It isn’t just people that congregate at my church. The lawn between the building and parking lot attracts Canada geese. For those of you unfamiliar with the species, or who are blessed to live in a region beyond their imperial ambitions, allow me to explain. Canada geese are evil. They swoop in like alien invaders and occupy a community’s grassy areas, especially golf courses, parks, and playing fields. At first their presence is viewed as benign, particularly as their little goslings add a storybook charm to the scene. But these are not graceful swans or timid ducks. Draw too near and the birds extend their wings, lower their heads, and release an unholy hiss like a fell beast of Mordor. If the warning is unheeded, they will charge and attack with astonishing speed—something I witnessed firsthand in high school as a friend on rollerblades nearly lost his ear to a rogue goose. With their lifeless black eyes and taste for blood, Canada geese are the Great Whites of suburbia. Why are they attracted to my church? I cannot say for certain. But the presence of these demon birds (I’m convinced they were the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s film) illustrates something about the spiritual enemy we contend with. Like the unseen “powers and authorities” the apostle Paul says we strive against (Eph. 6:12), the geese are not always visible on Sunday mornings. But their presence is still felt by all as we dodge their copious droppings on the sidewalk. Every week as we prepare to exit our minivan, my four-year-old daughter pauses and reminds us of the danger: “We’re going to church. Watch out for poop.” Indeed, I think to myself. In many church communities, mine included, talk about spiritual powers is uncommon. Some have dismissed it as residue of an antiquated worldview, like believing the sun orbits the earth. Others avoid the topic because it may be uncomfortable for newcomers or associated with unflattering portrayals of Christianity in popular culture. For many reasons we may deny the role of evil spirits, and we may not acknowledge their opposition in our work. But like the geese at my church, even when they’re unseen, we cannot deny the evidence of their presence. Like the minefield of poop that is our church parking lot, our communities are littered with the debris left by destructive spiritual forces: domestic violence, addiction, pornography, injustice, racism, materialism, dishonesty, and abuse. If your community is soiled by any of these (and how could it not be?), you are engaged in a spiritual battle with unseen forces. Remember, the New Testament doesn’t just present spiritual warfare as a cinematic battle between angels and demons. Scripture speaks about the systems of “the world” as corrupt and destructive. In other words, spiritual battle isn’t just wrestling with demons but also wrestling with dehumanizing systems. That means it will require far more than human intelligence and devices to overcome these forces. We cannot program or teach our way to victory over any of them, because these maladies were not caused by human ignorance or villainy alone. President Kennedy famously said that “Our problems are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man.” The apostle Paul disagrees. He reminds us that we “do not wrestle against flesh and blood but … against spiritual forces.” Therefore we require spiritual weapons. This does not mean we have no active role to play or that we should not employ human intelligence in our work. Rather, it means that we humbly recognize the truth—that we need a power far greater than our own to overcome these enemies. Perhaps this is why Paul lists truth as the first element of the “armor of God” in
Ephesians 6. Everything begins with seeing the truth about our enemy, acknowledging the truth about ourselves, and humbly admitting the truth that we need God’s help. We have an enemy that is active and cunning. Rather than arguing about whether this enemy resides in a personal demonic presence or the corrosive power of the world’s system, we should be asking God to help us see the terrible effects of this enemy among our people. Whatever the precise source, when we acknowledge that the excrement in our church is no less vile than in the surrounding community, it should humble us to see that we need a power beyond ourselves to overcome it. We need grace and truth. And when that truth is embraced, our enemy will tremble.