Of Weak Wills and Wishful Thinking

In early October 1938 —­ 83 years ago this week ­— Nazi German forces marched into the Sudetenland in western Czechoslovakia. European leaders, intimidated by Adolf Hitler’s bullying, had ceded the territory to Germany just days earlier at a conference in Munich. Massive Czech fortifications that could have provided a stout defense against invasion were instead peacefully abandoned, and the Germans took over the region without firing a shot.

A few days later, Hitler himself made an inspection of some of the empty concrete bunkers. He even tested one by ordering an artillery unit to fire on it. It took several direct hits before the bunker cracked. Quite impressed, Hitler said with a laugh, “What does it mat­ter how strong the concrete is — so long as the will is weak!”

God has provided His people with all the tools we need to resist the assaults of our spiritual enemy, Satan. Paul describes the “armor” that is supplied for our defense: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, God’s word. Equipped with these things, we can “resist in the evil day and…stand firm” (Ephesians 6:11-17). But what does it matter how strong the armor is unless I am willing to put it on? What does it matter how mighty the sword is unless I am willing to wield it?

Notice the verbs in this passage: “take up … resist … stand firm … put on … be on the alert.” Such lan­guage emphasizes my responsibility to fight the enemy. God provides the armor, but it’s up to us to put it on and take the battlefield.

Back to 1938: Upon returning home from the meeting in Munich, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain hailed the agreement as “peace with honour…peace for our time.” He thought (or wished) that this concession to the enemy would prevent open conflict. It didn’t. The agreement hinged on Hitler’s promise to make no further territorial demands — a promise that, it soon became clear, he never intended to keep. The surrender of territory only delayed (and arguably encouraged) the inevitable: within a year, Germany had invaded Poland and Europe was at war.

Satan, likewise, is not an enemy with whom we can make peace. He is “a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We may foolishly think we can avoid conflict with him through appeasement — a little compromise of truth here, a little caving to peer pressure there. But we must realize this: the war is already on, and appeasement merely plays into the enemy’s hands. Our mandate is, “Be of sober spirit; be on the alert…resist him, firm in your faith” (verses 8-9).

Peter wrote those words to Christians who faced the very real prospect of persecution. As Satan attacked them spiritually, he used others to attack them socially, economically, even physically. There would be immense pressure to avert those assaults by various surrenders (perhaps seemingly small) of their convictions. But to do so would only give Satan the dominion he sought. The same is true for us, regardless of what pressures our enemy may bring to bear, regardless of what concessions we might be tempted to make.

We are at war, folks. Yet “we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). Appeasement is not an option; surrender is not an option; only firm resolve and resistance, with faith in “God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).