Having faith, [a person] can thrive even when planted in the chaos of the world that lies in wickedness, even as a sycamine tree could be planted in a hostile environment of the sea (Lk. 17:6). Having faith, the hearing/obeying relationship with his Creator, man is restored, strengthened, and empowered to withstand and rise above such assaults upon his soul. He is given the power of God to rule over his human nature and to thrive regardless of the circumstances (“Increase Our Faith”).
Half a dozen years ago, I was walking with a friend on the Haverford College campus, which is in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was the beginning of the school year, and some students—about 30— had gathered on the college lawn to play a game that I’d never seen before. Intrigued, I suggested to my friend that we take a moment to watch the progress of the game. I recall her saying that the game was called “Zombie Tag,” and it began with a few students walking stiffly with arms outstretched among all the others, whose goal was to escape being tagged by them. When tagged, however, each victim also began to stalk others in a like manner—stiffly walking with arms outstretched. It surprised me to see how quickly the game progressed. As their number increased, the “walking dead” overcame “the living ones,” and when all players had joined the ranks of “the undead,” the game was over.
Being a gospel minister and regularly seeing in every day events analogies to the life of the Spirit, it occurred to me that the game modelled some spiritual dynamics: humankind can be alive in the flesh yet dead in the Spirit (just like zombies!) and in both the game and real life, the walking death spreads by contact between one person and another. In the game, it is simple tagging, but in life, the spiritual contagion is spread by deceitful, unjust behavior perpetrated upon innocent victims, who then, in turn, become perpetrators; and on and on it goes. As W.H. Auden quipped:
I and the public know / What all schoolchildren learn
Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return.
The game did not mimic life, however, in one very significant way: whereas the game ends when all are caught and have become “zombies”; in real life, the death and darkness that consume need not be final: not all remain captive to the demonic forces that entice away life.
The good news is that while yet on earth and yet in time, we can receive life that is not subject to death, i.e. eternal life and the indwelling seed that keeps us from succumbing to the evil that men inflict upon their neighbors, and upon their brothers, as did that first perpetrator, Cain. (And wherefore slew he [Abel]? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous [1 Jn. 3:12].)
For not only was Jesus sent to raise up humankind above the throes and threat of spiritual darkness and death, but he is now sent to retrieve us into and sustain us in his own unassailable state, where he—and thus we—have power over the living death and living hell.
I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death (Rev.1:18)
. . . . .
In the great prayer found in John 17 and expressed shortly before his execution, Jesus asks God to keep his disciples from the evil (15). Jesus was not asking that his disciples be removed from the trajectory of evil released by the animus of others, for ill-treatment comes to everyone in this world, and—as Jesus knows—those who “are not of the world” (Jn. 15:19) will be targeted assiduously by the prince of the world through those who have come unwittingly to do his bidding.
In asking that his disciples be kept from the evil, Jesus is asking that the inward condition of their souls be kept inviolate and uncorrupted by the evil that will—without question—assault them. It is the soul’s condition for which Jesus prays, that nothing in his disciples give foothold to the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2); i.e. that his disciples heed no temptation, that they forfeit no blessedness.
The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light (Mt. 6:22).
Through singleness of mind, purity of heart, focused obedience, do his disciples overcome distraction and temptation. The physical sensation of being indwelled by the Spirit—the body full of light—is more than metaphor; it is actual experience arising from the blessed integration of one’s entire being: body and soul. It is the perfection of Christ’s joy fulfilled in those who have been born of God, and do not commit sin, for his seed remains in them.
Whoever is born of God doth not commit sin: for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother (1 Jn. 3: 9-10).