While re-watching Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy a few months ago, I was particularly struck by the battle scene in the opening sequence. In that battle, the ‘last alliance of men and elves’ (the good guys) had lined up to battle Sauron’s forces (the bad guys), and what caught my attention was the way in which the front line for the good guys stood firm against the onslaught from Mordor.
It’s a scene I’ve seen repeated in countless movies: two opposing armies line up with weapons in hand, and either they both charge at one another, or, in some cases, one line stands awaiting the coming assault. The scene I watched featured the latter – the forces of good stood their ground, awaiting the oncoming attack from evil. What really struck me was the resolve and dedication of the front line – the soldiers who would be the first to face battle and in many cases, death. These soldiers are the ones that every wave of the enemy will pass through within the battle. And I was left wondering: how does one prepare to stand on the front lines? How does one prepare their heart and mind for battle when death is not just a possibility… it is likely? And how does this relate to our life of faith?
On the one hand, you might consider those who have fought in battle for all of us – those heroic soldiers who have fought in countless battles and wars throughout history. Of these, Jesus’ words were clear: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Never having fought in these sorts of battles nor known anyone who has gone to war, I cannot do justice to what they must consider and the way they must prepare themselves to fight.
On the other hand, you might also consider the battle into which every Christian is engaged. For everyone who chooses to follow Christ will find themselves at one point or another (and at times seemingly constantly) on the front lines of a spiritual battle. Pope Benedict XVI once spoke of our spiritual life as a point of tension found between two gravitational fields:
First, there is the force of gravity which pulls us down – towards selfishness, falsehood and evil; the gravity which diminishes us and distances us from the heights of God. On the other hand there is the gravitational force of God’s love: the fact that we are loved by God and respond in love attracts us upwards. -Pope Benedict XVI, Homily for Palm Sunday 2011
Let’s be clear on this – to live the Christian life means engaging in a spiritual battle between the two ways, the two gravitational fields. We are at war. Traditionally, following the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas we have identified three enemies in this battle: the world (society/popular culture), the flesh (our own internal struggle with sin), and the devil (a fallen angel who hates both God and humanity). We are on the front lines in this battle, daily, to the degree we are willing to fight.
When we recognize that we are at war, we ought to prepare our hearts for battle. When you consider men on the front lines in battle, you may recognize that they have prepared and trained for this moment. They are committed to the cause for which they fight and are willing to sacrifice or die for that cause. If they become afraid, they look down that line of fighters, recognizing that the rest of the line are counting on each one of them to remain strong… and they don’t run.
The same is true and expected of each of us. We are to prepare and train, praying and studying that we might know God, ourselves, and our faith. In knowing Him, we ought to be committed to Him – believing in the cause to which He has called us. And we should recognize that we are a part of a community – that of the Church – which is counting on us to ‘hold the line’ when things become difficult.
Be of great courage, because God is with you and you need not be afraid (Joshua 1:8-9). He will not leave you or I to fight these battles alone. Though we may be called to battle – and this may seem difficult – God offers to us all the tools we need, and then Himself fights in and with us that we might not fall victim to the assaults that will come.
Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. -Ephesians 6:13-18
Tomorrow: the enemies we face.