Spiritual Warfare with a Comfy Chair

Before you start reading this, let me warn you that I sometimes make weird connections between one event or word and another.

Last night I attended a portion of a 24 hour praise and worship marathon. Since I like my comfort pretty well, I took along a nice, comfortable, folding, cloth chair. As I sat there listening to and participating in the music, I told a few of my friends who stopped by to greet me that I was conducting spiritual warfare from a “comfy chair.” This was good for a number of laughs.

When I got home I remembered another connection. In one of the Monty Python episodes several characters, representing the Spanish inquisition, keep on appearing in the scenes. This is the episode that uses the phrase, “Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition!”

In one of those incidents the inquisitors are preparing to torture someone, and they call for the “comfy chair.” The victim has to sit in the comfy chair, presumably being pressured into confessing. It makes for a good laugh. Those who have seen it will know that it views much better than it tells.

But this weird chain of connections got me back to thinking about spiritual warfare and what it is; more importantly, what it is not.

Spiritual warfare is one metaphor used in scripture for the struggles of the Christian life. It’s a bit ironic, though many people who teach and claim to practice spiritual warfare miss the irony and tend to take this literally. Even though Paul tells us that our struggle is not against “flesh and blood,” that is people, many people use spiritual warfare against people. Often this is covered up by saying that one is just going after the spirit, not the person. But many times this distinction is not upheld in practice, and a person can be just as much despised for being troubled by the spirit of something as if they are blamed for all their behavior themselves. “A spirit made me do it” doesn’t work any better than “the devil made me do it.” In addition, it is easy to equate spiritual warfare only with battling “spirits” (however one conceives of them), rather than with all the broader struggles of life.

The first response to this is to read carefully the way in which the metaphor is used in scripture. Clearly, the broad difficulties of one’s own Christian life are intended as the primary topic. Spiritual warfare involves battling against those things that keep one from moving forward spiritually. Applying this metaphor to one’s own spiritual life avoids the difficulties that result from trying to fight other people through spiritual means, such as negative prayers, accusations, and spiritual or emotional pressure.

The irony, of course, is that our weapons of warfare are supposed to be contradictory to the normal nature of war, and thus there is the irony of the whole metaphor. Let me illustrate from the gospels. Jesus suggested a procedure for dealing with someone who had offended you in Matthew 18:15-17. One was to go to the person alone first, then with two or three witnesses, and then in front of the whole congregation. If this process of successive efforts to resolve the issue didn’t work, you were then permitted to treat that person as a gentile and a tax collector. But how was it that Jesus treated the tax collectors? Well, he went and ate with them. One of the accusations against him was that he associated with the wrong people.

That’s why I think that the comfy chair is the perfect adjunct to spiritual warfare, just as it was a very humorous torture implement in the Monty Python episode. What does the comfy chair represent?

  • Love for one’s neighbor
  • Hospitality, even for those we don’t like
  • Non-judgmental attitudes
  • Listening to people with respect
  • Treating people with respect
  • Recognizing that just because our neighbors are different doesn’t mean they’re bad

Ultimately “comfy chair” spiritual warfare is the kind of spiritual warfare where we refuse to get frustrated, where we treat people with respect, and where no matter what the form of attack may be, our response is one of love–not smothering, manipulative love, but rather the kind of love that results in treating other people as they would like to be treated.

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