“Up from the Grave, He arose with a mighty triumph o’er his foes” Robert Lowry (1826-1899). It is perhaps one of the more catchy and loved hymns and phrases for Resurrection Sunday. This celebratory, triumphant spirit in this hymn seems to reflect the approach used in the gospels particularly John “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark” (John 20.1). A phrase that has been considered variously over the years perhaps because it encapsulates the very essence of the resurrection – victory over sin, darkness and evil. One of the most important message of the resurrection is the triumph of good over evil.
The struggle with evil, suffering and pain (not the same things) has been one of the perennial battles for human persons in the mind, spirit, and body. Our experiences of evil, suffering and pain have not only affected us physically and existentially but also caused great emotional stress and psychological, theological and intellectual wrestlings. It’s the kind of struggle that caused Mary and Martha to greet Jesus with the words – Lord if you were here my brother would not have died (John 11) or the psalmist: why does the wicked prosper (Psalm 94:3)? The kind of struggle that gave rise to the story and book of Job.
This has continued to be a real struggle for many – why do we suffer so greatly, why the losses and the pains, why the disappointments and betrayals? Why does it seem that those who do evil and wrong seem to benefit more than those who try to do right? This struggle is compounded by the biblical view of God as one who is all-powerful and all-loving as many cannot fathom, if I am loved then why am I going through this? In fact, if I am loved by a God who has the power to change things then why are things the way they are?
It is unfortunate, but many have lost hope in life, become cynical and pessimistic and believe the best antidote for disappointment is not to expect much in the first place. Some have resented the idea of God or a loving God, while others have refused to pray or believe in prayer since the last great need I prayed for never came through.
The resurrection is the most profound response to the question of evil and is an exceptional resource for hope and resilience.
In the resurrection we discover a God whose very Son suffers the worst of human evil. He doesn’t avoid it or evade it but faces this problem of evil head on. Here is one who was betrayed, insulted, lied on, abandoned and the list goes on – ONLY for doing good. He too prayed – let this cup pass (Matthew 26.:39) – only for that pray not be answered. We discover through this amazing story that the solution to the problem of evil, suffering and pain in our world is not to escape it, avoid it or evade it but to overcome it by faith in God through Jesus Christ. We learn how God uses suffering redemptively.
This is important for us as we continue to see great suffering and incomprehensible evils. Some brought on by the pandemic, others accentuated by the pandemic while others were just a continuation of our pre-pandemic reality. We see more and more political divisiveness and the dishonesties that come with it. We see how people are used and manipulated. We hear of and experience stories of abuse and violence.
We see the examples in our world of greed and selfishness that even in a pandemic economy we learn that in some people demand increases and bonuses or we see how unwilling some are to make sacrifices or experience inconvenience for the wellbeing of others or all. ME! ME! ME! MY! The struggles and sufferings people have been trying to navigate with the loss of income or no income at all. People who previously thought they had it together, having suicide ideation. The resurrection is an invaluable message in the midst of the brokenness, sufferings and evils of our world.
What message does the resurrection bring to our political leaders, Government or Opposition? What message does it bring to the teachers, the ministry of Education as a whole and the students? What message does it bring to the ministry of health and other ministries, public officials or to business owners? What message does the resurrection bring to the street vendor or the homeless beggar, to the preacher or the church member? The resurrection reminds that GOOD triumphs over evil. That the success of evil is short lived (“three days”).
Evil, suffering and pain are temporary. It infuses us with an optimism that even when the now seems overwhelming, faithfulness to God brings unspeakable joy and inexorable victory. It challenges us to embrace a humility that says while we cannot understand the complexities of life nor grasp the fullness of God’s wisdom, what God has implanted as immutable in his created world is that Good will triumph over evil.
It humbles us to a realization that while we do not fully comprehend the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus, while we don’t fully understand why God did not answer his prayer, while we don’t always understand why we are going through the pains and problems, why God didn’t answer the prayer the way we’d hope he would – the immutable truth is Good triumphs over evil particularly and especially when we trust God.
It cautions us from giving up, from “if you can’t beat them join them”. It cautions us from being too short sighted and overwhelmed by the current thriving of the wicked and evil. It reminds us never to turn to evil to overcome evil. It encourages us to wait, wait, wait even if our three days seem like forever – wait! We are more than conquers through him that loved us (Romans 8.37)!!!
The resurrection therefore is an antidote for fear. This is critical in a world where so many things and people encourage fear – whether we are willing to so label it or not. We are afraid of the foods we eat, we are afraid of COVID-19, we are afraid of the vaccines, we are afraid of an explosive eruption, we are afraid of people in power, we are afraid of our employers and supervisors.
We are afraid of flying or the van drivers. So much of our lives are gripped by fear, often peddled by conspiracies theories, social media musings and ignorance, irresponsible leaders and ‘influencers’. We are afraid of losing our jobs, not being able to support our families, getting sick, being robbed, raped, shot. We are afraid of failure, of success. We are afraid of what the neighbour will DO us or the THING left in our yard.
We are afraid of so much and many that we need to be careful we are not afraid of our own shadows. The resurrection is a message of triumph that infuses us with hope, not fear. It empowers us to LIVE and to live rightly and meaningfully. It certainly can invigorate us in knowing that after three days, in and through Christ Jesus – WE SHALL OVERCOME.
UP from the grave, he arose with a mighty triumph o’er his foes.