23 August 2008

Know your enemy -- Wisdom Sunday

Hence that general is skilful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skilful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack. -- Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
I know, it seems a little more than out of place to quote a Chinese general, or any general for that matter, as the epigraph of a posting of this nature, but bear with me.

It is to be lamented that western Christians, especially Protestants, are not encouraged -- and much less taught how -- to engage in self-examination. Indeed, mention the subject and you'll be treated to a sermonette on the evils of legalism. After all, who but a legalist would want you to be preoccupied with the sin in your life.

Too bad. I've heard the Christian life described as a warrior's life, a life in which one (as a warrior) must be trained to pay attention to details that others overlook, details in one's own life. That's an important point because Christians in the U.S. are rather more preoccupied with national and social evils. This leaves them open to attack, from the real enemy.

Thomas a Kempis explains (here):

The beginning of all temptation lies in a wavering mind and little trust in God, for as a rudderless ship is driven hither and yon by waves, so a careless and irresolute man is tempted in many ways. Fire tempers iron and temptation steels the just. Often we do not know what we can stand, but temptation shows us what we are. Above all, we must be especially alert against the beginnings of temptation, for the enemy is more easily conquered if he is refused admittance to the mind and is met beyond the threshold when he knocks. Someone has said very aptly: “Resist the beginnings; remedies come too late, when by long delay the evil has gained strength.” First, a mere thought comes to mind, then strong imagination, followed by pleasure, evil delight, and consent. Thus, because he is not resisted in the beginning, Satan gains full entry. And the longer a man delays in resisting, so much the weaker does he become each day, while the strength of the enemy grows against him.
I think too many of us fall to temptations because we are so preoccupied with the world outside our hearts to pay much, if any attention, to the real battlefield -- the heart. And since we are busy putting up defense in other places (those social evils, abortion, defense of marriage, gay rights, and so forth), the enemy has it easy. And by the time we notice -- if we even notice -- it's too late. We put up no defense because we really don't know, as Sun Tzu says, what to defend. We put up no attack, or counter-attack, because we don't know what to attack.

We do not know the enemy. We do not know how he operates. But we should know. He operates in the heart, where that "mere thought" occurs; but we don't spend a whole lot of time there, so we don't notice. We aren't encouraged to engage in much self examination (navel gazing), so we may not ever notice that first fleeting thought. If we do, we may shrug it off as insignifant and think nothing of it, ever again.

Reminds me of another quote by Sun Tzu, perhaps his most famous:

Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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