When our son was elementary age we listened to Focus on the Family Radio Theater when we went on long trips. We all loved the Father Gilbert series; however, a couple of the shows were recommended for people over the age of 15 because of the content of the show and so David didn't get to hear those programs way back when. One of those programs was called Dead Air and I have to admit that it wasn't my favorite by any means simply because it was a little creepy.
Over the past decade or so, those particular cd's have gotten scratched and/or broken so I ordered a new set and decided to listen to them again, this time in the order in which they were done. Dead Air was the first in the series; I listened to it yesterday and had a different response to it this time around.
The series revolves around an Anglican priest who solves mysteries, drawing on his "former life" as a detective with Scotland Yard as well as his current experiences as a priest. The first episode is a dramatic sequel to the tragic case that drove Gilbert out of police work and into a monastery many years earlier.
The audience learns that after 15 years Father Gilbert still carries a heavy sense of responsibility for his last case, a pivotal one involving a runaway teen-age girl from a good Christian family. He and his partner managed to track the missing sixteen-year-old down and at that point, Gilbert had a couple of options as to how to handle the girl. He chose option A, the girl died tragically, and his life became tormented by questions of what if? What if he had chosen option B? Would the girl have lived? In the monastery, he grapples with his responsibility for the death of the girl as well as with the nature of evil. The result is a major career change.
And now, 15 years later, Father Gilbert's first "case" as a priest begins when an anonymous (and weirdly malicious) caller begins to taunt Gilbert with his past failure. Things, of course, quickly become complicated and while a lot of the story is a straightforward murder mystery, there is definitely a supernatural element to the narrative as well. The caller refers to himself as "Legion" - which is a Biblical reference to a group of demons - and at times he knows things that a mere human being couldn't possibly know.
When I heard the dramatization years ago, I disliked the creepy phone calls and taped messages and thought the whole thing was a little too weird. This time, for some reason, I picked up on the underlying message about the nature of evil.
The caller explains that evil doesn't want to eradicate good because the whole focus of evil is to corrupt -if everyone becomes "bad", then there is no one left to corrupt which means that basically all the "fun" would be taken out of life for this particular villain. I thought about why extremists and their followers capture school girls and rape them or force them into a life of sex slavery. Or why we have heard (and continue to hear) horrific stories of evil men raping women and girls in front of their fathers and brothers. This time I got the message: evil isn't satisfied with just stealing and killing, evil also has to corrupt.
The weird caller also says something that really arrested my attention: the goal of evil isn't just to maim and kill - in the caller's words, those acts are "child's play". Instead, "Legion" goes on to gleefully talk about how the object of evil is to accomplish so much more than just physical harm - its ultimate goal is to destroy the souls of men and to eradicate faith.
And I understood something in real time: the atrocities in Iraq are meant to destroy faith, to maim and cripple souls - that's why the physical crimes are so heinous. A five-year-old child isn't shot; he's hacked to death in front of others. And the souls of those watching in either horror or in satanic triumph are seared. Memories are corrupted. Hearts are inflamed with a desire for revenge (or for more blood lust) and whatever faith the on-lookers have is in mortal danger of being abandoned altogether or corrupted into something that scarcely resembles the pure faith which emanates from God and is rewarded by Him.
Towards the end of the radio narrative, Father Gilbert has an interesting conversation with his secretary. He asks if evil can possess a person. She asks if he means like in the movies and he says no, implying that essentially he's talking about something more subtle than what Holly wood likes to portray.
The secretary replies that men possess the power to do evil but evil powers cannot possess men. The program clearly sides with Father Gilbert's growing belief that evil powers can possess men, destroy their hearts and minds, and then use those victims to destroy others.
When David was a child, I wouldn't have agreed with that assessment. And it's not my faith that has brought me to see evil in a different light; it's having taught scores of kids about the Holocaust (which I assured my first classes would never be repeated again because men would never forget the horrors of WWII...), about the killing fields of Cambodia, about the genocide in Rwanda, and, well, you get the idea...
Now, as I near my seventh decade, I not only believe evil powers can drive humans to do inhuman things (in Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, North Korea...) but I understand what is at stake: nothing less than the souls of men and the faith of human beings.
And I've written all that to say this: for the survivors of the atrocities of the ISIL the real battle has yet to begin. We need to pray that for those who do survive this horrible time, that their faith will not falter and evil will not win, that evil will not overcome good in individual hearts, minds, and lives - because that is what is ultimately at stake here in this current battle between good and evil, between God and Satan. Evil doesn't just want to rob and kill, it wants to rob humanity of its soul and that is something we are obligated to pray against.
May we lift our suffering brothers and sisters up in Nigeria as they anguish over their abducted children. And may we do the same for the innocent who are suffering in Iraq and Syria.
May the things that break God's heart break ours. And may we be found faithful to pray earnestly not only for physical protection and provision for people in the Middle East and parts of Africa but also for God to redeem the souls of men in peace from the battle that is probably only just beginning for many survivors.