Slumped in their muddy trenches, with darkness settling over the battlefield, soldiers of the First World War were on edge. In the pitch black night, a flare lit up the sky over their trench, almost like a lightbulb, hanging in the sky, slowly falling back down to earth. Their heart skips a beat: the enemy is coming — then, darkness and nothing but the sound of clanging metal and the enemy running toward them.
In war, that’s all the enemy needs, a momentary pause.
To us, it might seem like shooting a flare would ruin the element of surprise. But their enemy had another strategy: blindness. In that moment it took for the soldier’s eyes to readjust to the darkness, the enemy would run across the battlefield into the other side’s trenches.
We experience the same effect every time we walk out of a dark movie theater into a blazing summer day. In war, that’s all the enemy needs, a momentary pause.
The same is true spiritually. Hesitation in the fight against sin can bring ruin. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth using the language of war. He described his ministry in these terms: “…we destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God — and take every thought captive to obey Christ”. (emphasis mine) For Paul, the Christian life demands vigilance.
Hesitation in the fight against sin can bring ruin.
But maybe you’ve heard Paul applied this way: “every thought means every single thought that enters your brain must be taken captive, because every thought can lead you to sin if you’re not careful.” So, we spend our day hyper-obsessed with our thoughts, concluding that we’re obeying Paul’s command to take every thought captive, both conscious and subconscious.
The human brain, on average, thinks about 100 thoughts a minute. Many emerge from our subconscious. This hyper-application is almost impossible, unless you’re completely focused on your thought pattern to the exclusion of everything and everyone else in your day to day life.
What Paul has in mind is not an obsessive compulsive management of our thought life, but the willingness to follow certain thought patterns down to their very source, and to combat the deeper beliefs and narratives that are driving our thoughts with the true narrative of the gospel. Are we to ignore fighting that urge to trash someone’s character in a conversation? Yes, absolutely. Take that captive. But also, follow that thought to the deeper belief.
We must see both clearly: the false narratives and true narrative. Which brings us back to the soldiers in the trenches of World War I.
Followers of Jesus need two eyes: one to see the goodness of our Savior, and the other to see clearly the false gospels that are still deadly in the darkness.
Before night vision goggles, these soldiers developed an ingenious and simple solution to the temporary blindness of a flare. Soldiers on the night watch would simply keep one eye closed, perfectly adjusted to the darkness. Once a flare burned out, the soldiers would open their good eye, already adjusted to darkness, and would be able to see the enemy.
In this way, followers of Jesus need two eyes: one to see the goodness of our Savior, and the other to see clearly the false gospels that are still deadly in the darkness. And just like soldiers in the trenches, so too we need church in the trenches; brothers and sisters who have our back, who see what we can’t, and help us fight to believe deeper in the good news of Jesus.