Easter Monday: Living Under Enemy Occupation in the Light of Victory

Now think of the cross and resurrection of Jesus as breaking the power of sin. But if the power of sin, death and evil has been broken, how can we make sense of the fact that it still continues to plague us? Human history and Christian experience tell us of a constant struggle against sin and evil in our own lives, even as Christians. There is a real danger, it would seem, that talking about “the victory of faith” will become nothing more than empty words, masking a contradiction between faith and experience. How can we handle this problem?

A helpful way of understanding this difficulty was developed by a group of distinguished writers, such as C.S. Lewis in England and Anders Nygren in Sweden. They noticed important parallels between the new Testament and the situation during the Second World War. The victory won over sin through the death of Christ was like the liberation of an occupied country from Nazi rule. We need to allow our imaginations to take in the sinister and menacing idea of an occupying power. Life has to be lived under the shadow of this foreign presence. And part of the poignancy of the situation is its utter hopelessness. Nothing can be done about it. No one can defeat it.

Then comes the electrifying news. There has been a far-off battle. And somehow, it has turned the tide of the war. A new phase has developed, and the occupying power is in disarray. Its backbone has been broken. In the course of time, the Nazis will be driven out of every corner of Europe. But they are still present in the occupied country.

In one sense, the situation has not changed, but in another, more important sense, the situation has changed totally. The scent of victory and liberation is in the air. A total change in the psychological climate results. I remember once meeting a man who had been held prisoner in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Singapore. He told me of the astonishing change in the camp atmosphere which came about when one of the prisoners (who owned a shortwave radio) learned of the collapse of the Japanese war effort in the middle of 1945. Although all in the camp still remained prisoners, they knew that their enemy had been beaten. It would only be a matter of time before they were released. And those prisoners, I was told, began to laugh and cry, as if they were free already.

… And so with us now. In one sense, victory has not come; in another, it has. The resurrection declares in advance of the event God’s total victory over all evil and oppressive forces — such as death, evil and sin. Their backbone has been broken, and we may begin to live now in the light of that victory, knowing that the long night of their oppression will end.

Alister E. McGrath, quoted in Bread and Wine: Readings For Lent And Easter

This is a point of view that hadn’t occurred to me. I especially like it for those times when the world is too much with us and the cynicism of modern times begins to get us down. The deciding battle is over, the victory won, but there remain all the small skirmishes (which are not at all small to those caught up in them … like us) that go on afterwards in any war. By virtue of simply being human and alive we are caught up in the skirmishes of resistance to the enemy occupation. Even when fighting, though, we know …

The strife is o’er the battle done;
Now is the Victor’s triumph won:
Now be the song of praise begun: Alleluia!

About Julie Davis

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