I don’t remember the airplanes strafing the car or the sound of my city being pulverized by enemy bombs. I can’t recall the fear in my mother’s eyes or the heartbreaking determination in my dad’s voice as he said goodbye to me. But I have photographs.
One shows a pretty woman holding a four-month-old baby—me— while at her side two young boys wave bravely from the deck of a tiny launch departing the docks at Inchon. Behind them a uniformed American soldier gives orders as an empty fertilizer ship waits in the distance, ready to carry its hurriedly assembled cargo of frightened women and children out to sea and, hopefully, away from danger.
The date is June 26, 1950, and any expert on Korean history can tell you what was taking place around me. Communist forces from North Korea had swept south across the 38th parallel and were pounding the city of Seoul, where I lived with my missionary family.
Being only four months old at the time, I must depend on fading photographs, shaky home movies, and aging memories to recall my first taste of war.
Thankfully, for my brothers, my mother, and me, our journey ended well in Japan, where my father eventually joined us. But much suffering and death followed our departure from Korea. The war would take the lives of almost 3,000,000 people—soldiers and civilians—and cost the United States 36,574 of its finest young men. More than 100,000 Americans were wounded during hostilities as well.
Like many wars writ in blood on the pages of this earth’s history, the Korean conflict was sparked by a difference of opinion and a perceived failure to allow self-determination. Since no peace treaty was ever signed, it continues to this day.
The impossible battleground
The Bible brims with war stories, each boasting similar outcomes: death and destruction. However, one conflict is unique beyond comprehension, because it took place where you’d think such things were impossible.
Yet there it is, boldly recorded in the last book of the New Testament. John the revelator doesn’t try to hide the fact that in God’s personal domain—a place where peace and love should reign supreme—the unthinkable happened. “And there was war in heaven” (Revelation 12:7).
Why? The answer is just as mysterious as the facts. And just like the Korean conflict, it was sparked by a difference of opinion and a perceived failure to allow self-determination. We do know certain things about this war.
One day a beautiful angel had a peculiar thought. He looked around at a perfect universe filled with perfect beings all created by a perfect God. He saw millions of fellow angels sweeping into a perfect city and bowing before their Creator in love and uncompromised admiration. He heard their music, their shouts of joy, and observed the deep respect and untarnished esteem shining from every eye as they stood before their King. At that moment, a strange thought entered his perfect mind. Staring straight at the face of God in silent contemplation, he thought, Why not me?
Had that thought vanished as quickly as it came, we’d have no cancer today; no disease, pain, or anguish of mind and body; no terrorists blowing themselves up in crowded marketplaces, no financial crises, no broken homes, no abused children, no crosses adorning the hillsides of busy freeways. Unfortunately, the thought didn’t vanish from the perfect mind of that beautiful angel. Instead, it lingered, burrowing itself deeper, where it began to fester.
Why not me?
Have you ever been amazed at where one thought will take you? Ever stood before a dark, storm-streaked window waiting for your spouse and children to return from town? Ever sat beside a silent phone anticipating a call from your doctor? Ever been passed over for a promotion or ignored at a social gathering? It seems that minds—angelic and otherwise—possess the unique ability to build something terribly unsettling out of thin air.
The prophet Isaiah lays it out clearly. Imagining Satan’s mind-set during those days when the seeds of rebellion began to sprout, he writes: “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High’ ” (Isaiah 14:13, 14).
Why not me?
What’s unique about Satan’s peculiar thought isn’t that it happened. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that other angels had, from time to time, wondered what it would be like to be God, to wield such incredible creative power, to be able to speak entire galaxies into existence, to enjoy the admiration and respect of all created beings. But up to this point, everyone had been perfectly happy to let God be God.
However, Satan allowed his thought to echo in his mind. The longer it bounced around in his head, the more unhappy he became at being who he was: just Lucifer—one of the many, many angels bowing before the Creator.
In time, he decided that being who he was wasn’t enough. In spite of his abundant blessings, he believed that he deserved more. “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty,” writes Ezekiel. “You corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor” (Ezekiel 28:17). Lucifer’s focus shifted. He soon became the center of his own universe.
Nothing changed, at least outwardly. Harmony still reigned throughout space and time. Angels and all the other created beings continued doing whatever it is that angels and created beings do. Thoughts, even peculiar ones, can be totally harmless, unless . . .
Eventually, Lucifer, now Satan (Revelation calls him “the dragon”), let his feelings be known and even managed to convince many of his fellow angels that God wasn’t being fair to them. What followed was perhaps the strangest war on record. There were no weapons as we know weapons—no fighter jets, no smart bombs, no drones, no nuclear arsenals. This was a battle of minds and principles fought on the field of public opinion. “Michael [identified as the leader of God’s forces] and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven” (Revelation 12:7, 8).
So, how did God deal with this outright rebellion? The very same way He has dealt with sinners and wayward nations throughout history. He isolated the problem until He could put in place a plan to rebuild what was lost. “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (verse 9).
This newly created world became the greatest battlefield in the universe. More to the point, our earth became the only battlefield in the universe. According to Scripture, we have the rather dubious distinction of being the sole arena for sin. We’re the Petri dish where two great ideologies come together to duke it out; where two conflicting mind-sets vie for the supremacy.
On one side are those who believe with all their hearts that God’s way is the best way. This is an army of individuals who’ve decided they have no problem allowing God to be God and that following, obeying, and worshiping Him is both natural and beneficial.
Assembled against them are people who, like Satan, keep asking the same question over and over again. “Why not me? I want to live my life by my rules, by my habits, by my appetites. God keeps getting in the way of my being who I really am.” Ever wonder where that peculiar thought came from? Now you know.
And, like the Korean conflict, no peace treaty has ever been signed. So this war—this great controversy between good and evil—continues deep in the heart and mind of every combatant. However, unlike the war in heaven, this time these evil minds have created weapons. There are fighter jets, there are smart bombs, there are drones, and there is a nuclear arsenal.
What does the future hold for this conflict? John the revelator provides a hint. Changing his view from the past to the future, he writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. . . . ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’ ” (Revelation 21:1, 3).
There’s coming a day when the forced separation between us and God will be over!
Then John adds the most precious words every war-weary soldier longs to hear. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (verse 4).
When these verses are fulfilled, Lucifer’s peculiar thought will have run its course. Earth’s great battlefield will fall silent. Once more the perfect universe will be filled with perfect beings worshiping a perfect God. War, and the carnage it brings, will be a thing of the past, never to rise again.