One lazy Saturday morning, I stood in the kitchen drinking coffee with others in our community, feeling relaxed and peaceful, when the back door swung open and Tim sauntered in with a big grin on his face. A burly guy in his midtwenties, Tim was a friend of a friend and had come in from out of town to do some renovations on our basement. We were trying to create more space to house the folks who were coming off the streets to quit drugs.
As a new Christian, Tim was eager to help. “Guess what I did last night?” he blurted.
“What’s up, Tim? What did you do last night?”
“I painted over that demonic pentagram next door.”
My mouth dropped open, and I pushed past Tim to the back door, hoping he was joking. Sure enough, the ten-foot high pentagram, which had been painted on our neighbors’ back fence years before we’d moved in, was gone. Ironically, Tim must have done the whitewashing under the cover of darkness.
I turned to Tim and said, “They designed that pentagram to commemorate their buddy who died in a motorcycle accident.”
“But it’s a symbol of evil,” Tim spluttered. “It’s demonic!”
Swearing, I covered my eyes with both hands and sighed heavily, hoping that somehow this was not really happening.
Then I grabbed a bottle of wine and headed next door to apologize for Tim’s act of aggression. I had recently been over there to deal with their complaints about the people who were coming and going from our property.
“You’d better come back when my husband gets home,” my neighbor told me when she swung open the door. “He’s going to be angry!” Then she added quietly, “We’re not Satanists, you know. But that painting had meaning for us.”
Later that day, I went back to face the husband, who refused to accept the bottle of wine–my pathetic token of reconciliation. As I stood in the kitchen, he unleashed a torrent of curses.
“Look, what we did was wrong,” I said. My palms were sweaty, and I wished I could retreat from this conflict. My stomach was churning with tension. “What can we do to make it up to you? We have an artist–she could paint you a new mural. Or we could pay for a dinner or a hotel for you guys to take some time out. Whatever we can do to show how sorry we are.”
My neighbor paused. He looked at his wife, then spoke softly. “I want you to paint it back.”
Now, I knew it was wrong for Tim to paint over someone else’s spiritual symbol, no matter how offensive to our own beliefs. And I knew that if he had desecrated a mosque or synagogue, it would have been considered a hate crime. Moreover, he had trespassed on their property. But painting back the demonic symbol ourselves?
I tried to explain. “You know, we’re Christians, and we believe that there is a spiritual realm, and there is power in images. For us, the pentagram represent evil, no good–and we want to be people committed to goodness. To paint the pentagram back would be a significant spiritual act for us. I think we need some time to figure this out. Would you be willing to give us time to pray about it?”
“Okay, then,” my neighbor nodded gruffly, hitching a thumb into his black jeans. “I’ll give you till the end of the month.”
Worried, I trudged back to our house.
Our community meeting the next day was lively as we sat around our living room, debating the pros and cons of painting back the pentagram.
“It’s like painting a curse on our neighbors. It’s not right!”
“No, it’s turning the other cheek. Laying down our rights as an act of love. It’s the right thing to do.”
The arguments went back and forth, and I could definitely see both sides. We read Scripture and prayed for wisdom, asking what Jesus would do–what radical, vulnerable love would look like in this situation. If we weren’t going to fight and we weren’t going to flee, we needed God to show us a third way.
I sought wise counsel from my pastor, from my mentor Charles, and from others who supported our community. Some suggested painting the pentagram back but adding little crosses or something hidden. But I felt that would be duplicitous.
When we gathered in the living room a week later, I said, “He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world. We do not need to be fearful of Satan or his symbols because we serve God, who is our strength, protector, and covering. And we’ve got to lay down our lives for our neighbors. Let’s show them the radical love of Jesus, who chose to submit to an evil system in order to demonstrate that love. I think we should paint back the pentagram, but in a spirit of love and worship to the One True God.”
Though some agreed reluctantly, a week of prayer and fasting had brought us all together on how to move forward.
I went back to the neighbors and explained our position. “Jesus said we should love our neighbors, and we want to do this as an act of love for you. We don’t do it lightly. Unlike a lot of folks, we believe there is power in images, and that image is not what we would choose for you. But we’ll paint it back.”
A few days later, three of us took white paint and gathered in front of our neighbors’ fence prayerfully. Ruth, our quiet and faithful artist, had found the correct symbol on the internet–a reversed pentagram with the head of the goat of black magic in the center, two horns at the top, ears to the right and left, the beard at the bottom. It was originally a sign of antagonism and fatality–a goat of lust attacking the heavens with its horns. Around the goat and five-pointed star were demonic symbols and shapes, each with its own meaning. Everything would be as close as possible to what was there before, at least in appearance.
But our hearts were full of worship. God had given us a way forward that would mean blessing, rather than cursing, our enemies. The symbols would remain exactly the same, as they had been originally drawn. But each would be given a new meaning in the way of Jesus, who redeems and transforms all things–even demonic symbols.
We started with the goat’s head. Our paintbrushes dripped with paint as we traced the long lines across the fence, thanking God for Jesus, the scapegoat of the world, who laid down his life to overcome sin and death. Spontaneously, we began to sing songs of worship to Jesus, the divine scapegoat.
As we painted the five-pointed star, it became a symbol of the universe created by God. “Thank you, God, for your creation–the stars, the planets, the earth, and all that is in it. We declare that all of creation is yours!”
While painting back these symbols of evil, we realized that we were walking the extra mile, turning the other cheek, returning blessing for curses, and responding to evil with love.
Taken from Subversive Jesus by Craig Greenfield. Copyright © 2016 by Craig Greenfield Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.