Over the past while, we’ve been thinking about Paul’s image of the Whole Armour of God, from Ephesians 6: 10-18—the tools we have at our disposal to stand against the spiritual realities working against God’s good will and purposes for our lives, and for the world.
So far, we’ve considered the Belt of Truth, and the Breastplate of Righteousness, and the Shoes of Peace. Then Paul says this: “With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
“The flaming arrows of the evil one” is a pretty evocative phrase, isn’t it? Again, some of us might struggle with the idea of personified evil. But it’s also worth setting aside some skepticism and thinking about the characteristics of the evil one that we hear in scripture. We’re told that he is a deceiver, a liar, an accuser, a thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. And although I think that the image we often get of a little red guy with horns and a pitchfork is not something to take seriously, my guess is that most of us have experienced these kinds of evil in our lives, in ourselves—our hearts and souls—and in the world.
It’s interesting to me that when the gospels, the stories of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, tell us of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4, Mark 1, Luke 4), the devil’s primary tactic is first of all to aim at Jesus’ identity. The temptation scenes come right on the heals of his baptism, in which we hear the voice from heaven saying “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Then, the first words out of the tempter’s mouth are, “If you are the son of God.” And the temptations follow.
What seems to be at stake here is not so much whether the tempter can convince Jesus to do things he shouldn’t do. It’s whether or not the tempter can get Jesus to question the identity that the Father has spoken over him. The devil takes aim at who Jesus is. It’s much the same tactic way back in the Garden of Eden, with Eve. Once more, evil is not creative—crafty perhaps, but not creative. It’s all variations on a theme.
What’s really at stake is which voice Jesus will trust. Which is to say, in which voice will he put his faith? Is he the Beloved? Or is he something else? Will he live out of heaven’s love, or will he strive for another identity?
And when I think about that, the flaming arrows of the evil one don’t seem quite as improbable. Every day we’re faced with this question. Who and whose are we? Are we beloved children of God no matter what, covered in God’s lavish grace, made for good works in this world? Or are we something less than that? Or maybe people who need to take the bull by the horns and make something of ourselves, take matters into our own hands, strive after something other than God’s good purposes? Or some other distortion.
Who and whose are we?
The Shield of Faith protects us from the lies, the accusations, the deceptions about ourselves, each other, and this world. It protects us from the one who would steal, kill, and destroy our hope, peace, joy, and love.
Faith is not belief, it’s trust. When we pick up the Shield of Faith, we learn to trust that what God says about us is what’s truest about us. And anything else will fizzle out.
May it be so.