Who is my Enemy?
Man or Devil?
For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. (Ephesians 6:12)
It would seem there is sometimes a dichotomy between evil spirits and “flesh and blood” when considering our enemies. I would like to reconcile this tension, by first reflecting on the nature of an “enemy,” as that will help us understand better how to resolve what Ephesians 6:12 teaches.
What is an Enemy?
The term, generally considered, can be explained thus: an enemy is one who has enmity with the vision or mission in which you abide in. If two have diametrically opposed missions, as a necessary consequence, both will be thrust into a competition. In business, when someone intentionally works against the mission or vision of that institution, they might be called “actively disengaged.” It is possible for some to passively work against that same vision - and this is a lighter enmity.
Consider it this way - you have a canoe, and two people are paddling. The one steering develops and determines the orientation and destination (mission), while the front person is the power-house that gives the canoe zeal and motion toward that end. Yet if they are in a disagreement about their destination, the power-house could attempt to manipulate the canoe in the wrong direction (active) or simply pout and do nothing. In effect, both will work against each other, and they will end up going in a circle, getting nowhere or lead to over-exhaustion to the only person who does the work.
Scripture teaches us that there tends to be a dichotomy between the mission of Man’s Kingdom and the mission of God’s Kingdom. To be clear, even though some things are shared between secular humanism and Christian humanism, the end of both is diametrically opposed. However, even within the human dynamic of the Church there can be a type of active disengagement from the mission and vision of Jesus that causes enmity to arise within its own ranks. This happens when Christ is no longer the standard guide to the mission, but the supposed creative genius of the human fallible mind displaces Him. In business terms - this is a problem to be solved, not a tension to be managed.
Who is my Enemy?
We might ask who are enemy is, given the description above. Assuming we are abiding in the mission of Jesus we can look to demons and corrupt sinners. It would seem that for the preternatural realm (diabolical) is exclusively in enmity with God’s mission. However, we know that man is also, at times, in direct odds with God’s mission. St. Paul himself, opposed Christ by persecuting the Church prior to his conversion.
I would suggest that there are two types of enemies: tenuously existing enemies, and definitive enemies.
By tenuous I would say that we have to balance to truths, we have to nuance this statement. Those human beings who are opposed to the Church’s mission (even if they are operating from within the Church) are enemies in one sense, but not another. They are enemies in the sense that their will is currently operating contrary to God’s mission. But they are also not enemies in a definitive sense because they have the potential like St. Paul did, to change.
Notice that I am not merely appealing to them as poor victims of the lies of the enemy - that would seem to imply they are not responsible for their own beliefs and choices. So we must hold in our hearts, out of charity and truth, that human enemies have the potential to become friends, and it is for this reason that we are called to will their good; to love them.
A definitive enemy is one to whom is an enemy without the possibility of change. Despite what Hollywood would suggest, the devil and his demons cannot have a conversion, nor are they misunderstood, yet good beings. In reality, the devil’s will is fixed on evil, permanently. There is no potential for the evil one to become my friend or find redemption. So in this sense, always and everywhere, the devil is only our enemy, and there is no other way to nuance that statement - it is black and white.
Our Principal Enemy
But this answer doesn’t entirely suffice to explain Ephesians 6:12. It seems to declare that flesh and blood are not our enemy at all. So while we can understand in what sense flesh and blood are not our enemy, how do we reconcile the very real phenomenon of those who oppose Christ’s mission yet are flesh and blood? Have we defined “enemy” incorrectly?
The way we can understand this passage is that man is never the principle enemy. St. Thomas Aquinas puts it this way: “When flesh and blood attack us, it is not themselves principally but from a higher moving force, namely, from the devil” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Ephesians, C6 L3). In other words, while man is responsible for allowing himself to be moved by the devil’s vision/mission, it is nonetheless the devil who is principally the agent at work in regard to evil.
So as St. Thomas concludes, “supply ‘only’ so that we could say our wrestling is not only against flesh and blood without it also being against the devil.’” (IBID).
4 Reasons this is Important
(Missio Dei; Beatitude; Deliverance; Humility)
If we are love our enemy and yet we declare that there is no such human being as such, then Christ’s words were empty of meaning. We will not actively seek opportunities to love our enemy - likely because we will devolve Ephesians 6 into some type of indifferentism or pluralism. In other words, a love of our enemy is the manifestation of a love for the Missio Dei.
Second, we must understand what it means to ‘love your enemy.’ It means that we will that their mission and vision be aligned to the same as God’s. From this we get two beatitudes: those who are persecuted or those who are peacemakers.
Those who are peacemakers are not only attempting to make peace, but they make it. That is they are successful in establishing peace in a shared vision that comes from God. But failure often happens, and for those, blessed are the persecuted. There is nothing between the two, because we are either “for or against” God. If one rejects the mission, then they are opposed to it. So in both cases, we must love our enemy and will their conversion in as much as we will our own when considering that it is not “my mission” but God’s that we’ve adopted.
Third, it is important to consider the evil one as the ultimate protagonist behind flesh and blood. While this doesn’t absolve our enemies as such of sin, it does help us offer them compassion in the human condition’s susceptibility to err due to our fallen-state. While sin can keep us stuck in error, or lead us into it, it is all the more difficult to overcome when there is an agent working hard to lead us into error about God’s own mission (he has his counterfeit versions). Therefore, we must address the root of the problem (the principle) in order to help liberate and make easier the process of conversion. For this reason Unbound and deliverance, and fasting and praying are very helpful ways of inviting God to offer the soul protection so that it can be liberated enough to allow the ray of light to touch the intellect and heart of us poor sinners.
Finally, it is ever important to maintain in our hearts the hope of redemption in our enemies. I often encounter in others a refusal to believe that people can change. We develop a definitive mindset of our enemies. We are not imaginative of how God’s grace can transform them; and perhaps forgetful of how God has and can continue to transform ourselves.
If we do not believe an enemy can change, we will not begin the process of evangelization - we will not cooperate with God’s plan of grace, and thus our prejudice may turn into a self-fulfilling prophesy. In many ways seeking the conversion of sinners is the remedy to this type of judgmental spirit, because it forces the mind to be open to the idea that this person may become a greater and holier person than I.
Can I be my own enemy?
The short answer is yes - but this requires a further explanation. If an enemy is someone who doesn’t share the same mission as you, how is it possible to be your own enemy?
The reason it is possible is due to the simple fact that people are not simple. That is to say we can be fragmented - we can have an inner-dissonance. One particular example of this is where our moral character doesn’t line up with our natural purpose. Our natural end is in God, but our moral character can be ordered towards some worldly idol. In this sense we can find within ourselves a natural disposition toward God, but a practical behavior that moves us in the opposite direction. That is the “ought” of our vision isn’t lined up to the reality of our vision. In this case, we are our own worst enemy. When I think of Judas, his vision was different than Jesus’. Yet, his vision was also contrary to himself. When he betrayed Christ, he also betrayed himself. If Jesus is our head, we hurt ourselves by rejecting Christ.