In most spiritual traditions, resistance is generally seen to be profoundly detrimental to our spiritual well-being.
There are good reasons why spiritual traditions take a dim view of resistance.
When we fall into resistance, we brace against life. We constrict; we become paralyzed. Resistance causes us to step out of the natural flow of being that is the essence of life. It risks rendering us unresponsive to the gentle movement of God’s Spirit. It hardens us against life, closing us to the subtle presence of the Spirit who is more able to guide when we soften and open than when we harden and resist.
But, there is a place for resistance.
It is unrealistic and naive to refuse to acknowledge that there are forces at work in the world and in my own life that operate in opposition to the life-giving power of love. In response to the reality of the force of death at work in life, Peter says,
Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. (I Peter 5:8,9)
The word Peter uses here to describe that power we must resist is the word “diabolos“. “Diabolos“, or “devil” in English, is not a funny little man dressed in red, with horns, a long tail, and a pointy fork running around prodding unsuspecting victims into moral peccadilloes. The power Peter describes as diabolos is much more serious and subtle than the popular caricature “the devil” might lead us to believe.
In my book Shadow Dancing: Living With the Dark Side, I wrote
Diabolos is the word most commonly used in the New Testament to describe this force that is working against God’s purposes, and it expresses an aspect of this force that is particularly important. Diabolos consists of two Greek words: dia, which means through, and ballo, meaning throw. So, literally the word means to “throw through.” If you throw a ball through a window, you probably will separate that window into many fragments. Diabolos, then, is any force in life that tends toward fragmentation, division, and separation. (Page, Christopher. Shadow Dancing: Living With the Dark Side. Toronto: Path Books, 2008, pp. 47,48)
The devil is not a person. The devil is a force in life that actively pursues disintegration. In the life of faith disintegration is resisted because it always works in opposition to the power of love that seeks to reveal reconciliation as the central force of the universe.
Commenting on the second day of creation as it is described in Genesis 1, the first century CE Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa said,
Because separation [that is to say, disunion] was brought into being on the second day, as is indicated in ‘Let [the firmament] separate water from water’ (Gen. 1:6), [the statement 'It was good' does not occur]. (Sefer Ha-Aggadah, 10:28)
It is a curious idea that God might have brought into existence on the second day, that which God could not pronounce “good”. But, it reflects the deep awareness at the heart of all true spirituality that the force we call God, always works against “disunion” and towards integration. God is that force in life which brings together.
Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth that they were to share with God in a “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).
The true purpose of religion is to resist the forces of disintegration that cause separation and fragmentation and to cooperate with and affirm the forces of “reconciliation” wherever these forces are at work. If you want to see God at work, look for healing, wholeness, and integration. Here there is no need for resistance.