For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:12 (New American Standard Bible)
For many Christians, this verse serves to situate and orient believers in a context of a hidden, larger world: an ever-present spiritual power-struggle. It hints at meta-physical hierarchies and malevolent entities. Some Christian denominations hold that it opens a window onto a plane of spiritual warfare between very literal angels and demons. This view even spawned a series of fiction books that I read with rapt attention as a youth.
Recently, this verse acquired new poignancy for me. This quote from an account of an ex-Westboro Baptist member illustrates why:
When David Abitbol learned that the sisters had left Westboro, he invited them to speak at the next Jewlicious festival in Long Beach. They agreed, hoping that the experience might help them to find their way, and to finally understand a community that they had vilified for so long. “It was like we were just reaching out and grabbing on to whatever was around,” Megan said. Abitbol said, “People, before they met them, were, like, ‘So, now they’re not batshit-crazy gay haters and we’re supposed to love them? Fuck that.’ ” He added, “And then they heard them speak, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Daily I see people speak cruel, hateful, venomous words. I witness bigotry, hatred, and disdain for the least fortunate members of society. I watch people take on ugly, judgemental, callous attitudes.
Paul the Apostle himself was no stranger to judgmental views. But intentionally or not, his letter to the Ephesians reminds me that my struggle is not against flesh and blood. It is not against people.
It is against the “principalities and powers”, as some translations put it, which possess and rule people’s minds. The belief systems that worm their way in where fear provides an entrance. The oversimplified memes. The biases. The stereotypes, false formalisms, and persistent misconceptions that hold human minds in bondage.
This verse reminds me that I am not here to do battle with individuals. I am here to reach out, to retrieve, to rescue. Not to defeat, but to save.