I’ve been talking with friends about the shape of “victory”. And by victory, I mean moving forwards through different struggles …
- difficulties with singleness
- difficulties with marriage
- anger and shame
- eating disorders
…to name but a few. One issue that came up was,
“When do you give up? Is there a point where you say, “this is always going to be my issue and it’ll never go away so I may as well learn to live with it?”
It’s a big question; and I don’t have a definitive answer. But our responses sometimes veer between two extremes. On the one hand we argue that there’s only suffering and struggle because we walk in the way of the cross. On the other hand, we say there’s only glory and victory because Christ is risen. Both positions look at Easter as decisive, but one sees it as all Good Friday, the other as all Easter Sunday.
The Good Friday people are great on counting the cost of following Jesus; and the ways that we are broken, and how we need to work and strive to put to death old habits. The down side of hearing only this is that we can feel like we’re trapped and rubbish, with no hope before Christ’s return.
The Easter Sunday people are great at reminding us that Christ has done it! We’re encouraged to hope and believe and pray and expect miracles. The down side of this camp is that it doesn’t have much of a place for suffering, struggle and patience. Sometimes, if there’s no healing (or it takes time) it leaves you wondering whether you’re even a Christian at all.
So what’s the answer? Is it just to balance the two and aim for mid-morning on Easter Saturday? Is the art of living wisely simply to raise our hopes when we get too cross-focused and temper our enthusiasm if we’re too resurrection-happy?
I’m not sure I’m ever meant to be less cross-focused or less resurrection-y. So how do we honour both?
Instead of counter balancing, perhaps we take the journey – from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. We recognise that the cross leads to the resurrection and that the resurrection demands a cross. We say Yes to “taking up our cross” but an equally loud Yes to the conviction that “this is the way of victory and life.” We don’t play off struggle against freedom, or process against miracle. We recognise that there’s freedom only in the way of struggle and that the miracle of new birth brings me onto the Golgotha road.
Sometimes we ask if we can make peace with our old patterns, and just settle for coexistence with sin. But this assumes there’s a life of easy tranquility to be had, and that battling ingrained sin spoils it. We might say victory means not needing to fight at all (or entering into the turbulence of the Easter weekend). This would mean we’re “Thursday” people. Or, we could say that we’re “Monday people” and that tranquility lies on the far side of such battles (once we’ve fought and vanquished the sin forever!) But for the Christian, there is no Thursday and there is no Monday. Jesus hasn’t called us to easy tranquility; because there’s no such thing.
An example: you might wrestle with pornography. You know you shouldn’t, but you get an indescribable comfort from porn that you don’t know how to forsake. You pick up 2 Corinthians 5 and proclaim over yourself “I am a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.” This is 100% true and profoundly helpful. But does that mean you can now be careless about the temptations porn might provide? No. If you have a filter on your computer, keep the filter. Because of the miracle, you’re born again into a place of struggle. Ultimately it’s victorious struggle. But it’s still struggle. Because of Easter Sunday, you go the way of the cross. There’s a once-for-all change and there’s a process. It’s both.
Or maybe you’re angry. Really, really angry. And you’re working on it, but still sometimes, it erupts – and you unleash it on your partner and your kids and your workmates and yourself. And in these times you want to give up and you’re so ashamed because how can you act like this and throw things and rage (at your own kids?!) and follow Jesus? Well, remember: your sins do not disqualify you. In fact they make you eligible – like sickness to doctors, so your sin recommends you to Jesus. You are the one He came for, died for and rose for. You are His forever – and Easter guarantees it. So now, as a risen saint, you wrestle. You battle. You fight. You bring the sweet grace of Christ to your bitter heart, day after day after day. The way of victory is the way of ongoing struggle.
Jesus calls us to an Easter life – death and resurrection. The peace He wins, takes us on the way of the cross. And the cross to which He calls us is the way of true peace. So peace with God also means war with sin – and there can be no truce. As we each battle our sin with all Christ’s resurrection power, I don’t know what victory will look like. But we are made new by Easter to live an Easter-shaped life. And there’s no other life to live.