“When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been murderers and tyrants, and for a time they seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it, always.” Mohandas K. Gandhi wrote those words and they can be helpful in difficult times.
We live in difficult times. We’ve only to watch the news on any given evening. If there’s an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God who’s Lord of this universe, his presence isn’t very evident on the evening news: There’s violence all over the planet, fuelled on every side by self-righteous ideologies that sanction hatred, by self-interest that lets community fend for itself, and by a socially-approved greed that lets the poor fend for themselves.
It’s fair and reflective to wonder: Where is the resurrection in all of this? Why is God seemingly so inactive? Where is the vindication of Easter Sunday?
These are important questions, even if they aren’t particularly deep or new. They were the questions used to taunt Jesus on the cross: “If you’re the son of God, come down off that cross! If you’re God, prove it! Act now!” Then and now, it seems, we’ve never figured out why salvation can’t work like a normal movie where, at the end, a morally superior violence kills off all that’s bad.
Except God doesn’t work like a Hollywood movie and never has. For centuries they prayed for a messiah, a superman, to come and display a power and a glory that would simply overpower evil but what they got was a helpless baby lying in the straw. And when that baby grew up they wanted him to overthrow the Roman empire and instead he let himself be crucified. We haven’t changed much in what we expect of God.
But God, as revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus, doesn’t meet our expectations even as he infinitely exceeds them. What the resurrection teaches is that God doesn’t forcibly intervene to stop pain and death. Instead he redeems the pain and vindicates the death. God rids the world of evil not by using force to blot it out, but by vindicating what’s good in the eyes of evil so that eventually the good is all that’s left. Evil has to forever “look upon the one whom it has pierced!” until it understands what it has done and lets itself be transformed. How does this work?
What the resurrection of Jesus reveals is that there’s a deep moral structure to the universe, that the contours of the universe are love and goodness and truth and that this structure, anchored at its center by Ultimate love and power, is non-negotiable: You live life its way or it simply won’t come out right. More importantly, the reverse is also true: If you respect the structure and live life its way, what’s good and true and loving will eventually triumph, always, despite everything. If this is true, and it is, then we don’t have to escape pain and death to achieve victory, we’ve only to remain faithful, good, and true inside of them.
However part of what’s revealed here is that we need a great patience, a patience called hope. God’s day will come, but God, it seems, is not in any hurry.
Good and truth will always triumph, but this triumph must be waited- for, not because God wants us to endure pain as some kind of test, but because God, unlike ourselves, doesn’t use coercion or violence to achieve an aim. God uses only love, truth, beauty, and goodness and God uses these by, structurally and non-negotiably, embedding them into the universe itself, like a giant moral immune-system that eventually, always, brings the body back to health. God doesn’t need to intervene like a super-hero at the end of a Hollywood movie and use a morally- superior violence to kill the bad people so that the good are spared pain and death. God lets the universe right itself the way a body does when it is attacked by a virus. The immune-system eventually does its work, even if, in the short term, there are pain and death. But always, in the end, the universe rights itself.
Simply put: Whenever we do anything wrong, anything at all, it won’t turn out right. It can’t. The structure of the universe won’t receive it and it comes back to us, one way or the other. Conversely, whenever we do something right, anything that’s true, good, loving, or beautiful, the universe vindicates that. It judges our every act and its judgement allows no exceptions.
Perhaps that judgement doesn’t seem to be immediate, it can seem a long time in coming and thus, for a time, we can be confused and ask the question: “Why doesn’t God, truth and goodness, come down off the cross?” But, eventually, as Gandhi says, always, without a single exception, evil is shamed and good triumphs. The resurrection works.