Have you ever slowly read through the trial and persecution account in John’s Gospel? It’s brutal. It’s deliberate, and in stark contrast to the chapters leading up to it. In John 1-17 we see a man full of grace and truth, embodying the steadfast love and faithfulness of Yahweh himself. We see the pinnacle and fount of wisdom, kindness, life, and joy. He is marvelous to behold. We come to love him.
In chapter 18, things take a turn. The king of the universe is mocked, humiliated, and betrayed. He is interrogated like a common criminal, and treated like a treasonous low-life. He is brutally tortured. He’s nailed to a rough-hewn piece of wood, and hung on a hill like a gruesome billboard, for all to see. It makes my stomach turn.
It is, as I said, brutal. It is pure evil.
What can we do in the face of such evil? Knowing that such actions weren’t the outlier deeds of the worst of us — these were the deeds of the best the world has to offer. The most moral and upright. Surely, therefore, humanity is capable of unspeakable atrocities. History confirms. The killing fields. The holocaust. Jim Crow.
Like Denethor, the steward of Gondor in The Return of the King, we are prone to let the darkness swelling on the eastern horizon subdue our hearts until we growl, “Go, and die in what way seems best to you.” We are wont to give in to a dismal fatalism, and grim hopeless midnight of the soul.
But God, from the very beginning, has had a way about him… Lewis might have said that it was written into the “deep magic.” God bends evil back on itself, until it crumbles and ultimately glorifies him. He forces evil to betrays itself.
You may have seen the story recently of a town in Belgium called Wunsiedel. For years, hundreds of neo-nazis have descended on this town for a pro-fascism march. This year, the town did something remarkable. Innocent as doves and wise as serpents, indeed! They partnered with EXIT Deutschland, a nonprofit which helps neo-nazis escape their extremist groups. Now, unbeknownst to them, every meter these fascists marched was raising money to undermine their very organization and cause. It was a thing of beauty.
As the historically-terrifying swastika flags were fiercely waved, happy locals cheered them on, offering them refreshments along the way. They could happily accept this parade of evil, for they knew it was going to result in something deeply good.
The devil surely thought he had achieved a mighty victory in Genesis 3, as death entered the world. Imagine him parading around the garden, waving his black flag of death. Death was his great weapon, his confidence. In John 19 The very Son of God was buried in death, and all seemed lost.
But our mighty God causes evil to undermine itself. Death couldn’t hold him, and Jesus was cast out of the ground like Jonah from the fish. With his feet firmly on dry ground, he encouraged and strengthened his people before ascending into the throne room, and taking his victorious seat.
The devil thought he’d won. Jesus was dead, the Trinity torn asunder. But now, his chief enemy was crowned victorious, and the fate of the battle was as sealed as the Allied victory at Normandy. All that is left are skirmishes. The enemy desperately clawing at a cheerful and invigorated army, full of the strength and assurance of their king.
That is why we need not fear. That is why we can be as bold as lions in the face of evil. Our King said “Fear not, I have overcome the world.” All of history, all of its evils and atrocities, are bending to his will, to his glory, and to the joy of those whom he loves. Take courage, Christian! We need it, and in Christ we have it. This present evil will undermine itself, and will be undone. All the sad things will once day come untrue. Maranatha!