Okay, so if you follow this blog already, or you drop by occasionally, or this is your first time – this is a really important post and I hope and pray (literally) that you get something worthwhile from your time here today.
‘Victory’ is a word that can be understood in so many different ways. Sometimes the ways in which this word is employed are less than ideal, and one such way has just been burnt into my consciousness. So even if you have no personal interest in Christian theology, perhaps your general intellectual curiosity might be piqued – so don’t stop reading!
Victory on the battlefield is something that everyone has a handle on – be it army, navy, air force – or in times past, infantry or cavalry.
Victory in the sporting arena is also something that most people can get their heads around, although not everyone likes sport, and some prefer to play rather than watch.
The Roman gladiators of old were part warriors, part entertainers – and the intensely radically unethical nature of the literal bloodsports that those Romans enjoyed may delude us into thinking that we are morally advanced – but why go to the Coliseum when you can be entertained by violence, sex and death (physical and spiritual) simply by switching on the TV? Or your own laptop, come to that? It’s entirely sanitised – but the manipulation of our emotions is not really any less – because now we have horror flicks and psychological thrillers that take us out of ourselves…literally!
Victory in the court of law…the supreme test of legal skills, maybe? Or the supreme test of legal abilities allied to a determination to do whatever is necessary to win the case at hand while staying technically within the bounds of the law – even if the actual inherent morality of certain choices made to (for example) discredit the other side is seriously lacking on every level?
There are more contexts, but having established some of the very human ways in which we understand and process ‘victory,’ I now want to talk about this thing that Christians refer to as the victory of Jesus Christ on the Cross over Satan.
One of the realities that I rarely hear mentioned when we discuss the ‘gospel’ that Christians believe is the fact that Satan is in fact created by the same God that created humans. And one good reason for the general avoidance of this? The fact that dwelling on it could lead to the argument that if God made the angel Lucifer, and Lucifer was the first person to commit what the Bible calls ‘sin’ and we go on from there to argue that sin actually came from Lucifer (which, in truth, is exactly what the Bible teaches), then, de facto, God is the real author of sin!
No true Christian can possibly accept that God is the author of sin – but just because they are clear that basic, traditional Christian theology allows no scope whatsoever for that idea, this does not mean that they are actually equipped to respond to such a claim. ‘Ostrich syndrome’ suddenly kicks in…
In truth, the intellectual challenges against Christianity are much greater and much more coherent than many Christians have dared to allow themselves to contemplate for more than half a second. This is why I just referred to ‘traditional Christian theology’ – because at this point in Earth’s history there are so many things competing for the right to be understood as ‘theology’ that it has never been harder to establish precisely what Christianity teaches. The fact is that there are many ‘Christianities’ with many competing theologies – but only one Christ, who is part of only one God.
And most Christians hold that in Christ’s death on the cross, He achieved a victory – but over whom and over what?
There is a sense in which I dare not delve into the deepest academic realms of this question right now, but where I intend to go is still serious. Let’s think about boxing for a second.
If a world heavyweight champion of, say, 25 years, takes on a five-year-old boy who only has one leg in an actual boxing match, we would dismiss the credibility of the idea of this being an actual ‘battle’ before it had even begun. In terms of a) an actual fight; b) a sporting contest, we could dismiss both possibilities as a sick joke.
Did we not establish that Christians believe that Satan was created by God? Yes, science fiction writers have been imagining the world taken over by computers or other humanly-created technological innovations for several decades now, but it is widely acknowledged that in real life the chances of this happening are rather slim – not least because (for example) a computer needs electricity, and that can only be supplied for computers by human effort. It may sound simple and even silly, but a computer is as dependent on a human as a baby is on an older human being who possesses the knowledge and responsibility to keep it alive.
God made Satan in his previous incarnation as Lucifer, and the Bible teaches that Lucifer was thrown out of heaven along with all the angels who believed in him – and in this later post-heavenly existence he has become whom we know as Satan.
Satan is created – and in simple terms, this means that in a manner not unlike the prospective boxing match I mentioned earlier, any actual fight between God and Satan is a no-contest by definition!
And yet, we Christians make so much of our human language regarding the victory of Christ over Satan. We have failed to realise that much of our language is about us – not really about the truth, much less the TRUTH! Reducing the victory of Christ over Satan to the language of human warfare or even a sporting contest is so theologically deficient that it is no wonder we Christians fail to achieve real victory over our ‘besetting sins’ – and this fact alone makes our religion less credible in the eyes of secular people!
In a similar way to the really sincere but really weak ways in which many Christians have tried to create metaphors and analogies to understand the doctrine of the Trinity – which has resulted in theologians like myself recognising that there is no adequate metaphor or analogy by which we may easily explain the Trinity – I have to say that there is no metaphor or analogy that will ‘easily’ explain the victory that Christ won on the cross. The best simple statement we can make was that Jesus won a SPIRITUAL victory on the cross, and the ultimate dimensions of that victory will elude our language forever – for we are created beings!
So the fact that God chose to redeem humanity instead of eviscerating the human project does not lead us to simple conclusions. It leads us to a whole new level of questions that I have to say that in my decades as a Christian, very few of my fellow believers have been willing to ask. And I want to close out this post by saying that there are many secular people out there who are in search of a better answer to the questions of life than they have seen from many Christians.
I’m a Christian, and I sympathise with you if you are such a person. But I implore you – none of us has all the answers, but please don’t reject Christianity just because you’ve not met a Christian with a thought-life you actually respect. Keep looking into what this faith teaches – because Jesus – and God – is [not a grammatical error] more than many of us Christian believers have made Him out to be.