matters of good and evil. They are spiritual. When events like the Dayton shooting take place, we witness the reality of radical evil.” (David Watson, Create in Us a Clean Heart./)
 
One of the most powerful secular books I have read in the last two decades is Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within by Robert E. Quinn. While arguing for greater leadership change for organizations, Quinn asserts that at a deep level, such change begins with us on an individual level. He writes of “empowered leaders … [as] having the courage to change themselves, they model the behavior they are asking of others.” (p. 48-49) Writing to a largely secular business leadership audience, Robert Quinn goes on to state, “Over the years, I have become a strong believer in the fact that the external world can be changed by altering our internal world.” (p. 217)
 
Change begins with us. It is a place of deep spiritual transformation. As a good Wesleyan, I am convinced and convicted that we cannot do it alone. This is why groups like a “class meeting,” for spiritual nurture, accountability and encouragement, are so important. I am further deeply convinced that this is not merely an individual activity. Together, collectively, we are involved in massive societal change that is both threatening and exhilarating. What we have often forgotten is that such change springs from (is born of) spiritual formation and growth. The change begins in us and not in “those others who need to be fixed!”. We are in a battle with “the spiritual forces of wickedness" - the evil powers of this word. We are the ones who need to repent.
 
In Dean Watson’s language, “Sometimes Christians talk about ‘demonic strongholds.’ If you don’t like the language of “demonic,” just think about these as matters of deeply entrenched radical evil. We just can’t seem to get past them. They manifest themselves as “besetting sins.” Our problem of gun violence is a stronghold. Racism is a stronghold. The opioid epidemic is a stronghold. Pornography, human trafficking, and domestic violence are strongholds. Our culture of death, manifest in so many ways, is a stronghold. Our cultural besetting sins are not just social and political. They are spiritual as well.” (David Watson)
 
Prayer is in order:  Consider Psalm 51:10-12.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

 
Recognition is in order. Consider Ephesians 6:10-17.

10 Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and his powerful strength. 11 Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. 12 We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. 13 Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. 14 So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, 15 and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. 16 Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.

 
Repentance is in order. Consider Mark 1:14.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”