This is the final post in the series on Good and Evil
“The war to end all wars” became a popular catchphrase to describe World War I. Woodrow Wilson did not coin the phrase, but he did use it in his war speech to congress in 1917.
In Wilson’s view, America would not be entering the war merely to defeat a human enemy, a rival nation state. He called America to arms to “vindicate principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power.”
Wilson understood that a vision of the world order and of the status of human beings in that order was at stake. His vision was to establish a just and peaceful order that would prevent the kind of violence seen on the European battlefields once and for all.
As we all know, less than two decades later Europe erupted again in an orgy of violence with the rise of Nazism. Conflicts of various scope and in various parts of the world have raged ever since. Wars, it seem, simply refuse to die.
Christians understand that Wilson was right to see that principles more powerful than passing national interest and political advantage underlie every war.
Some believe that his vision to end all war was flawed only by his use of force and insist that the lesson to be learned is that war can never end war. Only pacifist commitment can end war.
Scripture leads us to draw a different conclusion. Even just wars do not attain final victory. No human action can eradicate evil as such. That’s because we do not wage war against humans only. Satan, or evil if you wish, wages war against us. In the face of one loss, evil regroups and presses on a new front.
St. Paul puts it this way:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)
War provides a clear example, but there are others that paint a vivid picture of the recurring appearance of the force that brings human misery.
For instance, the United States abolished slavery. And while this is a clear moral advance, human trafficking now simply takes new forms. The young and powerless are pressed into sexual slavery even in the United States.
At stake in our struggles against evil is nothing short of the very order of things. There are, to paraphrase Paul, spiritual forces that resist and rebel against God’s reign of perfect justice and perfect peace. Human individuals and human choices are certainly involved, but so too are relentless forces beyond human control.
Christians do not believe that God and Satan are equally mighty beings in an eternal struggle for dominance. We long ago rejected what is called Manichaeism.
Evil is a part of the creation distorted and deformed nearly beyond recognition. Satan, and those wittingly and unwittingly in league with him, distort and deform themselves by striving for an alternative vision of the basic order of the creation: a vision that always involves oppression, violence, fear and degradation.
Christ decisively won the battle with evil on the Cross. However, before he ascends his throne and eradicates all evil once and for all, Satan is, as it were, going through his death throes. Briefly stated, this is the theme of The Revelation to John.
In the time between Christ’s death and resurrection and his coming again, evil throws its final temper tantrum, as it were. Carolyn Arends illustrates this in a striking way in her article “Satan’s a Goner” in Christianity Today..
She likens the evil we experience to the tortured spasms of a beheaded giant snake inside the home of some missionaries. Though dead, the snake’s decapitated body thrashed about in the home for hours and destroyed much of its contents.
So too it is with Satan after the Cross. He’s a goner, but he’s making a terrible mess until he realizes it.
In the Second Coming, Jesus ends this rebellious destruction once and for all. Our ongoing struggle with evil is neither hopeless nor fruitless. But our hope lies in Jesus’ final triumph.
And the nature of that triumph tells us everything about the struggle of Good and Evil and how God wins in the end. Consider this passage from Revelation:
Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne. (Revelation 5:1-6a)
Jesus is at once the Lamb that was slain and the Lion that reigns. On the Cross he showed evil its own futility. He suffered all that evil could dish out until it had exhausted itself, only to rise from the dead beyond the touch of all the suffering and death at evil’s disposal. When he comes again, he says the final, decisive “no” to all that cling to the way of coercion, oppression and violence.
This is the war to end all wars. The Lamb who is also the Lion establishes the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. As we read in Revelation:
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation: 21:2-4)