Voices in the night

I can’t remember the exact cartoon–possibly a Looney Tunes bit on a Saturday morning, or a Tom and Jerry escapade one afternoon after school–but I remember the scene: some animated character was struggling with whether or not to smash his adversary to bits as tiny angel and devil versions of himself perched on each of his shoulders. There have been numerous iterations of this metaphor played out in film and television: maybe the opposing forces are miniature versions of the protagonist, and maybe they are dreamlike images of friends or family members. Perhaps they are spirits or ghosts, like the ones who visited Scrooge. Whatever form they take, they are only cute when they are yucking it up with Donald Duck or goading Tom to finally put an end to Jerry (as if!). When they are doing battle inside our own hearts and minds, competing for our attention, pounding on our mental doors at 3 a.m., they are a force to be reckoned with, and we don’t have the luxury of remaining neutral while they duke it out–we have to choose which voice we heed, and it is not as easy as it looks on TV.

God has been speaking to His people in unique ways since the literal dawn of mankind. And so has Satan. I see your burning bush and raise you one large serpent…or something like that. Since those halcyon days in Eden when God literally walked and talked with his children, there has been a battle raging between His voice and the voice of the Enemy, and as it goes in wartime, they use many different methods of communication to get their messages across. The Bible tells us we can hear the voice of God if we listen, like kids are able to pick out their parents’ voices crisp and clear over the sounds of a hundred others. God is the ultimate parent watching His children on the playground, and He is no amateur: He uses whatever means necessary to get our attention and start conversations with us. Our job is to look for Him everywhere and to listen for Him–in expected ways and places, like the pages of the Bible, the act of prayer, a powerful Sunday sermon, the joy of worship; but also in other less obvious ways, like a song playing on the radio, a passage in a novel, the voice of a friend, a blog post. God wants to talk with us, comfort us, teach us, guide us along the path He has in store for us. He knows we are often too fast, or too slow, or directionally challenged and hard-headed, and He waits patiently, and keeps walking with us, never really bringing the conversation to an end. “There is so much more I want to tell you,” Jesus told his disciples. There is so much more we need to hear from Him.

If this were a Looney Toons cartoon, a little pitchfork wielding devil would be running alongside a white-robed God, like a needy child or an overly enthusiastic co-worker, interrupting and interjecting and trying his best to override God’s holy voice with his own. But this isn’t a cartoon, and the Adversary is anything but cute. His methods are wily but unoriginal, disguised as the familiar but armed to destroy. If God uses a song or a friend or the internet to speak truth to our hearts, Satan stands watch and waits for us to yawn and look away, and then he turns those avenues on us in an instant, using them to convey fear, lies, doubt, and hatred. He shadows our walk with God, looks for the slightest distraction or weakness, and turns God’s methods into weapons. His favorite tactic is manipulating the words and voices of trusted sources into confusing double-meanings and hurtful slights. I’ve been both the voice Satan used, and the victim of his manufactured misunderstandings, and I can assure you, he is a master at this game, and every fractured relationship, every protective wall we put up between ourselves and other people, every tear of envy or rejection or judgement we cry is a cause for celebration in his dark lair. He loves it when we hear about violence and terror and immediately feel immobilized by fear rather than energized by God’s love and power. He rejoices when, upon hearing about a child with an illness or the death of somebody’s mother or husband or baby, we wrap ourselves in worry and despair instead of reaching out to help and heal like the hands of Jesus we were created to be. Satan knows all our stories, and he knows all God’s methods, and he uses them all against us every chance he gets. He is a relentless enemy.

If you are feeling a little hopeless right now, don’t despair, because as much as Satan loves it when we despair, God didn’t create us for that. We were created to overcome the enemy. I know without a doubt that this is true, because, Jesus. Jesus was not a mistake, or an unnecessary sacrifice, or a wasted life. Jesus was–is–our greatest defense, our proof that God has something better in store for us, and the promise of victory over the Enemy. Simple, right? Yeah, no. Not because God is too complicated, or even because Satan is too formidable, but because we are too…human? David speaks in Psalms of God being our shepherd, leading us to what we need, talking to us gently and looking out for us in good times and bad. Pursuing us. Finding us when we are lost. Seeking us when we have gone over the edge of some cliff. Because we humans are a lot like sheep, and we require constant supervision. So even though God has provided exactly what we need to win every fight (Jesus is the green pasture, the peaceful stream, the cup overflowing, the goodness and so much mercy), we are quick to forget when we see something shiny up ahead, quick to lose focus at the insistence of some other sheep, and quick to freak out when the valley gets too dark. We fall prey to the enemy’s pitfalls and distractions on the daily. It’s what we do, and it’s what the enemy does. But what God does puts us in a position to overcome Satan’s tricks: God pursues us, like the good shepherd He is, and he never stops calling us back to Him. We need only stop and turn around to crush Satan’s hopes and dreams for our demise.

This decision to turn around, to stop and let God catch us, to listen only to the voice of Jesus and block out the voice of the enemy, is ours and ours alone. God can no more make us listen to Him than we can make our own children listen to us. We all have a choice. When we choose to ignore Satan’s whispers in our ear, we are not exempt from pain and suffering, we are just deciding not to let it determine who we are. When we choose to plug our ears and declare, “Not today, Satan,” we are not ignoring terrorism or pretending children never die or turning a blind eye to hunger and disease–nor are we eradicating those things. We are simply letting God’s voice speak hope and love into them through our lives. When we fight against our anxiety and depression–when we forgive someone who hurt us–when we stop despising and second-guessing ourselves and start loving the person God intended us to be–when we silence these soul-eating demons, we are silencing actual demons. We are saying to Satan, “Hey, you don’t know my life.” More importantly we are saying to God, “My life is in You. I am listening.”

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