Whether one is oppressed or privileged, structures and spirits like white supremacy, patriarchy, domination are within us, embedded invisibly in our psyches. Name them and pray them out. Bill Wylie- Kellermann, in Principalities in Particular
My previous post, Extraordinary Temptations, was about the temptations Jesus experienced in the wilderness. Who (or what) was this “devil” that tempted Jesus? And what relevance does this story have for us today? Consider today’s prevailing wisdom:
The “wisdom of this age” (1 Cor. 2:6) is based on the values of status and hierarchy, the idolatry of money, and belief in power backed by violence. These largely unconscious views are at odds with Jesus’s values; they express the opposite of his vision of the world as God created it to be. Fortunately, we do not need to fall prey to these delusions. The presuppositions that underlie this prevailing wisdom are false.
In biblical terms, such falsehoods originate with the father of lies (John 8:44) and are circulated by the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2). These terms are metaphors for the principalities and powers, similar to the “devil” who tempted Jesus. Such metaphorical language expresses aspects of peoples’ experiences about the mystery of evil.
The devil or Satan has been understood in many ways, including the following: (1) as part of God’s heavenly council, the prosecuting attorney who accused Job before God (Job 1:7– 12); (2) a personal spirit (perhaps embodied) that tempts people to take a path contrary to what their conscience or their faith tells them is good and right; (3) a malevolent adversary intent on harm “like a roaring lion . . . looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8); (4) the demonic ruler of this world (John 12:31; Luke 4:5– 6); and (5) the ruling authorities of this world, including the spiritual forces of evil that animate them: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).
When tempting Jesus, the devil claimed that he was in control of “all the kingdoms of the world” (Luke 4:5– 6). Some have said that this was simply a lie he was telling Jesus, but other biblical passages back him up in this claim (John 12:31; 1 Cor 2:8). Walter Wink points to human responsibility by explaining this in terms of human choice and involvement with the demonic powers:
“When . . . Satan declares that he can give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, he is not lying; “for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.” God permits Satan such power but has not handed it over to him; we have delivered it, as a consequence of all the consciously or unconsciously evil choices we have individually and collectively made against the long- range good of the whole.”
Wink also demythologized the term Satan by making the case that the term represents the dominant milieu of a culture at a particular time in history:
“Satan is the real interiority of a society that idolatrously pursues its own enhancement as the highest good. Satan is the spirituality of an epoch, the peculiar constellation of alienation, greed, inhumanity, oppression, and entropy that characterizes a specific period of history as a consequence of human decisions to tolerate and even further such a state of affairs.”
This sinister, even demonic, spirituality is not vague or amorphous but is embodied by representative human beings and by concrete institutions and systems that dominate our world— that is, by the rulers of this age (1 Cor. 2-6) and those who have given themselves over to them.
As followers of Jesus, we are challenged to identify the “structures and spirits” of domination that are within us and to “name them and pray them out.” We are invited to join the growing number of people who share the values of inclusion, equity, and nonviolence and who are working to build a more compassionate, just, and peaceful world. Surely this is what it means in our time to follow the one who came so that we “may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
This post includes an excerpt from Sharon’s book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation: Following Jesus, Engaging the Powers, Transforming the World (Fortress Press, 2022).
This is the third post in a Lenten Series, “Creation, Cross, and The Powers.” The other posts in the series will be linked here as they are published.
- Creation, Cross, and The Powers.
- Extraordinary Temptations
- The Spirituality of an Epoch
- Creation: Moving from Awe to Lament to Resistance
- Banking on Our Future as Demythologized Exorcism
For other blog posts by Sharon on the story of Jesus in the Wilderness, see Jesus, Temptation, and Worldly Power and Resisting Cultural Possession.
Follow Sharon’s blog post by signing up at the “Follow” link to the right. Share with the Social Media buttons below. See also a previous Lenten series: A Lenten Call to Resist. Check out Sharon’s books. Contact Sharon to request a complimentary digital chapter of one of her books, to request a presentation, or to order discounted bulk copies of her books.
 . Wink, Unmasking the Powers, 24.
 . Wink, Naming the Powers, 25.