Did you hear about the war? Not likely. I am talking about the war in Heaven. But I digress. One of the most amazing theological talks I ever attended took place in Canada Christian College, on Halloween. The billed speaker, Father Gary Thomas, chief exorcist of the Vatican, and inspiration for the Hollywood movie: The Rite. A lot of people went because of the movie’s street cred, I think, or just out of weird interest at hearing a real exorcist talk about his experiences. Still, the talk was not about that. It was sensational for different reasons. It was a talk on pure theology.
Father Gary talked about how before Vatican II, there had been an emphasis on high Christology in the doctrine of the Catholic Church. After that, a lot of squishiness had worked its way into the system. People no longer adhered to a strict theology. There was a watering down the traditional beliefs. At the centre of this loss, was a devaluing of the role of Christ in salvation, and at the centre of that, a falling away in the belief that Christ’s death on the Cross was anything more than mere misadventure, or an exemplary picture of sacrificial love.
In direct relationship to this falling away of belief, was a steady rise over the decades in demonic activity. Those with eyes to see noticed, and did something about it. Pope John Paul checked the ranks, and instituted a renewed push to train exorcists. Father Gary was apprenticed and his story of what his job entailed was compelling. To be an exorcist was to come face to face with radical evil, and to defeat the Devil and his minions. The efficacy of the exorcism ritual, rested on the role of Christ, come to battle radical evil face to face.
This should be of no surprise to any serious Bible reader. Jesus himself noted that he had witnessed the fall of Lucifer in the beginning of time. “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10: 17–20 Elsewhere he tells his disciples “… from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” Matthew 11:12. Sounds like a war to me.
You don’t have to look far to see this war going on with your own eyes. Often buried in stories of crime, is the mental state of the person accused of committing the crime. I look for this, and it is perhaps not surprising for the perpetrator to relate that he or she was operating under the instruction of an evil entity who would torture them with suggestions. Those who followed through would be dismissed by the judicial authorities as not guilty by way of insanity. They didn’t believe the Devil was more than scitzephrenic halucination.
But you can’t mess around with evil face to face. The demons recognized Jesus right away. They also recognized his unique role in salvation history. They understood that the war would eventually come to an end, and that they would be bound and cast back into Hell. “Son of Man,” one of the demons protested, “Why have you come to torture us before the appointed time?”
I am not a fan of those who push a fluffy Christology. There are many who come in Jesus’ name who do not do him justice. They are the liars and thieves Jesus warns us about. Their theology sounds very seeker-friendly, but dismisses Christ. Some like Richard Rohr go so far as to equate the Christ role as one that humans achieve by spiritual enlightenment. He smiles when he says it. When I hear such things my stomach churns. I have to hold myself from shouting out loud, “GOOD GOD ROHR Get ahold of yourself man. Do you hear yourself talking? Did you ever imagine that Christ’s death might be bigger than anything you might have to say about it?”
So let me just say, that I believe that the death of Christ was somewhat magical, as it were. It is the one antedote to human evil, and to radical evil. It is God’s answer to the snares of the Devil which have tripped and waylaid human endeavours since the beginning of time.
Hence, I like to find refuge in old hymns, the ones which faithfully relate the Christ story, and our relationship to it. One of my favourites is the very old hymn, “In Christ Alone” by Andrew Rinaldi
In Christ alone my hope is found; he is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all— here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness, scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay, light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine— bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death— this is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home— here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.
When I hear such hymns, my spirit rejoices that there is someone bigger and more powerful than radical evil, that we have here on earth, a holy advocate on our side, and one with power to save. Yes, here in the power of Christ, I’ll stand. Did you hear about the war? Yes, the war in Heaven. That’s the one I’m talking about.
A remarkable picture I took in Rome. Salt at the gate, to keep out the Devil.