In the tradition in which I grew up, we did not talk about spiritual warfare. I never even heard the concept until well into adulthood. I had never given so much as a thought to "powers and principalities." (It must be said that the tradition in which I grew up did not encourage private Bible reading in those days either, so I was completely unacquainted with, say, Romans 8.)
To be honest, when I began to hear friends from other traditions talk about spiritual warfare, I was more than a little skeptical. It sounded a little hysterical to me. Then, as I started to pay more attention, I wasn't so sure.
At the very least, I have always believed that there are true things beyond what I experience with my senses -- otherwise, I would not believe in God, would I? Then I had to ask myself, "Do you believe that things aren't all as they should be in this life?" Um, yeah. That's obvious.
As I became more familiar with the Bible, I could see the contours of the great cosmic struggle -- not a pitched battle between forces of good and evil, like many world mythologies would have it, but a one-off intervention by God in a creation which had submitted itself to idols.
Here's how the logic works: Humans are creatures, made to submit to our Creator. In some fundamental way, we have collectively balked at the idea, preferring not to submit to the Creator in the expectation that we won't have to submit at all, but be our own masters. It's what traditional orthodoxy calls "Original Sin." Problem is, it doesn't work that way. We creatures are contingent; we can't be our own boss. So if we say to God, "Sorry, we're not going to follow you," we're stuck with following something else. We can't declare our independence. We're not made that way.
So now we're stuck with a new boss, the "ruler of this world" (see John 12:31 and John 14:30). You can call it the devil or Satan, if you want, or you can just think of it as not God. It might help to add that Satan means "the accuser," which I have come to see as a direct contrast to the Holy Spirit, who is called "the Advocate" (see John 14:26). The Advocate is working on our behalf; the accuser is working against us. We get to choose where to pledge our allegiance.
When I look at my teenagers, its easier for me to see how and why I might choose the accuser. I find myself almost daily saying to one or another minor in my home, "I am not your enemy. I am on your side." Those moments invariably occur when I'm setting a limit or encouraging some sacrifice that somebody doesn't like. So it must be with God and me. I see my Advocate as my enemy, because I'm being asked to do a hard thing. I rebel, thinking I'll just be my own boss, decide for myself, but I end up instead hitching my wagon to the accuser's horse. The very thing I think is going to make things easier for me, works against me and against the good.
When, instead, I have my eyes and my heart fixed on the good, when I am willing to serve and to sacrifice, I notice something else -- sometimes, all hell starts breaking loose. We're gearing up for a weekend of healing ministry, and people are falling ill, bad weather is brewing, complications of all sorts keep popping up. You can say it's coincidence -- I certainly have -- but I have to wonder if it's something more.
What I know is that any power that is Not God has already been defeated by the cross. Done. Deal. The Powers-That-Be can bring on their worst, all the way up to death and destruction, and it's nothing but a smoke-screen. Where I'm still a skeptic -- no, more like a scoffer -- is when I come up against any suggestion that there's any real risk of God's will being thwarted. Ain't gonna happen.
In these moments, we need to dig in. It's where faith comes to full bloom. Nothing but nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:38).