“Fit for the Fight?” – preparing for the publication of “The Perpetual Battle”, March 2018
Whenever I go home to the lovely island of Jersey, I see evidence of that painful period of German Occupation during World War Two. It was Hitler’s big prize: German soldiers on British soil! For five long years, the Channel Islands were taken over by the enemy. German soldiers and conscripts built bunkers, and huge concrete sea defences, to protect themselves from invasion, and in the hope that these small islands might be their stepping-stone to invade England.
It was tough for the locals. My parents are just old enough to remember some of it. German soldiers on the streets, rationing and hardships, uncertainty and fear. Although, for a young boy, there was a bit of intrigue as well, nurtured by a love of guns and soldiers.
To overcome any sense of bravado or complacency, parents regularly reminded their children, “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”
Christians in this world are, in a sense, living in enemy occupied territory, and also need to hear the refrain: “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”
If you were baptised in the Church of England you (or your parents and godparents on your behalf) will have pledged to “renounce the world, the flesh and the Devil”. Such a promise, for many, seems rather out of touch with the challenges of contemporary life.
The Devil? For some, such a creature (with curly tail and pitchfork) is nothing more than a comical figure. For others, rather more seriously, the realm of the dead is sought through séances, or interest in things of the occult.
The Flesh? Those familiar with the language of the King James Version of the Bible will know that “indulging in the works flesh” features as something we are supposed to be against. However, for many, the whole idea of “purity” of conduct is wrapped up in a perception of a Victorian taboo of anything to do with the body or matters of sex. What, after all, is wrong with our bodies?
The World? And, we ask, what is the matter with this great world around us? The beautiful sunsets, the rolling hills, the crashing waves. What of the world is that we are supposed to be renouncing?
Maybe this all seems a little remote. However, I suggest that the call to discipline, and even, the spiritual call to arms, is very relevant for the Church today.
The Baptism promises remind each one of us, that Christians are enlisted into an army. No, not to go off and fight a Crusade. Rather, to recognise that there, alongside the goodness of this word, and the goodness we often see emanating from humanity, there is real evil and horrible wickedness. Moreover, it is not just “out there” in the world around us, nor even just in the devilish influence of an evil one. No, it is here, within me. Maybe you too recognise what the Apostle Paul wrote:
“Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work, waging war against (me)… What a wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:22-25).
During the 40 days of preparation leading up to Easter, known as Lent, we are encouraged to think more seriously about the reality of doing battle with the triad “the world, the flesh, and the Devil”.
My own thinking and writing on this matter has been shaped by some key books, and they will help focus our Lent course.
C.S. Lewis wrote a well-known fictional account of instructions from a Senior Devil to Junior Devil called The Screwtape Letters. Using his great literary skills, Lewis imagined the kind of training and worldview that needed to be inculcated in a demonic protégé, if he was to have his way in this world.
One time Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford, the Puritan Pastor, John Owen, wrote about another battle, this time around “the flesh”. Whilst far from an easy read, his talk of “mortification” refers, not of humiliation, but of putting to death habits and patterns, of thinking and living, which are contrary to human nature as God intends it.
A third little book, by a Christian Psychiatrist, John White, is called, The Fight. It shows that the stresses and strains of this life are best solved – not necessarily by therapy – but by addressing our relationship with the God who has made us.
So, why not join us this Lent, for a kind-of spiritual health check? This is a chance to consider how we can get body, mind, and soul, into shape, by considering the timeless words of the Bible, with help from some of these great Christian writers. Yes, it sounds a bit painful, but it is the pain of that first session at the gym after the Christmas indulgences. Lent is the chance to get back in shape on the spiritual level. Lent also gives us the opportunity to view the Church, and our culture, through the lens of the Bible.
You can be “fit for the fight”.