Why you don’t need to fear evil

DSCN5747I step out the back door. The sun should have risen by now but who can tell? The world feels heavy as thick grey presses low against us.

I’m wearing my too-close-to-orange running shirt and black bottoms and this day feels too much like a shivery Halloween night. A crow sits black and silent on a fence post as I run past.

I listened this morning to Jesus warning Peter of his denial and I feared my own weakness; where would I deny Jesus today? “Oh, Father, you who rule everything, may your name be praised. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth—in me—as it is in heaven. . . . Lead me not into temptation, and when temptation does come, save me from giving in to evil. . .”

In this morning’s grey, I felt like I’d just stepped into Moretto da Brescia’s Christ in the Wilderness. There’s fog, and dark shadows, and the landscape is barren with ragged rocks. When I looked at the painting a couple of days ago, at first I just felt heaviness. As I continued to look, I began to see what is really going on: birds and animals encircle Jesus, each bowed in worship; angels hover, eager to serve. Even the great lion sits calm and docile with head lowered. Only the curving body of the snake moves toward Jesus’ heel. But the snake is small, small and as pale as the dust on which it slithers. He is dust, a creature like all the other creatures surrounding Jesus who sits dressed in royal red and blue. Fierce fangs notwithstanding, the snake remains a mere creature, no more danger to the outworking of the mighty plan of God than any other creature. The snake strikes—and in the same instant finds his head crushed.

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan underneath your feet.” (Rom 16:20; cf Ps 91:13; 1 Cor 6:3)

The death blow of the cross continues under our feet, Jesus in us continuing to crush the head of the serpent. Maybe snake-crushing victory is always heralded by the sting of a bitten heel. Maybe we only know the serpent-slaying power of grace through wilderness struggle and Gethsemane tears and face-to-face encounter with sin.

Know this, friend: We may fail. God will not. Satan is small and conquered—no greater threat to the outworking of God’s purposes in world affairs or in your church or in my life than he was to the unfolding of God’s plan in the life of Jesus.

“I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:18)

“. . . being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6)

I run home, fallen leaves crushed crisp under my feet.