In the book Grace Upon Grace the author, Dr. John Kleinig, describes Satan’s attack on Christians and the Church. Kleinig notes that we too quickly think of spiritual battle in supernatural or spectacular ways. We think of Satan doing glamorous things like sending demons to attack or haunt us. Rather, Satan, as “the father of lies,” most powerfully emphasizes himself by lying to us, and getting us to believe a lie. Specifically, Kleinig cites Satan’s attempts to lead us to sin—to engage in behavior which promises comfort or pleasure—as Satan’s “front door” lie. By believing such a lie, we are led away from our faith in Jesus Christ, or we are lead to a sense of guilt that tempts us to believe that Christ could no longer forgive us.
Kleinig then comments on Satan’s “back door” attack. I find his description powerful, convicting and fascinating; I read it as a serious caution. Kleinig writes:
“In the front door attack he [Satan] tries to break into the conscience by attacking our faith in Christ; in the back door attack he attempts to gain a secret foothold by attacking our love for our fellow Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is how it works! Satan gets another Christian to sin against us in deed or word. It pleases Satan if a person with spiritual significance or authority, such as a parent, pastor, spouse or leader in the Church sins against us. Their spiritual status, their office, magnifies their offense and intensifies the damage that it does. This is a kind of ritual abuse, the misuse of holy things against us.
After the offense has occurred, Satan gets us to brood over it, like a stuck track or a video loop, repeatedly and obsessively in our minds, with every greater emphasis on the gravity and injustice of it. As we process the offense and its effect on us, Satan gradually distorts our remembrance and our assessment of it. He uses this offense to encourage us to bring our mental accusations against the offender in the court of our minds. There he presides over the proceedings as we hold a secret trial in which we both prosecute and pass judgment on the wrongdoer.
The more we brood on the offense, the angrier we get against the offender. We remember all the other offenses that we have ever suffered from that person and all the other people that have ever hurt us. And that fuels our anger and our desire for justice. We maintain that we are in the right; we are justified in our judgment of them. We hold the moral high ground against them. Then, before we know it, anger leads to bitterness and resentment. This, in turn, leads to outrage, hatred, and lust for revenge. And so we end up stewing in our own poison.
When we begin to hate those whom we should love, Satan has us where he wants us. Once hatred sets in, he can slowly and patiently dislodge us from the Church and from Christ.”
Kleinig’s words deserve to be soaked up and reread. He proceeds by further describing the effects of Satan’s “back door” attack.
“In 1 John 3:7-15, St. John describes this process well. Hatred is spiritual suicide. It marks the end of eternal life, the new life we have in Christ. Anger is seductive because it makes us feel justified in hating those who have hurt us. We are right and they are wrong. We are right in hating them and taking revenge on them because they are our enemies.
The revenge that we take is subtle and hidden. We don’t usually attack them physically or verbally, but emotionally and spiritually. We write them off and give them the cold shoulder. We reject them in our hearts, dissociate ourselves from them, and treat them as if they were dead to us. That, says John, is spiritual murder.
Sadly, by cutting ourselves off from our brothers and sisters in Christ, we cut ourselves off from Christ as well. The upshot of that is withdrawal from the family of God and increasing isolation in the darkness of hatred. That is a kind of spiritual suicide, for hatred opens up a secret place for Satan in our hearts.
This attack from behind is far more common than we realize. It wreaks havoc in the lives of Christians and many Christian communities. It is potent in its impact and destructive in its effects. Yet, God does not stop Satan from using it in the lives of His people. It is a risky tactic because it can so easily backfire on the evil on. In fact, God uses it to destroy our self-righteousness and to build up the Church as a community of grace, a society of forgiven and forgiving sinners. As our anger and desire for justice expose the spiritual fallout from the bad things that others have done to us, we learn, by God’s grace, to face what has happened, seek healing from the damage that has been done, and forgive as we ourselves have been forgiven.”
Source: John W. Kleinig, Grace Upon Grace (Concordia Publishing, 2008), 234-236.