The thought of the picnickers doesn’t surprise us. The people weren’t the first or the last to pack a meal and set out for a Sunday afternoon excursion. After all, it was a quiet and sunny July day. A trip to the countryside would be nice. No, it wasn’t the picnic baskets that made this entourage notable. It is where they went to unpack them.
A battlefield. On July 21, 1861, Washingtonians rode horses and buggies to Manassas to witness their Union soldiers bring an end to what they considered to be a short rebellion. Their intent was to sit on blankets, eat their chicken, and cheer from a distance.
One soldier described them as a “throng of sightseers. . . . They came in all manner of ways, some in stylish carriages, others in city hacks, and still others in buggies, on horseback and even on foot. . . . It was Sunday and everybody seemed to have taken a general holiday.”
A reporter from the London Times observed, “The spectators were all excited, and a lady with an opera glass . . . was quite beside herself [at the sound of] an unusually heavy discharge. . . . ‘That is splendid, Oh my! Is not that first rate?’”2
It wasn’t long before reality rushed in. With the sound of gunfire, the sight of blood, and the screams of wounded soldiers, people soon realized this was no picnic. Fathers grabbed their children, and husbands called for their wives. They jumped into their wagons and onto their horses. Some were “caught in a stampede of retreating Union troops.” One spectator, a congressman from New York, was caught by Confederate soldiers and kept prisoner for nearly six months.4
That was the last time onlookers took picnic baskets to a battlefield. Or was it?
Could it be that we make a similar mistake? Could it be that we embrace a similar false assumption? Is it possible we do today what the Washingtonians did then? According to the Bible, we’re in a war that’s a-raging.
Our fight is not against people on earth but against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness, against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly world. That is why you need to put on God’s full armor. Then on the day of evil you will be able to stand strong. And when you have finished the whole fight, you will still be standing. So stand strong, with the belt of truth tied around your waist and the protection of right living on your chest. On your feet wear the Good News of peace to help you stand strong. And also use the shield of faith with which you can stop all the burning arrows of the Evil One. (Eph. 6:12–16 NCV)
The Bible names a real and present foe of our faith: the devil. The Greek word for “devil” is diabolos, and it shares a root with the verb diaballein, which means “to split.” The devil is a splitter, a divider, a wedge driver. He divided Adam and Eve from God in the garden and would like to separate you from God as well. He wants to take unbelievers to hell and make life hell for believers.
Do such thoughts sound outdated? Do you file discussions of the devil in the manila folder labeled “superstition” or “antiquated religion”? If so, you aren’t alone. According to the research of the Barna Group, “Four out of ten Christians (40%) strongly agreed that Satan ‘is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.’ An additional two out of ten Christians (19%) said they ‘agree somewhat’ with that perspective. A minority of Christians [35%] indicated that they believe Satan is real. . . . The remaining [participants] were not sure what they believe about the existence of Satan.”6
Most Christians, in other words, refuse to believe in the existence of Satan.
Max Lucado, Unshakable Hope: Building Our Lives on the Promises of God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018).
I have just completed a 7 Week Bible Study Lesson Series on Max Lucado’s book Unshakable Hope. It is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription plan. The idea is to invite each participant to purchase their own book.