“There are more things in heaven and earth than this world dreams of.”
-Attributed to Alfred the Great
Scripture witnesses to unseen forces in conflict. Our world is the arena of intense spiritual conflict, the focus of fiendish attack by malicious spirits – fallen angels and Satan’s minions. Great powers clash and we are affected by the battle. We see and feel evidence of supernatural warfare but the combatants are not discerned by the human eye. Paul the apostle speaks of “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and enlarges upon the devil’s schemes and works of evil: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).
The foes of humanity, and especially the people of God, are formidable. They are organized, relentless, of superior intelligence, and wreak enormous harm. They oppress mankind with many ills and calamities and subject persons of faith to bitter struggle, as Paul notes for our attention. Satan is the cruelest being in existence, utterly merciless, and keeps his servants on the prowl: Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (2 Peter 5:8). He perpetrates acts of evil personally, commands rebellious spirits, and influences those available to his pressures and temptations: The spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient (Ephesians 2:2). Man’s inhumanity to man in every aspect of its vile treatment is prompted by the prince of darkness. Given the cunning, wiles, lies, and strength of the evil one we ought not to be surprised at what he can persuade sinners to do and what torments he wishes to bring upon believers. Speaking of the sovereignty and omnipotence of God, John Newton observes: The powers of darkness are likewise under his subjection and control. Though but little of them is said in Scripture, we read enough to assure us that their number must be immensely great, and that their strength, subtlety, and malice, are such as we may tremble to think of them as our enemies, and probably should, but for our strange insensibility to whatever does not fall under the cognizance of our outward senses. But he holds them all in a chain, so that they can do or attempt nothing but by his permission; and whatever he permits them to do (though they mean nothing less,) has its appointed subserviency in accomplishing his designs.
But just as there are fiends busy around us, so too there are invisible friends. The Lord summons them to the help and reassurance of his folk at will. A reliable account comes from a medical missionary in Africa. A horde of murderous rebels was bearing down upon her medical center which was defenseless. Urgent prayer was offered to the Lord and the men of violence only perceived a fire enveloping the building and hastened noisily by. The medical staff and doctor were left safe in their clinic that had not burned at all. Not a spark was seen. No heat was felt.
When the prophet Elisha was under threat from a hostile army his fearful servant enquired, “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?”: ‘Don’t be afraid”, the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:15-17). The Lord Almighty always has the majority. “The angel of the
Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them (Psalm 34:7).