Category Archives: Spirituality

No One Believes In Me Anymore

Dore Devil

Satan, the fallen angel, from Gustave Dore’s engravings of Paradise Lost

By Michael Wren

Back in the ‘70s, contemporary Christian artist Keith Green wrote a song about the Devil, entitled “No One Believes In Me Anymore.”  In the song, Green depicts Satan as celebrating the fact that people generally deny his existence, allowing him easily to spread lies like atheism and new age philosophy, and innocently promote the occult: “I used to have to sneak around/ But now they just open their doors/ You know, no one’s watching for my tricks/ Because no one believes in me anymore.”  Though over three decades have passed since Green wrote and recorded the song, times have not changed.

This week, as The Telegraph (an English newspaper) reports, an alternative liturgy is being promoted for the christening service the Church of England uses in its infant baptism ceremony.  All services and ceremonies in the Church of England follow The Book of Common Prayer, and have since 1549, when Archbishop Thomas Cranmer published the first edition.  In Cranmer’s edition, the priest asked the parents and godparents, “Do you forsake the devil and all his works?”  In the current edition, published in 1998, the priest asks similarly, “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?”  However, an alternative is being promoted, and is already being used in 1,000 parishes, which simply asks them to “reject evil, and all its many forms, and all its empty promises.”  There is no mention of the devil, or even sin.   On the surface, the change is put forward as an attempt to better explain the meaning of the ritual to people who are mostly unacquainted with the church.  However, a change like this, a change to the week to week worship of thousands of churches, is not a simple matter of better pedagogy or even more effective marketing.  Behind this change is a denial of the existence of the devil, and for some it is a denial that sin separates humans from God at all (as Andrew Brown celebrates).

That there are some within the Church of England who have radically redefined Christian theology should not be surprising.  There are many in Christian denominations in America who have done the same.  There are certainly a few folks in our churches, especially younger attenders, who would sympathize with the changes to this liturgy.  However, we would be remiss if we did not consider how important it is that we recognize the reality of Satan’s existence.

What is really at stake in all of this?  What are we missing if we leave the word Satan out and substitute the phrase “evil in all its forms?”  We are missing the humbling recognition that there are spiritual forces in existence against which we have no natural defense.  We lack the insight that we are truly powerless, not only because of our own frailty, but because our enemies are more powerful than we are.  And we fail to appreciate the urgency of prayer.  We need to pray because we are powerless without prayer.  Paul instructs us to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil,” (Eph 6:11).  That armor, consisting of truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, and salvation, is put to use in prayer (verse 18).  When we deny, or even merely ignore, the existence of the devil, we lack the motivation to stay vigilant against sin.  And ignoring the devil is as dangerous as denying his existence.

When we remember that the devil truly is a prowling lion (1 Peter 5:8) seeking to devour us, we are spurred on to prayer and watchfulness.  We desperately need the power of God if we are to ward off the destructive power of the devil on our lives, in our community, and in our world.  Consider these remarks by Martin Luther:

“This we must know, that all our safety and protection consists in prayer alone.  For we are far too weak against the devil and all his might and forces arrayed against us, trying to trample us underfoot.  Therefore we must keep this in mind and grasp the weapons with which Christians are to arm themselves for resisting the devil.  What do you think has accomplished such great results in the past, parrying the counsels and plots of our enemies and checking their murderous and seditious designs by which the devil expected to crush us, and the gospel as well, except that the prayers of a few godly people intervened like an iron wall on our side? . . . But by prayer alone we shall be a match both for [our enemies] and for the devil, if only we persevere and do not become weary.”

Most of us are not guilty of denying Satan’s existence, but we are guilty of ignoring him and growing weary.  We are not watching for his tricks.  The result is that we are weak.  Who knows what else has fallen down around us while we have slept?

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Interceding for Sodom

tallelhammam

Tall el-Hammam, very possibly the ruins of Sodom. Picture found at tallelhammam.com

By Michael Wren

As Abraham camped somewhere near Hebron, he received three visitors representing the Lord.  As their meeting closed, the Lord spoke to the great man of faith, “Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is immense, and their sin is extremely serious. I will go down to see if what they have done justifies the cry that has come up to Me. If not, I will find out,” (Genesis 18:20-21).  At this point, as Abraham looked from his high vantage point east across the Jordan at the territory of Sodom, he implored of the Lord, “What if there are 50 righteous people in the city? Will You really sweep it away instead of sparing the place for the sake of the 50 righteous people who are in it? You could not possibly do such a thing: to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. You could not possibly do that! Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”  Abraham undoubtedly knew the reputation of Sodom, but he also believed in the power and justice of God.  He knew what God could and would do to those who are faithless and reprehensible.  However, massive, widespread destruction as a result of divine judgment would bring with it the destruction of the righteous as well.  Abraham grieved over the destruction of an entire society and over the suffering that the people of Sodom, particularly any who might be righteous, would endure.  And so he implored that God not sweep away an entire society hastily. 

But of course the Lord did destroy Sodom.  The wickedness of Sodom is starkly recounted in Genesis 19.  As a result, when Lot, Abraham’s nephew, was clear of the city, then out of the sky the LORD rained burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from the LORD. He demolished these cities, the entire plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and whatever grew on the ground,” (Genesis 19:24-25).  This story is a sobering reminder of the perfect justice of God and the terrifying result of human depravity. 

Until recently, this story was found only in the pages of Genesis.  However, since 2005, an archaeologist from Trinity Southwest University, Dr. Stephen Collins, has been excavating a mound (a “tall”) just east of the Jordan River in the Kingdom of Jordan with a team of scientists and volunteers, and he believes he has found the site of biblical Sodom.  The site, named Tall el-Hammam, was inhabited during Abraham’s time, was destroyed during Abraham’s time, and is found exactly where the Bible says Sodom ought to be.  And here is what he found: the remains of a massive city several times the size of Joshua’s Jericho, surrounded by huge walls made from between 150 and 200 million mudbricks, a monumental gate complex, several city squares, an intricate network of city streets, public buildings, and private residences.  Only the foundations of these impressive structures are left, and all buried under a meter thick layer of ash.  Yes, the city that once inhabited Tall el-Hammam was incinerated.  Upon investigation, Carter discovered that the city was hit by a massive blast that generated enough heat to incinerate mudbrick and heat pottery to the point of melting into glass.  The heat was incredibly intense, much too hot for Middle Bronze Age humans to generate, but much too brief to be a volcanic phenomenon.  As soon as the heat blast hit, it was gone.  An explosion overhead.  And what of the inhabitants?  In seven years of excavation, they have found several bodies, but they have more often found scattered bone fragments mixed in with the melted mudbrick and ash.  The people of the city were hit with a massive, instantaneous explosion (he speculates that perhaps an exploding meteor could generate that kind of effect) that incinerated everything, including the people.  The few bodies they have found within the city were unburied, lying on the ground, and contorted in pain.  And the blast zone seems to stretch well beyond the city to the surrounding area. 

Carter’s case that Tall el-Hammam is Sodom is compelling, and his work provides us with a visualization of the wrath of God in action.    What could provoke such wrath?  The story in Genesis 19 reveals perverse sexuality and a complete disregard for the social norms of hospitality.  However, the prophets tell us more.  Ezekiel said of Sodom and its sister cities Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, “she and her daughters had pride, plenty of food, and comfortable security, but didn’t support the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before Me, so I removed them when I saw this,” (Ezekiel 16:49-50).  Arrogance, selfish indulgence in luxury, greed, disregard for the needs of others, and detestable moral practices.  These are the sins that incinerated Sodom and its inhabitants.  And if Carter is right about the location, the city of Sodom was not a fly by night establishment.  It had been inhabited, flourished, and dominated the politics of the region for about 2500 years.  Yet worldly prosperity and security were not enough to save Sodom. 

The sins of Sodom are the sins of our society.  Just as Isaiah called his own people “rulers of Sodom” and “people of Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:9), the same could be said of our nation.  What is the church to do?  First, the church must not live and think like the people of Sodom.  We must conduct ourselves in righteousness, in purity, in humility, and in compassion.  The church must be the holy and humble bride of Christ, a light in the darkness.  Second, the church must pick up the mantle of the prophets and compassionately proclaim the truth of God’s word to people who have disregarded it.  We must not disregard our prophetic role.  Third, however, we must pick up the mantle of Abraham.  We must intercede for our Sodom.  Let us implore the Lord to act justly, but not hastily.  Let us pray that God would change hearts and renew minds, so our society will not be swept away.  

For further reading, see Carter’s book, Discovering the City of Sodom.