I once saw a girl beaned in the head with a Bible.
Her attacker was a well-muscled star of our middle school football team, so his throw was hard, accurate, and had a bit of a spiral.
To be fair, the weapon wasn’t a full Bible, neither was it large. Someone in this guy’s group of cronies had procured a box of those miniature New Testaments kids are given in Sunday school, and brought them in his backpack with the intention of evangelizing—through force.
I noticed something was up that morning in the gymnasium, where the buses unloaded and students lounged in the bleachers waiting for the bell to ring so we could go to homeroom. With only one teacher—usually a distracted gym coach—on duty, it was easy to get away with mischief, and many of the students, hormonal and restless and facing another day of Algebra and cafeteria food, had mischief in their hearts.
Usually this manifested in mostly benign ways—spitballs, lewd shouts, or dropping someone’s clarinet case beneath the bleachers, so the unlucky student had to navigate the sticky darkness beneath to retrieve it. But on this morning it transformed into something more sinister.
From my seat across the basketball court, I noticed a few students stand up and begin moving at once. Without realizing at first what was happening, I watched as a pack of good old country boys surrounded a bunch of black-haired Goth kids—eyes heavy with liner—like a pride of lions might surround a herd of gazelles. By the time the prey raised their eyes, it was too late: they had been accosted by the words of Jesus.
Afterwards, whistles were blown and the ensuing fight broken up, but on my way to first period I saw a girl, walking alone, on the receiving end of a long pass. I knew little about her except she had dark hair that hung to her waist and a fascination with vampires. The Bible hit her in the back of the head and she whipped around in shock, blood drained from her face, tears pooling in her eyes.
Rumors spread throughout the day of assaults that continued across campus when no adults were around to see. I witnessed no others myself, but after lunch I found a few loose pages from the gospel according to John, with gold-rimmed edges lying in the mud. The words spoken by Jesus were printed in ink the color of blood.
About a year ago I was trying to write an essay on evil for an arts journal, and as I began, this story was the first one that came to mind.
In the evangelical community where I was raised, evil wasn’t an abstract concept. It was all too real, and was embodied in the form of the devil. The devil, like God, was everywhere, actively trying to thwart Christians from doing the work of the Kingdom.
Obviously thieves, murderers, rapists, and adulterers had succumbed to the devil. We were told, however, that his influence might be more subtly veiled.
For instance, the devil might break your carburetor, which could frustrate you so much that you might yell at your child or forget to invite your coworker to church. Or the devil might tell you it’s okay to sleep an extra thirty minutes in the morning instead of rising early for prayer or a devotional reading.
We were told that the devil was seductive, and beautiful, and could come to us disguised as light. We must be diligent and guard ourselves against him, girding ourselves in spiritual armor, and clothing ourselves in righteousness. Tying our shoelaces so tight that they are on the verge of breaking, but don’t.
In high school I saw students welcomed into class late without rebuke because they had been leading prayer meetings where exorcisms were performed. I dated a guy who prayed over the television set in his brother’s room because he thought it was a gateway for demonic activity.
As I grew older I experienced new communities and my worldview broadened. I began to believe that cars break down because they aren’t well maintained, or for any number of other reasons, none of which have to do with spiritual warfare. I began to see televisions as hunks of wires and plastic broadcasting only what man-made signals they receive.
Still, I found there was something I missed about having a clearly-defined foe, a personification of evil I could battle against in prescribed ways. More than that, I missed feeling that there was another agent who was ultimately responsible for my own sins, someone who had tricked or beguiled me into wrongdoing.
I still believe in good and evil, and I believe that both reside in the hearts of men and women. I believe that both reside in my own heart, and that I have within me the capacity for both types of action. That I have manifested both. That I will manifest both in the future.
I still, too, ask God to help me embrace goodness and act on it. I still believe the stakes are high.
That day in middle school, I wasn’t hit with a Bible, nor did I throw one, but I feel that in some ways I’ve experienced both since then, that I’ve been both victim and assaulter. That day, though, I picked up the pages I found, wiped off the mud, put them in my pocket, and carried them with me until I got home, hoping they were a guard against threat from without or within.