Gandalf warned King Theoden, “To crooked eyes truth may wear a wry face.” We have had crooked eyes most of our lives, having been carefully trained to see what is in front of us in the physical world, rather than seeing what is behind it, leaking through, from the spiritual world.
What – on earth and beyond it – is actually going on in the world we see? Horatius Bonar said after examination of the Epistle of Jude: “In some ages evil seems to sleep. In the last days it will awake to full life and activity. It will seize every instrument: the press, the pulpit, the platform. It will enlist every science and art – music, sculpture, painting, portrait, and philosophy – making them all subservient to its development. The multiplication of crimes, contempt of laws, blasphemies – these are the specimens of the energy of evil.”
Evil has now come fully awake, perhaps in a dress rehearsal for the final outpouring of evil in the Tribulation to come, perhaps as the “birth pains” spoken of in Matthew 24 and Mark 13. There is outright war in the spiritual realms. The enemies of God see humanity both as pawns to be used, and as a prize to be kept from God – to our own destruction. Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 show us the history of pride working corruption in the heart of a powerful heavenly being, until he determined to take God’s own place and usurp the throne and be worshipped instead of God. In Revelation Chapter 12 we see that a full third of the stars – the angels – were swept away, lashed by the dragon’s tail, and threw in their lot with Lucifer. That dragon is the pride-filled, worship-lusting devil himself. He covets whatever God has, and if he can’t have it, he’ll destroy it so God can’t have it either. And the devil’s weapons of choice are deceit coupled with infiltration.
We are warned against deceit all over the pages of Scripture, both overtly and subtly. The first instance is back in Genesis 3, with the serpent and Eve, and it sets the pattern that carries forward to today – because it worked then, and it works now. “Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” – he casts doubt on God’s word. Note the danger from Eve’s imperfect understanding – she only knew what Adam told her – where her response is “we may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘you shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But God ever said they could not touch it. Eve does not fully understand what God said and did not say, and this leaves an opening to be worked upon. The serpent then takes another step and tells Eve “You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Now not only is she in doubt as to what God said, but it is made to seem like He is holding out on her, keeping her away from something good. She is now fully prepared to fall for the deception.
And let’s also note the serpent; we are told that it was “more crafty than any other beast” but not that it was creepy, or sinister, or evil looking. It was one of the Lord God’s creation, and everything He made He called “good.” It’s easy to know the bad guys if they are wearing black hats and a scowl, or if their faces are dripping with menace. But when the danger comes in the form of something that looks or sounds good, we are more easily deceived.
There is more than one level of deception here, too. There is the external deception from the serpent, based on misrepresentation of God’s word, seeding doubt about His trustworthiness and His truthfulness. And there is the internal deception in Eve, where her desire to be wise, her (admittedly instigated) desire to usurp God’s place and decide for herself between good and evil, and her pride in her own judgment over-rode her own understanding of, and her trust in, God’s word. These are facets of our own minds we have to be aware of today. Let’s look further into scripture for guidance and warnings.
More pieces of the puzzle are found in Job. In the first chapter, we are treated to information that Job never learns; that the Satan/the accuser, is allowed to act against Job. After living through the worst bad day ever – Job loses everything he has, from worldly goods, servants, and social standing, to all of his children – he falls to the ground in worship. How many of us praise God when someone merely cuts us off in traffic? Truly he was a man who revered God. And yet, he is somewhat deceived. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” But it was not the Lord, specifically, who took away everything Job had; it was Satan. It was permitted by God, for specific purposes, but He did not Himself act to take Job’s goods and family and He could have used other means to teach Job what he needed to learn. Deceit can come from misunderstanding the nature and character of God. Then, later in the book, Job listens to long discourses by his three friends, and in their words we see another facet of deceit. Taken individually and examined, the statements these three friends made are theologically correct, but they are mis-applied – and that makes them deceitful. Deceit can come from correct statements applied in the wrong way or to the wrong circumstances.
Much attention is paid in scripture to us not allowing ourselves to be misled – deceived – into idolatry. “Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them” we are told in Deut 11:16. 1 John 1:16 tells us the way the world gets under our skin, “the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life” lead us away from truth, which is Jesus Christ. Well, we don’t worship idols in this day and age, especially not us Christians! –Are we so sure? What is an idol? It need not be a figure of stone or wood, or a great statue; an idol is anything that takes God’s place as Number One in your life. It could be someone’s beloved classic car, or favorite sports team, or position on the corporate ladder, or how many followers they have on social media. For a church, it could be the size of the congregation, the success of the latest capital campaign, or the strictures of the 501c3 requirement not to speak on “political” issues. That last is a big one; the churches gave the government their promise of silence, in exchange for codified tax deductions for their donors. That particular act of idolatry led the churches to cede the field of public policy to non-believers and has helped bring us the societal deterioration we see around us today.
The Olivet Discourse – described in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, starts and ends with warnings from Jesus Himself: “Watch out that no one deceives you” or “See that no one leads you astray,” followed later by warnings against false signs, false messiahs, and false prophets, “to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”
Where is the battle really going on, and how is it presenting itself to us, and how do we test the spirits to avoid being deceived? The real battle today is in the spiritual realms. What we are seeing around us is only the part the “bleeds through” into our world – and that’s plenty bad enough!
Let me tell you of a dream I’ve had, with small variations, four times now. The first time was many years ago, and the other three times all more recently, after praying specifically to be shown “what I need to see” and again Job 33:14-15 tells us that God will speak to us in visions and dreams.
I was in a super large warehouse-like structure – miles long. Outside the warehouse you could hear the sounds of pitched battle from many directions – all sides as well as above. There were windows that showed that there were many fires raging, and the outlines of groups moving and positioning themselves. Inside were people, singly and in groups, none of whom seemed to take any notice of the sounds and sights from outside. There were partial walls and various obstacles that the people used as gathering points. The fights outside started making their way inside. Fires would start and immediately groups would gather around the fires, fighting with the fires and with each other – and some were spreading the fires. There was no pattern, and the trouble wasn’t coming in through doors or windows; pieces just cropped up suddenly, somewhere in this huge warehouse, first on one side, then another far away, then another nearer. As the battle raged outside, more and more incidents arose inside as well. The people running around fighting each other in the vicinity of the inside fires had no idea the source of the trouble came from outside the warehouse, although it was clear to me.
It is my belief that this recurring dream is an allegory. The spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places are at war at a level higher than they historical norm. That war is spilling in to our physical world – but the enemy is not primarily the people in the warehouse spreading the fires locally, but the evil powers behind the people spreading the fires in the warehouse. Those fire-spreaders have been deceived – and in some cases they have given themselves over to being directly used by evil powers.
Eventually, there will come a day when those who refuse to see past the surface lies will be given over to falsehood. God does make use of false beliefs to further His purpose. In 1stKings, He passed a sentence of death on King Ahab, and allows a spirit of deceit to fill the mouths of the false prophets of Ahab’s court, to entice Ahab to the battle at Ramoth-Gilead to meet his doom. Likewise, 2nd Thessalonians warns that those who refuse to love the truth and be saved will at some point be sent a strong delusion, so that they may believe “the lie” and be condemned.
The final point in all this discussion of deceit is how we cleave to truth and defend ourselves from deceit in these days of rampant chaos. We must look for the spiritual truth of the battle BEHIND the physical expression we see with our eyes. That spiritual battle involves individual persons, parts of, or entire, organizations and movements, and governments – ours, and plenty of others around the world. Some participants are misguided/threatened/bribed, some are deceived, and some are wholly given over to doing the work of the evil powers and rulers and authorities beyond this world.
Study the whole Word of God, letting scripture interpret and elucidate scripture and asking the Holy Spirit to prevent us from taking a verse or three out of context. Put on the whole armor of God – in theory warriors should armor up before the battle starts, except we are all born into an ongoing battle – so time’s a-wasting; get that armor on and don’t leave any piece out! Pray unceasingly, as Paul told us. Prayer is our “heavy artillery” – action at a distance. Do all these while we wait for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
We are to hold fast and occupy what we have until He comes – it’s our job to stand, and to fight, but it’s not our job to win! The Lord Himself will do that. We are responsible for doing our piece, whatever that is, and we will answer – and possibly be rewarded – for the job we have done for Him. Becoming discouraged by what we see before us is yet another deceit; we’ve read the end of the book – God wins!
That is a truth to hold fast and sure.