A note from Clinton E. Arnold, Dean of Talbot School of Theology
One of the blessings for Talbot as a seminary embedded in a Christian university are the many faculty members who teach in the other disciplines and have so much to offer the larger Christian community. Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, Professor of Communication at Biola, is one of those blessings. We recently spoke together at a marriage conference that touched on the relevance of spiritual warfare for marriage. Tim has recently published a fantastic book on this topic called, Defending Your Marriage: The Reality of Spiritual Warfare for InterVarsity Press. I asked him if I could excerpt a portion of his book for the Good Book Blog.
Making Sense of Our Adversary
“I love my husband, but I just can’t shake these thoughts.”
Sandy sat before me holding her husband’s hand avoiding eye contact. She explained that after 15 years of marriage and raising two kids she decided to get serious about her faith. They started going to church together and even doing occasional family devotions.“Then out of the blue I start having these crazy thoughts that perhaps we shouldn’t have gotten married.”
She squeezed her husband’s hand knowing the pain such words caused. Over time, she was consumed by the realization that she didn’t consult God when her husband proposed.“What if God had someone else for me? What if he had an entirely different plan for my life? I can’t stop asking all the what ifs ... it’s like a never-ending loop in my brain.”
We went through the normal checklist: meeting with their pastor, marital counseling, praying for God’s peace, memorizing Scripture, and so on. She affirmed that they’d done all of that, and yet the thoughts kept coming.
“Am I crazy?” she said looking up.
“No,” I responded. “I think you are under spiritual attack.”
To my recollection, that was the first time I had ever suggested such a possibility. After 30 years of counseling couples and speaking at marriage conferences, it would not be my last. All couples experience the normal ups and downs of marriage: We argue and make up; we appreciate the strengths of our spouse even when those very strengths sometimes greatly annoy us; we struggle to forgive, but eventually do. Yet, after listening to couples — and my own experience — there are times when something else is going on. Times in a marriage when negative thoughts or anger simply will not go away.
If that’s your experience, what is the next step?
New Testament writers advocate that the first step isn’t to learn a set of spiritual warfare techniques but, rather, to gather information. The apostle Paul writes to young believers in Corinth that in order to keep Satan from outwitting us we must become aware “of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). Early church leaders understood that following Jesus necessarily meant paying attention to the demonic. Christian author Kenneth Boa notes that “about 25 percent of Jesus’ ministry as recorded in the Gospels involved deliverance from demonic affliction.” He then draws a chilling conclusion, “The forces of evil did not disappear when Jesus left the earth.” If Jesus devoted so much time to the demonic realm and it still exists today, then why are significant segments of the modern church so reluctant to address it?
Far from learning about our opposition, many within the Western church simply ignore the reality of Satan. This aversion to spiritual opposition is not shared by our brothers and sisters within the global community. While spending a summer in Nairobi, Kenya, doing relief work with local churches, I was struck by how local leaders prayed for us. Before we’d head out, a leader would pray for God’s protection against evil forces bent on disrupting our efforts. Why are so many within the Western church leery to do the same?
Excerpted from Defending Your Marriage: The Reality of Spiritual Battle, by Tim Muehlhoff (professor of communication; and also author, speaker and research consultant with Biola’s Center for Marriage and Relationships)
©2018 by Tim Muehlhoff. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. | ivpress.com.