Is Christianity an invitation to a fight?
Paul wrote that we were to put on the armor of God because the devil was going to be shooting flaming arrows at us. Jesus said at one place that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword, and that we would have religious conflicts within our own families. At the end of Paul’s life according to scripture, Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race.”
But what do we fight? How do we fight?
John Bunyan who authored “Pilgrim’s Progress” also wrote a book called “The Holy War.” It is about our personal responsibility to guard ourselves from evil. Our self is viewed as a city. The gates are our senses. Our task is to beat off the attacks of the devil against us. So we fight against sin overcoming us. We fight for personal piety.
But that is not all. John Wesley for example, who we know as the founder of Methodism, preached against Slavery, and in favor of Prison Reform. So his fight was not just for his own soul. His fight was not just for the souls of others. He fought for the reformation of society that abused debtors, criminals, and slaves. It was like taking the words, “Whatever you have done to the least of these, my family, you have done to me.”
How is this fight conducted? It is not conducted by force of arms. It is not conducted by violence and hate. We do not reform the world by succumbing to it. Audrey Lorde wrote, “The Master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Violence oppression coercion and propaganda, do not lead to a land shining bright with liberty and justice for all.
So this war is fought by prayer, by righteousness, and even by kindness. As we sow we reap. Or like in the Dhamapada, “In this world hate never yet dispelled hate, only love dispells hate.” Jesus said it simply, “Love your enemies.”
Conflict, courage, and compassion mixed together make quite a holy war.
In my own life I struggle against sin, and my own weaknesses and deficits. In the Church I fight against prejudice, pride, and unwholesome thinking. And in society I fight for a community of safety, honesty, fairness, and respect for all people.
These are all hard fights that go on and on. They are like going past the sink every day, and seeing more dirty dishes. The work is never done. It is a marathon. It lasts as long as we do.
But the hardest of these fights is the one against evil and deception within ourselves.
In Islam they have a story about the prophet.
The saying, When returning from the Hunayn expedition, the Prophet had declared “We are back from the lesser Jihad (effort, resistance,struggle for reform) to the greater Jihad.” A Companion asked “What is the greater Jihad, Messenger of God?” He answered: “It is fighting the self (the ego, inner struggle of the soul, Jihad against one’s self).”
I am not saying we should look for trouble. We will have enough trouble without needing to seek it. I am just saying it is a struggle. It never ends. And we need God and each other all the days, weeks, months, and years of our lives.