Sunday, July 12, 2015

EPIC: Act Two


My aunt Judy used to talk about angels, and she described them as "big, hairy angels," which used to make me laugh.  However, after reading Act Two, she was absolutely right!  The angels of God aren't sweet, wimpy cherubs, they're fierce and powerful!  This gives me comfort because they're up against Satan, the antagonist of antagonists - more dangerous than Voldemort, Darth Vader, and the wickedest of witches put together. 

I love the evolution of the Harry Potter books as Voldemort, "He who must not be named," struggles to gain power throughout the series.  One thing that sets Harry apart is his willingness to call the villain by name.  Avoidance of his name actually strengthens Voldemort.  Acknowledging the villain's name strips away that power.  I can't help but think it's the same with Satan.  Acknowledging who he is and not being afraid to confront him, weakens him.

Besides giving him a name, I'm not sure exactly what it means to live as if our story has a villain.  Perhaps it means to equip yourself as Jesus did with the WORD: "Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." - Ephesians 6: 17  Or maybe it means to avoid the dangerous trap of so many non- or doubting believers who say, "What kind of God would let so and so happen?!" We can avoid it because we know it's not God who "lets" evil happen, it's Evil itself causing it to happen.  It's a fallen world that we've been born into, and that's why bad things occur every day. 

What I can be sure of, though, is living as if our story has a HERO.  The protagonist of protagonists!  More victorious than Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and Glinda put together.  He was the ruler of the universe before we came into being, and He will continue to be the ruler until He ultimately defeats Satan. 

Sometimes I feel defeated by Evil.  With media telling us the horrid details of school and church shootings, beheadings of Christians, child abuse, etc., it seems as if the Villain is winning.  But we can "Be still and know He is God" - Psalm 46:10  We know who will win this war.

Steven Curtis Chapman's response to the Charleston shootings:

“Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.” Revelation 5:11.

 “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:14

This past winter I joined the Wednesday Nights Together class to read a book I had long intended to read (but never had): The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. The book is a series of letters  purported to have been written by Screwtape, one of Satan’s minions, who has been given charge of his nephew Wormwood, an “apprentice” devil, as Wormwood seeks to guide his first human charge to (in the language of Star Wars) “the dark side.”  The class listened to an audio version of the book in which John Cleese voiced the letters, lending a snide, sneering English-accented voice to Screwtape’s contempt for “the Enemy” (God) and sniveling devotion to “our Father below” (Satan).  Despite Screwtape’s guidance in all the devices that might steer Wormwood’s “patient” toward renouncing  Christianity, especially in the context of the early days of World War II, Wormwood fails in his task.  In the penultimate letter, Screwtape describes what to him is the horror of the patient’s dying without having been “converted.”

As he [the dying patient] saw you, he also saw Them . . .The degradation of it!—that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower. . .He had no faintest conception till that very hour of how they would look, and even doubted their existence. But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realized what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not “Who are you?” but “So it was you all the time.” All that they were and said at this meeting woke memories . . .that central music in every pure experience which had always just evaded memory was now at last recovered.

As I read this letter, simultaneous thoughts entered my mind: John’s vision in Revelation, the old TV series "Touched by an Angel," and Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven.  My thoughts echoed what John Eldredge writes about Act 2 of the epic story: “we live in two worlds—or in one world with two halves, part that we can see and part that we cannot” (p. 33). I wonder:

What beings will I recognize in heaven that I did not recognize in my earthly life? 

When have I supposed myself to be alone when unseen/unrecognized beings have been playing a part in my life?

The world tells me that “Seeing is believing.”  Yet I am coming to understand that “Believing is seeing.” Maybe our shared online experience is one way our eyes can be opened to seeing all the characters who surround us in our part of God’s epic story.

Discussion Questions—Epic Act Two


“One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe—a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death, disease, and sin . . .Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong.  Christianity agrees  . . . this is a universe at war.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
In the common epic story arc described in the prologue, there is a great battle to be fought; there is an antagonist for every protagonist.

1. Why does every story have a villain? 

The Bible contains evidence of spiritual warfare waged between beings allied with God and those allied with Satan, beings often unrecognized or unseen by people. We are not alone.  This universe is inhabited by other beings; we share the stage with other players.

2. React to this reality. What does this stir up in you? 
3. What does it mean to live as though your story has a villain?
4. What questions does the reality of evil raise for you?
5. Who have you blamed for the pain and sorrows of life?

6. Have you ever felt “the Devil made me do it”?

It seems there two extremes when it comes to the devil.  We either live as if he doesn’t exist or we are so focused upon him that we see him behind every bad thing that happens.  What extreme have you been more prone to? What in your life, your story, do you now understand may very well have been the work of the villain?  What has he tried to steal, kill, or destroy in your past? What is he currently assaulting you with (lies, shame, guilt, temptation)?


  1. Tom Way Question #2: The Bible contains evidence of spiritual warfare waged between beings allied with God and those allied with Satan, beings often unrecognized or unseen by people. We are not alone. This universe is inhabited by other beings; we share the stage with other players.

    2. React to this reality. What does this stir up in you?

    I remember when I first decided to study the bible seriously in the late 80's. I was taking a 2 year long class. The associate pastor of the church was teaching the class. One evening a student asked the associate pastor if he believed in Satan. His reply was, " I acknowledge his existence but I believe in Jesus Christ." Reminded me of Joshua, "But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh23:15).

    Last time I checked Jesus was undefeated and undefeatable. Be careful where you concentrate your efforts. Choose wisely.

    1. "Choose wisely"--a fabulous line from the epic film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as Indy must select the "real" Holy Grail in order to save his father's life. Choosing what is real, what is true, as if our lives depend on it--because our eternal lives DO depend on it.

  2. Tom - what a wise response from your associate pastor!

  3. Tom Way - Question 4 The reality of evil.

    Evil is in control only if you allow it to be. No where in the bible do I see evil acting independently. It only acts when God allows it to act. God allows the interaction with Job in the OT. Jesus allows Satan to sift the disciples in the NT.

    "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22: 31-32).

    Note: Satan must ASK permission to act. Hear the Good News, Jesus shows us the way to defeat evil is through faith. Allowing the action is the great mystery of the story that has yet to be revealed. I believe its revelation occurs once we enter God's Kingdom.
    Never be thirsty!

    1. It is always very encouraging to remember that God and Satan are not equals - God is and always has been in control. When I read this chapter, though, I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I tried to analyze this feeling - it is not fear, but it is dread. Dread because I know that the fact of evil requires a response from me. We are called to stand against it. We need to be sure we put on our spiritual armor first, but then we are called to stand against evil. "...and the gates of Hell will not prevail against" the Church. Or, as Steven Curtis Chapman sang about, "be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good".

    2. This is some pretty deep stuff. Tom, thank you for the reminder that despite our perspective God is ruler over all. And I resonate with that feeling Karen. That it requires a demonstration of faith from me. Don't forget that God doesn't require us to go alone. He sent his spirit to live among us, to guide us, strengthen, us and give us wisdom. So if this God who is ruler over all lives in us, haven't we already overcome?

  4. # 2:

    React naturally... I think my initial reaction to this was strangely enough-comfort. I and I think we have a great need to understand our lives. We need to have an identity, a purpose, a sense of security, etc. I personally need to know that there is something bigger than me going on. I need to know that all the stuff in the world is not happening out of flippancy but rather out of purpose. I need to know that the one who loves me has defeated the antagonists "purpose" and continues to fight for me. Comfort in understanding is my initial reaction, how can I help is my second...

  5. #6
    I am the coordinator for before and aftercare for first and second graders. When disciplining them I always hear, "but she told me to!" or "he made me do it!" my response is always, " You have your own brain, the choice you made was your own." I try to live amongst this because i know the free will given by God and I can choose at any moment to follow him or like Tom was saying, follow the world. It is easy to say that the devil made me do it, it is rewarding to say, I am sorry, please forgive me.

    1. My teaching experience with special needs high school students confirms Heather's experience with 1st and 2nd graders. So I developed a process for addressing the "s/he made me do it" scenario: I asked students "What could you have done differently?" when "tempted" by someone else's example or suggestion. It's the free will thing--temptation is there; how we respond to it is a choice. Now, I understand that in our human weakness, resisting temptation is difficult. But as the children's hymn says, "I am weak, but He is strong." Standing on the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God is the only way we (and even Jesus as he was tempted in the desert after his baptism) can be victorious over Satan.