Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. – Ephesians 5:16
In Shakespeare’s Othello the evil character Iago acts out his hatred for one man, and his contempt for people in general, by dividing. He whispers insinuations to Othello, then to his beloved wife Desdemona, and his caption Cassio as well, arousing suspicions between them as he manipulates each against the other. In the end, lives are lost and hearts are broken, all because people believed Iago’s lies and acted on them.
Divide and conquer is a time honored game, and why not? If you can get your enemies to destroy each other, you can reap the benefits without doing the
I’ve come to think that alone is one of Satan’s most potent devices, and one of his commonest. He divides. In the art of division he’s a skilled, experienced surgeon. He knows how to cut, and when, and whom. Just as Iago understood then exploited the weaknesses of the people he hated, so the Devil knows, and speaks to, our points of vulnerability.
Look no further than your own experience for examples. How many times have your friendships suffered because of misunderstandings, small in the beginning, that mushroomed into upheavals?
It begins with a whispered suspicion – What was that look for? Why no return call? What was that remark supposed to mean? – that plays into our insecurities, insecurities our enemy knows too well. Where there’s a gap of doubt, he fills in the blanks with the worst interpretation (“That look meant contempt”; “He didn’t call because he doesn’t care”; “That remark was an insult”) and then — well, let the games begin. We’ve all seen the wreck of relationships happening over one misunderstanding piled atop another.
Iago, of course, never let on to Othello how much he hated him. He posed, in fact, as a concerned friend trying to help. So He poses instead as our intuition, or our observation skills, telling us lies then lying about the source of the lies. Clever, I’ll give him that. He knows which buttons to push, and the power of a few darts thrown among friends.
But they’re quenchable darts, or so says Paul. Utilizing the shield of faith as prescribed, we can avoid the divide and conquer trap. I’m dealing with this as I write this post, because of what seems to be a particularly strong season of spiritual warfare, and a few points keep coming to me in my efforts to not become an Othello-like statistic.
First, we’ve got to assume we’re presuming. When a situation causes us to think badly of someone, we handle it better when we recognize we’re probably judging both the person and the situation prematurely. Moreover, we’re probably doing that because something about the person or situation pushes our buttons of vulnerability, so we’d best do a reality check before concluding anything.
Second, we’ve got to risk looking stupid, if need be, by asking direct questions. If only Othello had plainly said to his wife, “This is what Iago told me. Is it true?” then the play would have had a markedly different final scene. This especially speaks to me, as I’d rather be tortured than look dumb, much less vulnerable. But there’s a place for me simply asking, “You know, what you said struck me this way. Is that how you meant it?”, because that little query alone could protect a treasured bond.
Finally, we’ve got to value the bond more than our “rightness.” Jesus said the whole world would know we’re followers of Christ by our love for each other (John 13:35) so clearly our relations are no mere luxuries we can afford to toss. The value of a friendship outweighs the satisfaction of being right, so when there’s tension between me and another, my first goal should be to preserve the friendship, not to win the argument.
I’d rather win the war, anyway, and it’s not a war waged against cherished members of His body. When darts fly, as they do and will, I’ve got to remember who’s who, and distinguish between my allies and the enemy of my soul.
So I hope in the coming years, however many we’ve got left, we frustrate the Dart Thrower by talking when he wants us to avoid, trusting when he wants us to suspect, and loving when he’d love nothing more than for us to abandon each other. We’re not to be ignorant of his devices (II Corinthians 2:11) and I’ll be literally damned if I’m going to let myself cave to any one of them.