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Angela Tilby: Good v. evil is played out on the internet  

30 September 2022


“AND there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was there place found any more in heaven” (Revelation 12.7-8).

The fall of “the deceiver of the whole world” is a wonderfully dramatic moment in the Apocalypse. But we should not see it in terms of a future event. It refers to what is going on now in the world of power struggles, land grabs, oppression within and between nations.

Walter Wink, in his great trilogy about the meaning of power in the New Testament, sees the heavenly war as a reflection of spiritual warfare on earth. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all engaged in a succession of battles between good and evil which is going on all the time. Jesus saw Satan fall as lightning from heaven in response to the mission of the disciples. The angels that fall from heaven continue to wreak havoc on earth — but victory is assured.

Such apocalyptic passages do not fit easily into a progressive view of history. Time is not an upward curve from primeval slime to the city of God. Every past and future empire, every advance in human power and achievement, is a manifestation of unseen forces of good and evil. It is the continuing task of those who believe in Christ to discern the good and unmask what is evil. This is never obvious or straightforward. The devil, we are told, is a deceiver. He parades as an angel of light. The dragon is the serpent of Eden, urging us to eat the fruit of our own destruction.

The metaphor of angelic messengers tells us that the human environment, whether physical or mental, social or personal, is a battleground where good and evil conflict. We can grasp something of this by considering one example: the internet, the invisible space that crackles with so much information, opinion, persuasion. It is a battleground on which truth is defeated or advanced.

It is not surprising, perhaps, that war games are so popular, or that we are encouraged to engage through “avatars”: self-made representations of ourselves, which we might think protect us, but actually reveal our psychic vulnerabilities. We are never as free to be ourselves as we think we are. The tyrannies that we distrust in Russia, China, and Iran have their counterparts in liberal democracies.

We never quite see how we are manipulated through the internet. The bots churn away to frighten or intimidate or seduce us. Think of how thoughtlessly we hand ourselves over — our interests, desires, passions, perversions, and vulnerabilities — to the algorithms that deliver profits.

St Michael is usually depicted with a sword, standing over a defeated dragon. The dragon needs defeating not once, but again and again.

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