There are some days when you don’t need to be reminded that Humanity is confronted on all sides with wickedness in a million different forms.
On those days, it is no stretch to accept the Bible’s worldview of an organising of evil, a Mafia-type linking of destructive forces. Jesus put it in the simplest of terms, likening it to the issues faced by a rural farmer, where thieves come to “steal, kill and destroy.” The wolves and the thieves prowl outside, seeking the merest opportunity to break in and take for themselves. So keep watch. Stay alert.
Paul takes it further, in Ephesians 6:12, declaring the warfare in which we are engaged as we battle throughout our lives “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
It’s the picture of a grim and hostile environment.
And on those evil days when terrible things occur, you realise that the Bible is not “religious” at all, but robustly practical. It forces us to confront the reality of evil and to be serious about the issues of life.
In fact, the central symbol of Christianity is a violent symbol describing the framework of first century AD execution. You might wonder why that is.
Of course, one aspect of that symbol is that it has no victim crucified upon it. Christians believe that Christ is no longer there, no longer dying or buried, but risen. So the empty cross declares God’s resurrection power and the defeat of death.
And so the suffering of Christ –by itself- is not the central nub of Christian faith.
There’s more. The symbol of the cross teaches us about both Humanity and about God. It’s where the two meet.
It shows us, first, what Humanity is capable of.
Quite simply, Humanity is capable of murder –it’s the only species on earth with that “capability.” It is also capable of cruelty and hate to an appalling degree. It does this in the cause of religion and nationalism, patriotism and pride. It kills to preserve peace. It maims and tortures to sustain economic sufficiency or political control.
One translation of Colossians 2:15 puts it like this: Jesus made “an open display” of what evil does, on the cross where he died. It was a billboard declaration of the reality and the horror of evil. In fact, according to the Biblical worldview, evil is Evil. That is to say, we capitalise the word so that we properly identify in the open display the “spiritual rulers and authorities” that have caused it.
That’s a complex phrase, subject to much debate, but at its most straightforward interpretation it means that there is an organised force behind all the evil that we see. And that’s a realistic interpretation of a world gone mad with mass shootings, barbarous wars, selfish politics and cruel power-games.
How does the cross display that?
Because that’s exactly what was happening when Jesus was executed. We see an innocent man, a lynch mob, a cowardly civic authority and a corrupt and oppressive foreign power; we see the interests of justice sacrificed to the expediency of political control. The cross is an awful place.
And here, here at Golgotha, the powers of darkness are revealed. Jesus exposes them for what they are. “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.”
But the cross also shows us what God is capable of (if I may phrase it in that odd way). It shows us that there are simply no limits to which God will not go to bring his children home.
For the cross is not only a symbol of monstrous evil; it is also a picture of incredible love. It is the crossroads where love and evil meet and confront one another.“For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.” (2 Cor 5:19)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
The cross is where and how God gave His son. It was the best love in the worst place.
And the Bible’s claim is that the resurrection of Jesus shows the defeat of the powers of evil. The empty cross (and the empty tomb) becomes our symbol of victory over the forces of darkness.
In Colossians 2, we read about Jesus’ ultimate power over all other powers: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15).
Here’s an explanatory paragraph from an online commentary: “In keeping with all things, the powers are created by Christ and therefore under His control. They are not to be feared, for they have been disarmed by the cross. The Savior, by His death, took dominion from them, and took back what they had captured. Satan and his legions had invaded the earth and drawn mankind into captivity, subjecting them to their evil reign. But Christ, by His death, subdued the invaders and recaptured those who had been vanquished. Colossians 2:14 speaks of Jesus being nailed to the cross along with the written charges against us. The record of our wrongdoing, with which Satan accuses us before God, is nailed with Christ to the cross. It is thereby destroyed, and the powers can no longer accuse us; we are innocent in the eyes of God. Hence, they are disarmed.”
And so we arrive at the victory-march of Romans 8:37–39: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
These verses are about the victory Christ has won over all the forces ranged against us. We are “more than conquerors” because no force—not life, not death, not angels, not demons, indeed nothing—can separate us from the love of God.
What do we say when terrible things happen? We “mourn with those who mourn” and do our best to “carry one another’s burdens” as fellow human beings.
Mostly, those things don’t require words.
But “we do not sorrow as those who have no hope.” Our hope is real and it is strong. God speaks into every violent crisis, each monstrous evil and His word is the cross.
It is a word of total empathy and total victory.