Chapter Nine: The True Nature of Spiritual Warfare (Chapter Ten, too)
by Elizabeth de Barros
“Even the devil is God’s devil.”
— Martin Luther
¡Arriba! Piña colada smoothie…it’s what’s for breakfast! Just in time for summer, too, as we come to the end of our book discussion. Thanks for reading along and sharing your thoughts. I’ve enjoyed every minute — studying, summarizing, posting, and responding to your comments. But to be honest, I didn’t find “A Place for Weakness” to be an easy read. A bit dense in places, perhaps better editing would’ve helped to streamline some of the clutter and repetition. Hopefully you;ve been edified. With sound theological underpinnings tied to our mast, we can sail on the high seas of life in hope that somehow, through us, God is glorified. Such is the way of faith for those who endure, come what may.
SUMMARY of CHAPTER 9
Winding down Part Two, “God of the Empty Tomb,” Horton focuses on two major themes: Satan and death. In “The True Nature of Spiritual Warfare,” he zeroes in on the conflict that takes place in the unseen realm between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan and how the drama plays out in our lives. But the Director never once abandons the stage. With Satan’s role as “prosecutor and Christ as our defense attorney…Satan’s objective in this contest is to undermine our confidence in God’s merciful will toward us, while God’s is to strengthen it.” Here’s where we soldier up to engage in Ephesians 6-style combat: “As counterintuitive as it is for us, we must turn outward at precisely these times and hope only in the Lord, whatever our conscience threatens, whatever blandishments Satan offers, whatever our experience tells us is the obvious case.”
While there’s no denying the reality of spiritual warfare, Horton decries a certain theology some circles employ, where a whole vocabulary has emerged to navigate what he terms to be borderline “cosmological dualism,” — “the belief that the universe is in the grip of a cosmic duel between God and Satan, as if these represented two equal forces.” And there’s the rub — there is only one Sovereign. As Luther said, “Even the devil is still God’s devil.” Horton argues for a faith that understands this both Biblically and empirically, based on the fulfillment of prophecy in Scripture and historic eyewitness accounts.
“The most exciting and liberating thing a believer can hear in the middle of spiritual and physical distress is not that there is a secret battle plan for defeating the powers of darkness if we will only come together and follow its fail-proof steps, but the announcement that Jesus Christ has already accomplished this for us in his first advent.” (pp. 166, 167)
This is the good news. There is no better news. For the “Judge himself — whom the transgressors had originally arraigned — takes off his robe and dons the warrior’s suit.” Then the question “Who wins?” becomes the declarative: “He won!” — the verdict by which the believer truly lives and overcomes.
SUMMARY of CHAPTER 10
In “When God Goes to a Funeral,” Horton makes clear that the account of Lazarus in John 11 is not some contrivance about Jesus arriving late to raise a dead guy so everyone can gawk. Rather, it is the scene where sin’s worst fruit, death itself, is on display, now about to be subject to the power of God for the glory of God. This Biblical narrative reflects the eschatological truth of the hope yet to come: God’s triumphant defeat of the last enemy — Death. Jesus wasn’t late. He knew exactly what he was doing — pointing to Himself as “the Resurrection and the Life.”¹
But Mary and Martha’s tendency is our tendency. They didn’t understand. If only Jesus had come sooner…though they believed, they weren’t able to see the big picture. And so often, we can’t either. “God, if you really care about me, ________________— fill in your own blank.” (p. 181)
But Jesus doesn’t condemn them for their frustration. Instead, He lifts their vision.
Finally, Horton makes an appeal for the restored significance of grief by reminding us that “Jesus wept.” From this, he cautions against false piety. Whether the approach be stoic or sentimental, neither are commended. Both are given to extremes, seeking to avoid “the messiness of life.” We’re meant to grieve, but “we do not grieve as others do who have no hope.” ²
“At the graveside, neither optimism nor pessimism; sentimentalism nor stoicism tell us what is happening here. Only Jesus’ cross and resurrection define the event for us.” (p. 191)
1. John 11:25
2. 1 Thessalonians 4:13
It’s one thing to write a book on suffering that offers treacle, it’s quite another to offer moorings for theological sanity. In “A Place for Weakness,” Michael Horton writes with the welcome bedside manner of one who has observed and endured a variety of life’s conundrums. There is no grandstanding. He’s a realist — a believer in a gospel that “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” ³ He makes his case for finding answers to the hard questions by presenting the truth found in Christ and nowhere else. Of all the efforts made by men to diffuse the stress and strain of life’s sufferings — whether it be blame, denial, a “theology of glory,” hyper-spirituality, inspirational platitudes, bad theology, stoicism or sentimentalism — none of them are sufficient to answer the cardinal questions: Why? and “Is God good?”
Horton’s answer doesn’t bother to cater to man’s felt needs as though they were ultimate. He points to a far more glorious future by proclaiming:
“The good news is twofold: (1) justice will be done; liberation will come; righteousness will be vindicated; evil, oppression, and violence will be wiped off the face of the earth; and (2) all who repent and turn to the Redeemer will be saved.” (p. 173)
This is no cop-out. Genuine saving faith in Christ rests upon these truths and are of the most profound consequence for an individual. The iron-clad nature of Truth is substantiated upon the inerrant Word of God; there is no greater place to put our faith and trust. That these claims are true whether believed or not is a great comfort to God’s people, and ought to give skeptics pause.
But perhaps one of the most heartening aspects of Horton’s view is that he’s fully grounded in reality. He doesn’t negate the pain and heartache of this life. There’s a time for tears and a place to fall apart. A shoulder is to cry on. God can bear our questions, fears and doubts. Grief and mourning are normal this “side of Easter,” and part of the poignant beauty of what it means to be human. As the book title suggests, there is a place for weakness.
In case you missed it, throughout the book Horton makes clear that death is not a celebration, but the “last enemy.” He’d rather that we face the consequences of the Fall head on than be falsely comforted by hearing, “Death is a natural part of life.” At least the former allows for the gospel to shine! Sadly, even today’s Church has run aground on this one. Amid Horton’s pastoral warnings against the prevailing doctrinal winds of our day, his greatest exhortation to the Church is to trust in Christ and find in Him the unshakeable hope that transcends this vale of tears.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
3. Romans 1:16
“there is a cosmic battle…”
“Life’s crises, whether they start out as physical or spiritual, end up involving the whole person in any case.” (p. 164)
“Satan is bound, under house arrest. And yet, like a Mafia boss in prison, he still manages to cause trouble.” (p. 168)
“This is where Satan sets up his battlements and builds his ramparts: God and His Word are not to be trusted; instead, be your own boss, find your own path, believe in yourself, and be true to yourself.” (p. 172)
“We will not grow without a fight…”
“Christ is enough, even for you.” (p. 178)
“It simply did not make sense.”
“Jesus wept.” (p. 187, John 11:35)
“We do not grieve “as others do who have no hope,” but we do grieve.” (p. 191)
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (p. 192, 1 Cor. 15:26)
“In Christ, the end has already begun.” (p. 193)
“O Death, where is your sting?”
As usual, you’re welcome to leave a comment on these last chapters. Also, feel free to share your impressions of the book, too.
- Now that you’ve finished reading “A Place for Weakness,” think about how you’ve been challenged in your view toward suffering/trials. Please share with us what you’ve learned, as it could be helpful to other readers.
- Want a challenge? Answer the following question from Chapter 7/Question 4:
“Does Christianity “work”?
(for a refresher, re-read “Our Faith is not a Fix”on pages 131-133)
A warm thanks to all for reading, listening, and contributing to the discussion.
I trust it’s been as enriching and edifying for you as it has been for me.
“May the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
♦ ♦ ♦
-Soli Deo Gloria-