Exhausted by intractable evil? Our Lord has already won.
By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 07, 2023
The logical follow-up to my commentary last Friday on Tragi-comic news is a more serious consideration of the intractability of evil. For if we are honest, we understand that the sheer weight of evil in this world cannot be thrown off by human means. We will beat our heads against the proverbial wall of evil only to find that, when we have finished, we have not managed to visibly reduce the amount of evil in the world. At best we can suggest to ourselves that there would have been even more evil if we hadn’t tried.
This stark reality is actually acknowledged by Christianity, in that the weeds and the wheat are permitted to grow until the time for harvesting. Or, as Jesus Christ explained: “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). The immediate context for this assurance was the apparent forthcoming triumph of evil in our Lord’s passion and death, when even His disciples were about to be scattered. The security in all this is that neither Christ nor His disciples are alone, for in every trial the Father is with Him and with them (Jn 16:32; Mt 10:20).
But it is still hard, which is why, on the same occasion, Our Lord said: “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace.” A little earlier he had made the same point: “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27).
For Christ had to return to the Father. And if it is true that troubles will continue on earth, it is also true that upon His return to the Father, His victory was complete.
A counterfactual experience?
Perhaps the hardest thing to believe about Christianity is that Christ has already won the victory. Yes, there is a war on, the war between good and evil. But as combatants in that war, we have something that those who fight in merely human wars never have. I do not even mean that we “know we will win.” What I mean is that we know Christ has already won. That is the real meaning of Our Lord’s death and resurrection. We are no longer hoping for the victory: We are participating in it. And it is precisely our participation in it that ensures our eternal happiness.
Because of the weakness of our faith, this often does not seem to be the case. We may at times shy away from the suffering it entails or even doubt the outcome, but that is because the Christian must learn to live in Christ, that is, on an entirely different level and in an entirely different way. On the level of Christ we are participating always in victory. This is the personal essence of the Christian Faith—that the hopelessness of life in this world is never what it seems, for it is a mere trick of the Devil. Evil surrounds us, but if any situation seems hopeless, it is only because our Faith is weak.
It is Faith that enables us to keep our perspective and even retain our sense of humor. There can be many a long day when we do not feel as if we have much of either, and yet we get up the next morning and resolve to be faithful for another hard day. There is considerable evidence of the wisdom of this perseverance, and I do not mean simply the evidence of Divine Revelation, but also the evidence of our own personal experience. Yesterday at Mass, for example, we were reminded that, in Japan in the late 1500s, St. Paul Miki and his companions were filled with joy, even to the point of making jokes as they suffered crucifixion. Once lifted up on his cross, Paul himself was untroubled: he simply used it as one more opportunity to preach the Gospel to the onlookers.
Indeed, it is as Our Lord said:
When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. [Mt 10:19-20; cf. Mk 13:11; Lk 12:11]
Testing our resolve
Everyone’s experience is different, but it is at least not infrequent that our Faith burns more brightly under trial. It is not that it is darkest before the dawn; rather, it is in darkness that we become most focused on the light. The pagans may scoff, in effect challenging us as they challenged Christ: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross…. Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Mt. 27:40,42). But for our part, having already endured the inescapable ridicule from the endless ranks of scoffers, we now find, on our own cross, that there is no place we would rather be.
Nonetheless, in periods of obvious Christian decline, such as the massive modern erosion of Christianity and even of the Church herself in the West, we may at times grow discouraged or doubtful. And if even those who are faithful continue to enjoy the relative material ease, comfort, and luxury of the contemporary West, we may at times wonder if we are truly battle-tested at all. The whole picture of our relative lack of effectiveness at spreading the Gospel, and our relative luxurious lives under these same circumstances, may make us wonder whether we are really very deeply committed to Christ, or whether our very lukewarmness is not the reason for so abject a failure to re-evangelize that world which lies in unfathomable spiritual apathy just beyond our door.
Yet this too is mostly a temptation. It goes without saying that we should discern our vocations prayerfully and wisely and then, within each vocation, we must continually discern the effective measure of both our material and spiritual generosity. That is a lifelong process, but it is not really today’s subject. Rather, what I am addressing here is that sense of futility that impinges on us all, no matter how committed we are to Christ, as we see so much go wrong in spite of our best efforts to help them go right.
Family problems, frustrated personal aspirations, utter public confusion, and continuous opposition to Christ in the world around us: These challenges to our Christian commitments may well be causes for disappointment, discouragement, and even grief. But such responses are also evidence of our own faith, and as long as we are still prone to resist and even to laugh when the Devil seeks to snatch that faith away from us, we will find that we are generally on track. This is the right context for considering small course adjustments or a different travelling style.
Been there, done that
No matter the discouragement we may occasionally feel, we can offer it to Our Lord and Savior, and hear Him reply that He too has, in his human nature, felt just as we do. Wildly tempted? The Devil toyed with Him as if he were a fool. Humanly ineffective? The scoffers had Him enormously outnumbered. Exhausted? He preached and healed so incessantly that he fell asleep in a tossing boat. Frustrated in love? He offered eternal life to those who desired only to fill their bellies. Weary of rejection? He would slip away to regather his strength. Facing a hard future? “Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done” (Mt 26:42).
Amidst all this, he warned his disciples that things would soon look dark, and very dark. But He gave this warning only so they could be of good cheer based on a sure and deep inner peace, His peace, the peace he had given to them: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27).
To switch the metaphor, it was precisely in his apparent defeat that Our Lord overcame all the odds. He not only won; He broke the bank. Therefore, when our hearts grow faint, we belong with Christ on our knees. And when our hearts are strengthened, we belong with Christ on the way, doing what He has called us to do. And, finally, when that proves frustrating and difficult, we belong with Christ on the Cross. For it is precisely as He said it would be: “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
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Posted by: charles.pullin6847 -
Feb. 08, 2023 11:00 AM ET USA
I needed this today, as does one of my family members. Thank you for allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to me through your words. Peace be with you.
Posted by: oldnamma3373 -
Feb. 07, 2023 7:43 PM ET USA
Thank you for allowing the Holy Spirit to work through you. Just today, I decided to stop beating my head against the wall and end my struggle to secure adequate nutrition and care for the elderly who reside at the for profit facility where I am currently employed. The unborn are not the only ones we, as a society, kill.
Posted by: chapman18668 -
Feb. 07, 2023 2:39 PM ET USA
Thank you for this article. It inspires more hope and a refocusing on Christ.