This song makes me tear up every time. But not for the reason you might think, so let me explain. It will be long because I know no other way.
I have been reading through the books of Kings (1 Kings and 2 Kings), and the phrase repeated most oft is (paraphrased) “and he led Israel to sin in the ways of his father.” Righteousness in the Bible rarely lasts more than a generation, but corruption perpetuates itself until such time as someone is unable to stand it, then they become the new moral compass of temporary righteousness.
It’s as if you can easily determine if a person was righteous solely by how their influence in the world lasts. How many molested children go on to molest theirs? How many racists produce racist children? How many abusers raise abusers? How many fearful raise up worriers? And yet how many gifted, passionate priests produce gifted, passionate priests? The sins of of the father are not necessarily perpetuated nor the gifts prevented, but they are very strongly correlated. It is a fight to maintain weight or blood pressure or sobriety, but one burger or donut or martini can bring you down a twisting trail of self-loathing, shame, and condemnation. It’s tough to believe in a God who would allow us such a hopeless plight. I have seen first-hand the destructive power of that; I’ve seen people fall from faith to rejection of God because of this perceived imbalance.
Good habits are so much harder to form than bad habits, good lives so much harder than bad lives, because Satan is an active corruptive force in the world. Some of you may bristle at that name because you want to eschew such quaint and small-minded anthropomorphic assignments, and I don’t blame you. To this day I have trouble internalizing that corruption can be a conscious force, let alone a hierarchy of sentient beings. But it’s true, and it’s critical to understanding the world around us, ourselves, and our relationships to the world and to each other. No one ever waited by the phone when their child hadn’t called because they thought the kid got stuck helping feed the homeless. No. Every time is that they are arrested, or dead, or hatefully ignoring you. You’d say to me that is from your psyche, because you worry. Or maybe you’d cite anthropological studies about how that kind of thinking came to be. But you already know the true truth you’re covering with a lie you don’t believe.
Even non-Christians can hear this song and cry because they can imagine the embarrassment and humiliation of both a guy who refused a pregnant girl and a pregnant girl having to give birth in a stable. But what strikes me is not that. The important part is not that. The important part is the vision of a million angels crowding, unseen, around this baby trying to catch a glimpse of baby Jesus who came to live among men that they might finally see what I AM means.
What strikes me is the pain of us, the pain of those two thousand years removed from His birth who are repulsed by the idea of talking about Him. It breaks my heart. It didn’t even take us that long to forget Him. His body was barely cold and some who’d pledged allegiance to Him were denying Him. You can imagine the conversations, the critiques. “He rigged those ‘miracles'” they must have said. Someone undoubtedly said, “I heard the whole ‘resurrection’ thing was rigged; a guy I know said he heard a guy in a bar talking about how they pulled it off.” Some carried the torch faithfully, but within a generation the church had begun to corrupt itself, to bring in pagan traditions through either pacification or idolatry. People ask why God doesn’t come down and force us all to recognize His authority, but they say that because they forget HE ALREADY DID.
The angels crowded around baby Jesus to pay Him reverence. They pay it still today. We reserve that level of reverence to rappers, models, and athletes. Occasionally scientists. We can do naught but reject Christ because He doesn’t fit “our” narrative. It is our innate response to tear down what we don’t understand. It is our trained response to assume the worst. It’s our easiest effort to doubt, critique, and make fun of. It is our default position to make the wrong choices, to turn our backs on God. That’s what Satan’s army does to us. And we not only allow it but consciously give over our permission to do it because we see him as an aspect of ourselves rather than an external adversary. The absurdity is that we don’t even do that with cancer. Satan has told you since you were in the womb that the world is dark and evil and out to hurt, scare, and humiliate you. Do unto others before they can do unto you, he urges. Don’t reach for others because they will disappoint you. Don’t try to change because you’ll fail. He shows as proof every past mistake, disappointment, and failure. He points out every iniquity in the world and tells you he’s winning. You believe him because you’ve heard the voice so long you presume it’s just you inside your own head.
He’s not winning. By the power of the Almighty Christ he’s not. Satan has only the power that’s yielded to him. Choose a higher voice of counsel. What happens to you, to this world, does not matter. It is your calibration that matters. You’ve seen the trope go around the Internet about how attitude is 100%. It’s not wrong. You’ve read the motivational speakers and the self-help books who tell you to make a vision board or practice seeing your better life. They’re not wrong. My pastor likes to say “think yourself happy.” He’s absolutely right. But all these things, and I pray you forgive the fact I am wholly unqualified to say the words I am about to, are just incomplete.
The key to overcoming Satan’s whispers is to understand that the events of this life are just events, that what happens has no eternal significance, but that what you believe about it and how you behave as a result of those beliefs defines your immortal path. The Kingdom of God is not some distant city in the clouds where smug winged people play harps; it’s in the collective hearts and minds of every desperate living soul who thirsts for the light and resists the shadow. Not the optimists, but the indomitable positivists; those who say that regardless of what happens here there is a glory that is higher, a ruling good that exists.
Those outside the Kingdom sneer and chide those inside who might possibly know the truth because they cannot allow themselves the hope that Satan is real and lying to them constantly, that they truly did yield their lives to baseless paranoia. But every breathing human knows that is true, that there is an enemy and that he is lying to us. We know that truth because Jesus gave it to us. And yet as we mark everything about the celebration of His birth except Him we set up this nonsense worship of “next year.” We pay homage to the idea that every year will be failure and pain by huddling in a mass and hopelessly hoping that chance will bring us a brighter future for our hollow resolutions this year. Then we force another failure to become true and down ourselves as a result.
Stop it. Stop seeking the shadow and instead recognize the light. Stop worshiping failure and burning your life as sacrifice on the high altars of the world’s demands. See Satan for what he is. Vocalize him to your deepest soul and deny him the power he presumes you will give him. Stop ignoring or rejecting Christ, or allowing Him to slip to the background of your periphery.
He said “I am the way” to shake us, to make us see that how He followed God, how He viewed adversity, how He Loved us is the pattern of how to behave. He said it as an answer to Satan: “leave my sheep alone, they don’t belong to you.” He didn’t fight some antiqued battle that inspires us all to see ourselves as evil sinners. Don’t reduce him to some stupid WWJD bracelet or a mindless act of routine. Seek Him with your whole heart. Ask yourself what He asked you: “Will you be made whole?” “Why call ye me ‘Lord! Lord!’ But do not the things I say?” These are not pithy questions seeking surface answers, but requests for deep introspection. He wanted you to seek in yourself why you are wounded and broken and rebellious. He wanted you to see the fullness of Satan.
I can tell you that if you seek the answer to why you reject Him or why you reject happiness the answer is Satan, but it means nothing until you have done the footwork yourself and see the demon with your own eyes. You can’t just accept and roll on. Read my words. Really read them. Reread them if you have to, but take it to heart. Learn to see the demon for what it is. See the temperamental little lion standing on that stage barking at you to watch him. Once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it; you will thirst for Christ in a brand new way and let the fascinations of this world dim.
Father, I’m searching so hard for the explanation here. I see so clearly what You are saying, but I don’t know what to do with it. I know the power of this knowledge. Please, Spirit, override my failing vocabulary and show them what You want them to see. Make the Lamb large and bright and whole in their minds and in their lives. I Love You so much. In Your mighty name and by the strong arm of the Spirit I pray for the world, not for my sake or theirs, but for the glorious reverence of King Jesus. Amen