Life is struggle
In Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul sets forth his analysis of life, especially as it relates to the Christian life. And in Paul’s analysis, life is struggle, life is conflict, life is warfare. Under the inspiration of God, Paul writes:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:10-13)
Nowhere in this passage do you get any sense that (as an old popular song used to put it) “life is just a bowl of cherries.” No, stripped to its essentials, life is nothing more or less than a long struggle, a never-ending wrestling match. We don’t like this idea, of course. We feel entitled to a life that is essentially care-free and easy, with just enough work to do to keep us busy and interested. We feel we have a right to expect the kind of life described in another old popular song:
We’ll build a sweet little nest,
Somewhere in the West,
And let the rest of the world go by.
We tend to think of the trials, pressures, and problems of life as an annoying and unfair intrusion into our rightful, neat, and orderly existence. But Paul says that those afflictions and problems are not intrusions into our lives they are life itself! They are the stuff of which life is made conflict, struggle, and difficult choices.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming dreams and making plans for the future. There is nothing wrong with enjoying life. In fact, our romantic and idealized dreams of “the good life” are a kind of racial memory, the vestigial remains of what was once God’s intention for men and women. In God’s good order and time, the golden age we all long for will become a reality but it will take place in the life to come, not in the life of the here and now.
The apostle Paul tells us that life is a struggle, a life and-death conflict between two opposing forces. If we try to ignore the conflict, if we do not firmly choose the right side and take up our armor and our weapons for the battle, we will inevitably find ourselves jarred and shaken by spiritual reality. We may even become casualties of a battle we thought we could wish away. Truth has a way of intruding on our pleasant little illusions.
We all know what it’s like to have to shed our illusions and face the truth. The vacation ends, and we must leave Disneyland or Tahiti or Paris and return to the everyday world of making a living. Or a loved one dies, and we must face loneliness, grief, and the utterly real fact of human mortality. Or we lose our health. Or we lose our prosperity. Or we suffer some other personal loss. It happens all the time. We are continually shaken out of our dreams and daydreams, and we are forced to face the hard realities of life and eternity.
In Proceedings, the magazine of the Naval Institute, naval officer Frank Koch tells the story of an incident that happened to him at sea an incident that illustrates the principle Paul talks about:
Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities. Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.” “Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out. Lookout replied, “Steady, captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship. The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees.” Back came a signal, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.” The captain said, “Send, I’m a captain, change course 20 degrees.” “I’m a petty officer second class,” came the reply. “You had better change course 20 degrees.” By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send, I’m a battleship. Change course 20 degrees.” Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.” We changed course.
God’s truth is like that lighthouse and we are like that battleship. In our human arrogance, we chart our own course and demand that the world adjust itself to our wishes. But God’s truth is unchanging, unbending, unyielding. It is not God’s duty to alter His truth. It is our responsibility to chart our course according to the light of His Word, which is ultimate, objective reality. If we fail to do so, we risk running our lives aground.
“When the day of evil comes. . .”
The apostle Paul says that this struggle we face varies in intensity from one day to the next. We must learn to stand, he says, “when the day of evil comes.” This implies that not all days are evil. Some days will be worse than others. There are seasons in our lives when pressures are more intense, and when problems, trials, and temptations seem to gang up on us all at once. These are what we recognize as evil days. The “day of evil” may not be a literal twenty-four-hour day, of course it could be a day, a week, or even years in length. But thank God, all of life is not a relentless, excruciating trial. There are certainly times in life when we get a rest from the battle, a reduction of the pressure, a relief from overpowering circumstances and agonizing decisions.
The reason we are not always under pressure is because of the grace of God. The fact is that all of life truly would be a day of evil and much worse if not for the grace and goodness of a loving God. He continually operates to restrain the powers that war against us and to allow times of refreshment, recreation, enjoyment, and blessing. It is tragic that we so often take these times of refreshment for granted, enjoying them without a single thought for the goodness of God which makes them possible. Instead of giving thanks to God for those times of refreshment, we feel entitled to God’s blessing, and we are quick to complain that God is unfair when life doesn’t go according to our expectations. This is the point Paul makes in his letter to the Romans:
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:4).
So while every day is not an evil day, we have to agree with God’s Word when it tells us that, in general, life is an unrelenting struggle. The struggle varies in intensity from time to time, but it extends from the cradle to the grave.