November always makes me sad. This is odd because autumn is my favourite season. I love the harvest, colourful trees, Canada geese honking overhead and clear air. But overshadowing all this is Remembrance Day.
Perhaps it’s my childhood memories of standing in chilly November gales at my hometown’s cenotaph, cold feet cramping and body shivering. Maybe it’s the lonely sound of a bugle playing the Last Post or the sight of a mother carrying a wreath in honour of her dead son.
When we reflect upon the past 100 years, there is a lot to be sad about. It is estimated that 160 million people died in wars in the 20th century. There is not much improvement today. War still rages in our world and terrorist attacks kill and maim thousands. There are religious wars, drug wars and civil wars. I suspect that this November 11 will again be a sad day for me.
Yet there is always a spark of hope. Like a candle cradled in a cup on a windy night, hope struggles to stay alive. And it is this hope that has sustained the human race throughout the millennia. Despite all of man’s inhumanity to man, we believe that right will win over might, good will win over evil and life will triumph over death.
Christians, more than any other people, have reason to hope. We know the story of Jesus and his Resurrection, and trust in the promise of his return. We believe that one day people “will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).
Writing from a prison cell, the Apostle Paul wrote that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but … against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). He had been arrested, whipped, chained in dungeons and falsely accused of crimes. In spite of all that, he wrote that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil.
When we take this verse of Scripture to heart, we realize that our enemy is not other religions, governments or any other human being. Our enemy is the Devil. His tools of war are hatred, suspicion, mistrust, greed, selfishness, violence and every other device that sows discord among peoples and nations.
Paul saw himself as a soldier in a spiritual war. People were not his enemy. Even cruel, inhumane people who perpetrated unspeakable crimes against humanity were not his enemy. Like his Lord, Paul could say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He saw sinners as victims to be rescued, criminals as individuals who needed to be saved and the immoral as people who needed to be changed. Because this is how Jesus saw them.
When a man forgives the one who murdered his son, he is saying, “You are not my enemy. My enemy is the one who filled your mind with hate. My enemy is the Devil. And by God’s grace I love you.”
When a Christian tells an unbeliever that he respects his right to disagree with him, he is saying, “You are not my enemy. My enemy is the one who plants suspicion among us. My enemy is the Devil. And by God’s grace I respect and love you.”
When former German and Canadian soldiers stand together at the same war memorial, they are saying, “You are not my enemy. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil that led us to fight one another.”
When William Booth gave his famous “I’ll fight” speech, he was not advocating political or social unrest. He was saying, “I’ll fight against those spiritual forces that create a society in which women weep and young men become hardened criminals. I’ll fight against those powers of darkness that turn an innocent girl into a prostitute and that allow little children to go to bed hungry.”
Perhaps November won’t be so sad after all.
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