Have you ever seen any of the Matrix movies? There’s a total of four now. I’ve watched them all. The story in those movies starts with a war. A war between sentient machines and humanity. Spoiler alert. The machines win, but not before humans scorch the sky, eliminating the machines only source of power. Cut off from the sun, the machines turn humanity into their new source of power. They grow humans like crops, and keep them trapped in a computer simulated world called The Matrix. But there’s a rogue element of humans who remain free, in an underground city far from the machines who control the surface world. That last and only human city is called Zion.
The Church is like that human city, and Satan’s kingdom like The Matrix. Satan wants to keep us enslave in his system, for his own purpose and power. God wants to set us free to live life as He intended. The problem is, we all start out in the Matrix of Satan’s world. It’s the role of the Church to help get people free.
We’re all born into the battle. The Church is at war with Satan and his system, and Satan is at war with the Church. It’s not a war between humans on Satan’s side, and those on God’s. It’s a war between two kingdoms and the ways which they desire to order the world.
Those two systems are not at war in the world at large, but in the heart of every human being. We are the battle ground between God and Satan. The Church isn’t an external system in opposition to Satan’s. The Church is a people on a journey back into relationship with God. It’s the example of individuals and communities growing into relationship with God that provides the contrast to Satan’s system.
God desires us to live in the freedom of relationship with Him. Freedom isn’t independence. We can’t be our own gods. We were created to live in connection to God. This Triune God existed in relationship before creation, and created us to share in that relationship. That’s what Adam and Eve had before the Fall.
Then sin entered the world. Satan came sulking through the Garden with a Plan, still stinging from his failed attempt to take over Heaven. If he couldn’t rule in Heaven, perhaps he could rule on earth. The problem wasn’t just that we had dominion on the earth, but that we exercised that dominion in concert with God. For Satan to rule on the earth, he would have to use us to do it, but first he would have to separate us from God. Fortunately for Satan, there was one key aspect of God’s innate, divine character that allowed for Satan’s Plan. That key characteristic was freedom.
In the Garden, God placed two special Trees. One was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and one was the Tree of Life. Why these two special trees?
God created us for relationship. For relationship to work, there must be choice. There can be no compulsion on either side. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil represented God’s innate, divine freedom. Everything God does flows from who He is. God is a God of freedom. He never forces His way. God allows us to choose. He created us with the same innate quality of freedom. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil represented God’s allowance for us to choose to be in relationship with Him, or not.
What about the Tree of Life? In a world with no death, why the Tree of Life? God knew what would happen. God knew what Adam and Eve would choose. Because He is a God of freedom, God set the Tree of Life in the Garden in contrast to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of Life represented God’s inability to give death the upper hand.
God is about life and freedom. Satan is about death and slavery, but Satan can’t put his desire for death and slavery out in the open. He has to masquerade as an angel of light, in order to draw us into his darkness (2 Corinthians 11:14).
We were created for life and freedom. We were given dominion on the earth. We were created for relationship with God. To trick us into his death and slavery, Satan had to make it look like something better than a life of freedom in relationship with God as caretakers of the earth. Instead of dominion over the earth, Satan offered us control. Instead of freedom in God, Satan offered us independence. Satan offered Adam and Eve the same thing he wanted, to be god instead of God. He told them they could be their own gods, so he could take the place of God in the world.
We can’t operate independent of a higher, spiritual authority. We can’t be our own gods. We were made for relationship with God. We have a God-shaped hole inside us. Remove God from that place, and it creates a desperate, aching vacuum that must be filled with something. Satan used our freedom and dominion against us, to rob us of both, so he could be free to have dominion over the earth. But the trick is, we still have to choose slavery to Satan’s system.
Satan’s Plan was to create an alternate system that looked like freedom and dominion, but was really independence and control, in order to separate us from God so he could control the world. He knew we wouldn’t be able to handle our God-given dominion apart from God. Independence isn’t freedom, it’s slavery to fear. Apart from God we feel naked.
All Satan had to do was separate us from God, knowing we would be all the more desperate to fill that vacuum with something like God. Satan also knew we wouldn’t be able to know what was good apart from God. He was banking on that. He knew he could offer himself as a substitute god, and we wouldn’t know the difference, because we can’t know what’s good and evil apart from God.
All of our freedom and dominion falls apart, apart from God. Falling apart, we are desperate for something to hold us together. In that desperate confusion, we are ripe for Satan’s plan. Satan’s Plan is to mimic God’s Plan. Satan offer’s a City/Tower/Beast in opposition to God’s Desert/Mountain/Garden. The question is, why do we fall for it? In absence of God, why don’t we go running back to God for help?
Love is greater than fear, but fear feels more powerful. The result of separation from God is fear. The first thing Adam and Eve did after the Fall, when God approached, was hide in fear. They were naked, exposed, and afraid. They were desperate to be clothed, to be hidden. God covered over their nakedness, but that didn’t resolve it. Underneath everything, we still feel naked and afraid. We still prefer to hide. In that state Satan’s system seems more appealing than God’s. It offers a more immediate kind of provision and protection better fitted to our current state of separation. Satan’s system soothes and solidifies and us in our separation. That is by design.
Satan knew what would happen in our separation from God. He knew that a desperate kind of fear would take hold. And he knew exactly how to use that to his advantage. Satan ‘s whole system is built on the fear of separation. All he needed to do was get us separated from God, and the resulting fear would play naturally into his hands. So would God’s innate, divine nature of freedom.
Satan forces us through manipulation and fear into his system. God won’t compromise His love and freedom for the sake of an easy fix. Apart from God, Satan knew his system would have the upper hand in the midst of our separation. God knew it would take a long-term plan to move humanity back into relationship with Him. It’s hard to break through the fear of our separation with love and freedom. Freedom can seem scary when control is what we crave. Love looks like slavery when independence has become our norm.
From the beginning, after losing our place in the Garden, Satan’s system has infiltrated human history. The problem for Satan, is that he’s still operating in God’s freedom, even in his alternative system. At the heart of Satan’s system, is the freedom of God.
Abraham Lincoln supposedly once said, “the best way to defeat a bad law is to enforce it strictly” (en.20). He never actually said that, but it’s still a good truth. God takes the same approach. God allows for the freedom of our bad choices. God even allows for the freedom of Satan’s system, for a time. God’s Plan incorporates Satan’s Plan.
God allows the weeds to grow up with the wheat, knowing that the weeds will eventually be revealed for what they are. We were made for love and freedom. We were made for communion with God. We were made for God’s Desert/Mountain/Garden. God allows for Satan’s Plan, partly because freedom is His nature, and partly because He knows that Satan’s Plan will only increase our God-given desire for freedom. The more we are robbed of freedom, the more we will crave it, and the more we will chaff under its opposite. We were created for freedom. We were created for life. We were created for relationship with God.
When the Church becomes too influenced by Satan’s City/Tower/Beast, it will naturally chaff under that system. Yearning for the Spirit and the Bride, people will eventually start leaving that kind of Church, or resisting it in whatever ways they can. As resistance builds, so will the desire to control and squelch that resistance. The tension of those two opposing forces within the Church eventually builds to a critical mass, which leads to big leaps forward for the Church. Those big leaps tend to happen about every five hundred years.
Every five hundred years, Satan’s Plan backfires in a big way, which God uses to draw His Church further forward into becoming more the True Bride. The first of those was the adoption of Christianity into the Roman Empire by Constantine and Theodosius. The second was the Great Schism between the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The third was the Protestant Reformation. And the fourth, well, the fourth is happening now. What is happening now?
The fourth big leap of the Church is a return to Contemplation.