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Dealing with cosmic tyrants

King Victor Emanuel III, (R) Adolf Hitler (C) and Benito Mussolini (L) watch fascist troops march past from a balcony in central Rome in this 1941 television file footage.
King Victor Emanuel III, (R) Adolf Hitler (C) and Benito Mussolini (L) watch fascist troops march past from a balcony in central Rome in this 1941 television file footage. | REUTERS/Reuters TV

One of the oldest and most often repeated lies about religion and Christianity, in particular, is that it’s responsible for the majority of historical wars and bloodshed.

Au contraire.

There’s no question that atrocities have occurred because of religion (e.g., ISIS, the Crusades, the Thirty Years’ War, etc.). Still, they barely register on history’s violence Geiger counter compared to the carnage and body count produced by secular governments. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, take your pick. 

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For proof, look to historians Philip and Axelrod’s three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars which shows that of the 1,763 wars waged throughout human history, only 123 have been religious in nature. That amounts to a surprisingly low 6.98% of all wars resulting from religion.

Further, when wars carried out in the name of Islam are subtracted, the percentage falls to 3.23%, meaning that all religions combined — minus Islam — have been responsible for less than 4% of all humanity’s wars and violent conflicts.

The sobering fact that secular despotic governments account for the vast majority of all violence and war in human history is summed up by political science professor R. J. Rummel this way in his book, Death by Government:  “Almost 170 million men, women and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed or worked to death; buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed or killed in any other of a myriad of ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners. The dead could conceivably be nearly 360 million people. It is though our species has been devastated by a modern Black Plague. And indeed it has, but a plague of Power, not germs.”  

Does reading Rummel’s synopsis of our violence give you pause? It sure has that effect on me and also makes me wonder — while I know the Bible says that “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5), the degree of such atrocious behavior seems to exceed what even we are capable of.

Almost like there’s a higher-order evil that’s masterminding the whole thing. And not surprisingly, that’s exactly what the Bible says is happening.

Suit up  

If you’ve been around the block a few times with your Bible, you know that Ephesians 6 is the chapter where the apostle Paul famously instructs us to suit up with the armor of God (vv. 11, 13-18). But the reason why we’re told to do so is because the evil we see around us has spiritual puppet master’s behind the scenes pulling the strings of their human marionettes.

Paul begins by saying, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood” (vs. 12), with the term “wrestle” indicating a very personal, intense, hand-to-hand encounter. If you used to compete in wrestling like I did, you know it’s one of the most exhausting physical activities on the planet. And “exhausting” perfectly describes how it feels to deal with all the evil our culture oozes from its pores.

The apostle then goes on to tell us who we’re up against: “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Of those listed, the most interesting one to me is “cosmic power,” which is the Greek term kosmokratōr (used only here in the Bible) that denotes a “cosmic tyrant,” a power that presides over “this present darkness.”  

When R. J. Rummel says we’re suffering from a “plague of Power,” he didn’t know how right he was — it doesn’t get any worse than that.  

Scripture tells us repeatedly that the devil owns our space. It says, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19); that he is “the prince of the power of the air,” with Jesus referring to him multiple times as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30) and not disputing his claim during His wilderness temptation when the devil said of the world: “it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish” (Luke 4:6).

That being true, what are we to do?

First, we need to recognize the deeds of the cosmic tyrants and not be fooled by the angel of light’s (2 Cor. 11:14) surface-level appearance, which can sometimes be enticing. As Hamlet said, “The spirit that I have seen may be a devil; and the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape.”

Next, realize that the worst blow any of us can deal against the ones ruling over this present darkness is to bring someone into the light of God’s salvation. “Gospel” means “good news on the battlefield,” which is exactly what happens when someone receives Christ. This is why Paul referenced the enemy’s commanders when speaking about how the Gospel came “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10).

Remember also, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8).

Lastly, don’t forget that all the evil cosmic tyrants operate only under the permissive will of the ultimate Cosmic Ruler who has them all on a leash. Sometimes that tether seems too long for our liking, but in the end, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

And sometimes, God reaches down and deals a supernatural defeat against the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” that manipulate evil people.

Take for example the historical account of the Assyrian king Sennacherib who came against Jerusalem to destroy it as he had other nations (see 2 Chron. 32:9-22). God miraculously destroyed Sennacherib’s army sending the Assyrian king home to be murdered by his own children.

This episode is not only in the Bible but in other historian’s accounts as well. An archaeological find, Sennacherib's Prism, which was discovered in the ruins of Nineveh in 1830, details the events of Sennacherib's campaign against Judah and bragged that he had trapped Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage”, which is exactly how the Bible depicts the event.

But although Sennacherib boasted he had overcome all other nations; nothing is found about him taking Jerusalem. Instead, the Greek historian Herodotus records that Sennacherib failed due to being “overrun by a horde of field mice that gnawed quivers and bows and the handles of shields, with the result that many were killed fleeing unarmed the next day.”

Or, God routed Sennacherib and his cosmic tyrant puppets just as Scripture says.

Sometimes God punches through our space-time continuum Himself to KO the evil forces we can’t see like in Sennacherib’s case and other times we fret as He appears to let them have the upper hand. But sooner or later, His justice hammer falls on both the invisible cosmic tyrants and their in-the-flesh pawns.

As A. W. Tozer said, “The wheels of God’s justice may grind slow, but they grind exceedingly fine.” Until His grinder stops, let’s continue to do our part by making as many sons and daughters of light as we can. 

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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