Citizens of Western democracies have grown accustomed to a high degree of personal autonomy in their lives; autonomy that was not just embraced as a privilege but expected as a right!
However, the Corona Virus Pandemic has powerfully exposed the tenuous nature of this so-called freedom. This current crisis has revealed that those allegedly hard fought and won personal freedoms, often romantically pondered during remembrance day ceremonies, appear to be little more than a genie that can quickly be ordered back into the bottle of austerity, at The State’s bidding. Now that we are fully aware of this and having painfully experienced it, its only reasonable we ask some searching questions: ‘ What power is actually manipulating the circumstances that impinge on our personal freedoms?’ and ‘Who is really in control of our lives?’
These are important questions for Christians, because we can easily lose sight of where our focus should be. So lets look at the options…
The State: The natural and most obvious answer to these questions, is the elected government. In a democracy, such as the one we live in, The State is represented as a governing body democratically elected by the people to act on behalf of the people. In the Australian context this democracy operates on a local, state, and federal level; each constituency governed by leaders who have received approval from the popular majority via an electoral system. It is a relationship built on trust; the people vote in the political leadership it believes to be most competent and trustworthy for a given term; the leaders then accept that trust as a mandate to make decisions on behalf of the people.
As far as political systems go, it’s a relatively good one; providing structure to human life that is, for the most part, beneficial for vast majority under its governing umbrella. But does The State have the high degree of influence we attribute to it? Is it’s power ultimate?
As much as we would like to think this democratically elected state has the final say on the major influences acting on us, and that they are really exercising ‘our power’ on ‘our behalf’, it is not always the case. In fact, the system is often corrupted by selfish human ambition. There have been, and continues to be, elected representatives who covertly engage in self-serving illegal practices: misappropriating public funds, abusing personal privileges, using their influence to favor interest groups they are aligned with, and falsely using media coverage to advance their political careers.
Furthermore, we are witnessing on an increasing level the rise of vocal minorities and powerful lobby groups in concert with the mainstream media, exercising undue leverage in the formal political process. As we have come to see, the media wields a great deal of power in the modern age and in response to it, politicians often find themselves having to pander to media-augmented interest groups in order to maintain their popularity and capacity to govern. Which necessarily leads us to consider the notion that there must be deeper powers operating beneath The State; a force or forces vying for control of our lives with their own agendas.
The Deep State: Although many people would like to deny such a thing as a ‘deep state’ , that ubiquitous power-system animated by strong self-interest agendas, operating beneath the level of official government, such a denial is wishfully naive.
Anyone who has had any meaningful involvement in a political party, a religious organization, or social club will be familiar with the notion of deep power. Powerful and ambitious individuals and factions who: ‘stack’ committees with complicit members to push through their agenda, who gain control of information outlets to promote their ideology, and incentivize incumbent leadership in order to positively influence their cause. Its that old ‘selfish’ human nature again, only this time operating beneath the level of the official organization.
If activity of this kind exists a local institutional level, it most certainly can and does exist on a grander scale. Indeed, it is common knowledge that nearly every country in the world has secret agencies working behind the scenes of official government to protect their deep interests, organizations such as: ASIS, MI6, CIA, KGB, and MOSSAD. These organizations not only collect intelligence on behalf of their governments but actively engage in clandestine operations, with the explicit intent of bringing about a socio-political outcome advantageous to ‘the cause’, even whilst attributing the blame to an entity they wish to disempower.
Furthermore, the deep state does not only exists through the operations of government funded secret agencies. It also finds form by means of powerful interest groups; groups with immense capital bases seeking to promote their interests, even on a global level. Entities as powerful as foreign countries infiltrating state institutions to sway the regime in their favor, or powerful corporate groups such as technology and pharmaceutical companies, or even global media outlets, all seeking to gain some advantage by manipulating the formal political process. As previously suggested, given the natural proclivity of the human condition toward selfishness, this should come as no surprise.
Because the deep state is replete with conspiracies, it naturally attracts a lot attention from suspicious individuals eager to expose its detailed plots. Using the few pieces of the puzzle they find, these whistle-blowers patch up conspiracy theories, in an attempt to formulate a believable thesis for who is really manipulating important events that influence their world. But, with only partial or incomplete information at their disposal, their conclusions often present as outlandish and misguided. Moreover, these theorists often become unwitting agents of those perpetrating the conspiracies; making the conspiracy out to be so ridiculous as to be unbelievable, thus providing a helpful diversion or cover-up for the perpetrator’s actual malevolent cause.
As tempting as it might be to plumb the depths of the deep state, unless one has the resources of an organization such as the CIA the exercise is simply futile. In fact, the best the discerning citizen can hope for, is to acknowledge the deep state’s existence and avoid, both, being deceived by its conspirators and distracted by the conspiracy theories surrounding it. Such a person must be constantly vigilant in aligning themselves with what they know is true, in order to make falsehood patently obvious when it does present itself.
Notwithstanding this, for the Christian the deep state is a lessor concern. For there is a state eminently more powerful than the Deep State, an entity relentlessly exercising its malevolent influence over the world, especially the Christian world. This entity might be appropriately designated the Dark State.
The Dark State: Perhaps, no one has incurred the ire of human power structures more than the Apostle Paul. As he advanced the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the first century Mediterranean world, he continually roused the anger of the Jewish religious authorities, the Roman government, and various commercial interest groups who saw his message as a threat to their businesses. But the apostle did not view the opposition arrayed against him as primarily animated by human agendas, rather he was given divine insight to look behind the thin veil of human activity and see who was really ‘pulling the strings’; he writes, ‘ For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’ Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)
Paul understood that behind corrupt human influences is a cosmic host of evil forces working relentlessly to deceive, distract, and destroy all that is good, especially anything that promotes the good news of Jesus Christ. But his brief assessment of the demonic world, reveals more than random gangs of demons running around like a lawless mob wrecking havoc on human existence. Paul understood that the powers of evil are represented in a carefully organized hierarchy. This is why he speaks of rulers and authorities…in the heavenly realms. For him, there is a definite structure and order to this dark kingdom.
In support of this, the prophetic book of Daniel tells of a heavenly battle between the Daniel’s divine messenger and the demonic Prince over the Persian kingdom (Daniel 10). The account notes that not until the archangel Michael appeared three weeks into the battle, was the divine messenger able to proceed to Daniel and deliver his message. This account implies that there are evil hierarchies assigned to specific human imperial forces, ordered to manipulate actions against God and his people. This being the case, it must also follow that there must be lower ranks of evil working to disrupt the purposes of God at every level of human existence.
Indeed, Paul suggests as much, in a letter to his protege Timothy. In it, he implies that many opponents of the gospel (even those within the church who present as Christian) are actually ‘under the spell’ of Satan, unwittingly controlled by his deceptive ways to purposefully derail the truth at a local church level. In writing of these captive opponents, he says, ‘God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.’ 2 Tim 2;26 (ESV)
Further to this, the evil forces aligned with the Dark State, don’t ‘only’ have power to influence the thoughts of unwitting humans through their supernatural power, they also have power to directly influence human existence in very real, tangible, and painful ways.
In the book of Job we witness the account of Satan bringing to bear direct supernatural forces against the life and livelihood of Job–a God-fearing man. Satan directs marauders to steal Job’s livestock and kill his servants, he then generates fire from heaven to destroy Job’s larger flocks, he empowers nature in the form of a windstorm to destroy the house in which Job’s family was feasting, thus killing them. Not only so, but he supernaturally inflicts Job with a painful skin disease in an attempt to get him to curse God. This dark power is real and potent.
As you can see, without divine insight the influence of the State and the Deep State seem ultimate. But an awareness of the existence of a Dark State opens up a new vista–albeit an unpleasant one. Indeed, what is often perpetrated by malevolent human governance actually finds has its genesis in this dark cosmic realm.The Dark State’s influence is ubiquitous and relentless, against it no human can hope to stand–at least in their own strength.
At this point you might be feeling somewhat overwhelmed by all that is arrayed against you. I admit, having only this much of the picture a person could easily be driven to despair; believing there is no hope for our beleaguered existence, as we are destined to be overwhelmed by the greater forces of evil.
But, thankfully, this is not the whole picture, in fact its really only a small part of it. For behind and above the Dark State, the Deep State, and the State, is a kingdom so powerful, so mighty, and so glorious that it eclipses any State the human imagination could possibly conceive of –the Kingdom of God.
The Divine State: The divine state is represented in the Bible as the Kingdom of God, that eternal dominion of God’s sovereign rule. Of course, this Divine State is not a higher extension of the Dark State, but an all encompassing entity that only permits evil to exist in order that God’s ultimate purposes might be fulfilled–the redemption of his true followers, the restoration of his fallen world, and the eternal glorification of his holy name.
Despite how things look like here and now, God is moving history toward an ultimate climax, in which Jesus Christ will return and restore the Kingdom of God, in all its eternal glory. God ‘is’ in control of all things.
However, the term ‘God is in control’ is often spoken in Christian circles with careless abandon, readily presented as a cheap consolation to assuage the anguish those suffering trials of any kind. Yet, when we understand the truth of such a statement in the light of what was previously discussed, it regains a fresh gravity. God, the ultimate source of all that is good ‘is’ ultimately in control–that is to say, nothing happens outside the scope of his sovereign will. Nothing the State, the Deep State, or even the Dark State do, can be accomplished without God’s divine permission.
Stop and think about these facts for a moment. God spoke the world into existence, creating all there is from nothing. God created the angels, even those who eventually fell, including Satan. He created humanity, and when they fell from his favor through sinful rebellion, he already had a plan to rescue them–ultimately revealed through the death of Jesus Christ. This plan was so comprehensive in nature, that it was actually formulated before the world came into existence: ‘All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast– all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.’ Rev 13:8 (ESV) What is foreshadowed in Revelation 13 about the end times, was taken into account by God even before anything came into existence–the end was planned before the beginning occurred!
Indeed, even Satan, that great and powerful prince of darkness, is bound to conform to God’s plan. Want proof? We know Satan orchestrated the demise of Job’s family and his material wealth. However, what we also need to know is that he could only do so because God allowed him : ‘The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.’ Job 1:12 (NIV) In fact, this is not the only case in scripture where permission is sought by Satan and granted by God.
A glimpse of the secret council of God is also given to us in Jesus’ interaction with Peter in Luke’s gospel: ‘”Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31 (NIV) As with Job, Satan receives permission to test Peter. Jesus predicts that he will fail the test, but also foreshadows his subsequent restoration. Peter has been given a glimpse into his own future by Jesus, a future inexorably hardwired into God’s sovereign plan. As we know, despite Peter’s best efforts to resist that future, it transpires exactly as Jesus said.
Now, I do not have the time and space to enter into a lengthy discussion about the interplay between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, except to say both are true. God’s sovereignty did not negate Peter’s responsibility to act rightly. The fact that God allowed for Peter’s failure and restoration, I actually find a source of great comfort.
Therefore, despite the designs of evil to bring about the injury of a Christian, the divine purposes of God will not allow that failure to be permanent. This truth helps us realize, that despite the myriad of evil arrayed against us, God will not allow his genuine followers to fall beyond redemption. He truly does hold them in the ‘palm of his hand’.
My State: So now that we know all this, how does this alter ‘my’ state (of mind)?
Well, firstly, who or what we believe ‘really’ controls our lives, determines how we think, how we act, and how we live–it determines our future.
If I believe the State has ultimate control of my life I will eventually be disappointed, feeling let down, even betrayed. But understood in the light of the Divine State, I can view the State as God’s instrument to serve his ultimate purposes, as Paul suggests, ‘Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.’ Romans 13:1 (NIV)
If I believe the Deep State has ultimate control, I will live a life of constant fear and suspicion, seeing a conspiracy in everything news report, anxiously waiting for the next conspiracy generated calamity to overcome me. Because of this, people either become obsessed with it or pretend it does not exist. Both positions are unhelpful. Although it does exist, the Deep State should hold no fear for the Christian, because he/she knows that nothing transpires outside of God’s sovereign initiative.
If I believe the Dark State has ultimate control, or at least, is a force equal and opposite to God, I really do have just cause for despair. Many people in the world are held captive by New Age beliefs, animistic religions, and occult practices–in bondage to Satan’s power, and will remain so until they encounter Jesus Christ in a true and meaningful way. The Christian, on the other hand, whilst free from Satan’s control, must be vigilant not to succumb to his relentless attacks, as the apostle Peter suggests, ‘Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.’ 1 Peter 5:8-9 (NIV)
If, however, I believe that the Divine State has ultimate control, I am truly the most blessed of all people. It means that I have escaped the futility of a life captive to Satan’s designs; freed by faith in Jesus Christ, having a hope that extends beyond this life into the enduring reality of God’s eternal kingdom. I means I am no longer anxious and fearful about what life holds, I can see purpose in all things (even bad things). Because my hope in anchored in God, I am not overcome with disappointment when life’s circumstances go against me or the world betrays me.
When I recapture a vision of God’s kingdom and God’s kingship, I can look at the world through fresh eyes. The Corona Virus Pandemic is no longer a dreadful crisis that ruins my life, but a magnificent opportunity to boldly share the hope that I have found through faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ; its a chance to show that my hope is in God and that bad circumstances cannot alter this. It enables me to remain joyful, while the rest of the world despairs. Indeed, it allows me to become a beacon shining in the dark, offering hope to a lost world (at least the world I interact with).
When I believe God is in control, that he is sovereign, that he is victorious, it changes everything. It changes my state of mind, my disposition, my immediate sphere of influence–it changes my world. It enables hope to displace doubt, and love to displace fear. The night doesn’t seem so long and the dawn is already breaking through–eternity is already at hand. It is then, and only then, I realize that I am truly free.
To God be the glory.