Jesus victorious

Atheists often talk about “the problem of evil” as though it were primarily an intellectual issue requiring an explanation, and then they ding God for not providing an explanation they deem adequate.  The truth is, though, the philosophical problem of evil is secondary—the real problem is much more basic:  what are we going to do about it?  God doesn’t offer us an explanation for evil, but that doesn’t mean he has no answer for it.  Jesus is God’s answer to the problem of the evil and sin in this world; in him, God gave us, not the answer we thought we wanted, but the answer we actually needed: he offered us himself. He came down to live our life, to identify with us, to endure the darkness of our fallen world with us, and to defeat that darkness, not with its own weapons, but with light.

When people ask, “Where’s God when it hurts—in the tragedies we see so often, and the large-scale injustices of this world?” they often assume the answer must be “Nowhere”; after all, if there really is a God out there, and he actually heard our suffering, wouldn’t he do something about it? But the truth is, as Easter shows us, God has heard our suffering—he has heard every cry of anguish, felt every blow and every betrayal, and caught every tear in the palm of his hand—and in Jesus Christ, he has done everything about it. In Jesus, he came down to share our suffering with us, drinking that cup to the very dregs. He took the weight of all our sin on his shoulders—the entirety of human evil and human suffering, of all the brokenness and wrongness of the world—and he carried it to the cross, its cruel thorns digging into his forehead, its sharp splinters shredding his back; and there, for the guilt of all the crimes he never committed, he died.

He died for us. He died to pay the price for all the sins we’ve ever committed and ever will commit, for all the pain we’ve endured and all the pain we’ve caused, for all the darkness and brokenness and agony and grief in our poor misshapen world. Our sins deserved death, and more—even our death wouldn’t be enough punishment; not only could we never do enough in this life to make up for them, we couldn’t even die enough to even the balance. Morally, we were in the same position as so many mortgages these days: we were under water, owing more than we were worth. Only Jesus’ death—the death of one whose life was of infinite value and infinite goodness, the life of God himself—only his death could be enough to pay that price, to satisfy the demands of justice for the sins of the world, so that salvation could come to all the nations.

But if his death was sufficient to pay the price of redemption, it still wasn’t enough to accomplish the work; nor was it enough to satisfy God’s promise to his servant. “See my servant,” God says in Isaiah 52: “he shall accomplish his purpose; he will rise and be lifted up, and be exalted most high.” And again in Isaiah 53, “If you make his life an offering for sin, then he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; . . . Because of his anguish, he shall see and be satisfied. . . . Therefore I will give him the many, and he shall divide the strong as the spoils of his victory.”

Justice for the Servant, the fulfillment of God’s promises to him, demanded that his death not be the end; and indeed, for his great work to end in victory at all rather than defeat required something more. If his story had come to its conclusion in that tomb, if he had died and stayed dead like any other man, then in the end, it would have been just another victory for the powers of evil; the price would have been paid for our redemption, but there would have been no redeemer left to complete the deal, and the sacrifice would have been for nothing.

And so, though the powers of evil capered and celebrated across that black, black Saturday, thinking they had won—thinking they had tricked the God of the universe into taking a bridge too far—God’s resounding answer to evil came on Easter morning. The Creed tells us Jesus descended into Hell, and I believe it; and after spending a couple nights there, that morning he got up, reached out his hands, and tore the gates of Hell from their very hinges. He stretched out his carpenter’s hands, those hands that could be so gentle to the weak and the suffering, and his shoulders flexed, and he tore the wall of Death apart. He heaved, and the grave burst open in a soundless explosion that shook the universe from one end to the other, a blinding flash of light that lit the sky from horizon to horizon; and he who had been dead got up, and was dead no more, never again to die.

And in that, you see, is the victory; in that, and nothing else. In that moment, the price that had been paid for our redemption was realized, and we were stripped from the power and control of the prince of darkness.  God in his love has chosen to direct his anger at sin against his Servant—which is to say, against himself—and to take on himself the punishment that justice demanded; all that remains is for us to accept the gift and revel in the love of God.

(Excerpted, edited, from “The Victory of the Servant”)


Photo:  Opening of roadside tomb_0654, © 2007 James Emery.  License:  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Posted in Atheism, Religion and theology.

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