Friday, April 28, 2006

Submit and Resist

I suppose those terms seem mutually exclusive or contradictory. But we can (and must) do both at once, as long as our submission and resistance point in different directions.

St James gives us the submission/resistance advice in one verse of his epistle: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (4:7). I think one could say that we have to do it in that order, because the power to resist the devil can only come from the divine grace that can only come to us through our submission to God. James goes on to say: “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (v. 8). Perhaps the language of drawing near is more appealing than that of submission, but in the end it is practically the same thing. I could almost dare to say that we can make a substitution and say: “Submit yourself to God and He will submit Himself to you.” The only way this can be true, however, is that in our submission to God we embrace his will entirely. And so, as we place ourselves at his service, He places Himself at ours, as it were, for at this point we can ask only what is his will, and He will be happy to grant us whatever we ask.

But let’s get back to resistance. Both edges of this double-edged sword have to be kept sharp. That is because our submission and drawing near to God require our resistance of the devil, and vice versa. If we fail to resist the devil wholly, then we are not submitting wholly to God, and hence we may not be making our requests according to his will. Therefore we can no longer expect that He will “submit” to us, for He will not grant us anything that is not his will for us.

It is usually not prudent to take on the devil directly, since we are easily deceived and outmaneuvered. Therefore the safest and most effective way is to resist the devil by submitting to God. No need to purchase a how-to book on exorcism (not recommended anyway); just submit to God and you are by that very fact resisting the devil. If you are always drawing near to the Lord and submitting yourself to his will, you won’t have time to pay attention to the devil, anyway! Even though we must be aware of his existence and his tactics to derail our efforts toward holiness, the best way to take the wind out of the diabolical sails is to ignore him and give all your attention to God and the accomplishment of his will.

St Peter gives us the same submission/resistance counsel, in a slightly different form: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you… Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith…” (1Peter 5:6-9).

So this is a common and timeless message for the Church: submit to God and resist the devil. Unfortunately in today’s Church we don’t see a whole lot of either. It’s the modern tendency to create a god for oneself that doesn’t require submission, but who is prodigally permissive about one's own desires, and who looks the other way whenever one sins. On the other hand, I just read about an ex-Jesuit who has decided that the devil doesn’t deserve all the bad press he’s received for the past few millennia and has appointed himself to the task of rehabilitating him. Wait, the man must have gotten a faulty text of Scripture! St James said resist the devil, not rehabilitate him!

Make this your motto then: Submit and Resist. You’ll raise a few eyebrows and may even attract a few strange people. But that will give you a chance to preach the Gospel to the curious. In the meantime you will be drawing near to God and drawing away from the devil; and best of all, God will be drawing near to you.