Christians have always struggled to understand sin. We know something is wrong. Yet we still do it. Saint Paul struggled mightily with this, if we are to read between the lines of his letters. Many Christian saints struggled heroically against sin and sometimes with the undeniable strain of sadomasochism in it all.
At the end of the letter to the Ephesians, a final message is given to the believers, a word of encouragement, and the language of battle and struggle:
Brothers and sisters:
Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.
Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.
For our struggle is not with flesh and blood
but with the principalities, with the powers,
with the world rulers of this present darkness,
with the evil spirits in the heavens.
Therefore, put on the armor of God,
that you may be able to resist on the evil day
and, having done everything, to hold your ground.
So stand fast with your loins girded in truth,
clothed with righteousness as a breastplate,
and your feet shod in readiness for the Gospel of peace.
In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield,
to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit,
which is the word of God.
With all prayer and supplication,
pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.
To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication
for all the holy ones
My own sense with this sort of imagery has been one of questioning. Frankly, I don’t care for the language of fighting and battle. As a kid, I never found fighting to be edifying. And it was worse when I won a fight than when I lost.
On the other hand, preparing for battle is very much a given in the Christian tradition. So how do I honor this? I think the way through is to be prepared, as for a battle.
The engagement with sin is most definitely a struggle. And while I might be tempted to put the blame on forces outside of me, the reality is that I am culpable for my actions. I might profess that I don’t want to do something sinful. But I do it anyway. It suggests to me there are layers and levels within me I do not know. God, alas, has made me a complicated being. I don’t understand the electrochemistry of the mind. But I still have a working brain. I don’t understand doing what I do not want to do, but I still sin.
The advice to the Ephesians is to prepare. I appreciate the counsel to prepare my feet to move toward peace. I might extend this to God’s encouragement to be prepare to move myself, possibly with haste and in a forced march, to opportunities to reconcile to those with whom I am estranged. If such footwear will help promote peace, then I should be prepared to wear it, no?