AMAC Exclusive – By David P. Deavel
The battles are raging, but the news from the front is that the war is over. As the twentieth-century French Lutheran theologian Oscar Cullman once put it, “We live between God’s D-Day and God’s V-Day.” Easter is God’s D-Day, the definitive defeat of the enemies of the human race: the world, the flesh, and the devil. And yet the enemies still have plenty of will and power to wreak havoc on us.
Because this is the AMAC Newsline, the editor prefers these columns begin with a news hook. But the news hook about the battles today could be one of dozens of stories. If you require any evidence that we are engaged in a war over our country and indeed what is left of the civilization that is founded upon the best of the Greek and Roman inheritances, the Hebrew Bible, and the Christian appropriation of the former, all you have to do is stay here on the internet for a minute or two.
No matter where you look—business, education, even sports and entertainment—you will find those enemies of the human race have tempted plenty of our kin to fight on their side, from pitched battles with troops arrayed in columns of politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, “educators,” human resources officers, writers, and celebrities to irregular skirmishes engaged against woke librarians, teachers, and internet trolls. If you happen to live in a blue city, the skirmishes might even be physical. Antifa and other leftist activists, not to mention the criminals released on their own recognizance by judges and left un-prosecuted by left-wing district attorneys, periodically attack both persons and property of ordinary Americans.
Given that the law of God cannot be completely erased from the human heart (see Romans 1:20), those people fighting on the wrong side will tell you they are fighting for rights and goodness, for empathy, inclusion, and compassion. Many believe what they say sincerely, and for them, we pray as did Jesus on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” For others, there is a hardness that has set in, a cynicism that masks malicious desires for power, for revenge, and destruction under the banner of these moral and spiritual terms.
Though no one is beyond hope, some people have become slaves to evil ideologies suggested by dark powers. While we need to defeat them politically, the Christian understands that they are not just villains but victims. “For we are not contending against flesh and blood,” Paul writes to the Ephesians, “but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
As I said, the battles are raging.
But let’s return to the glorious good news: today is Easter Sunday. Though the war still rages on, the decisive battle has already been fought. As Paul wrote to the Romans, the good news he brings, the gospel, concerns God’s son, “who was descended from David according to the flesh designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:3-4). Good has triumphed over evil. Life has triumphed over death. Love has triumphed over hate.
We often talk about turning points in world history, but the most important one was that which took place on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. “The world remained broken apart,” wrote another twentieth-century French theologian, the Redemptorist priest F. X. Durrwell, “with a crack across the universe at the point where the upper and lower creations joined in man, until the sin that caused the crack was wiped out by the blood of the Cross. Standing in this center of the universe, because of his carnal being, Christ bore that fissure in himself during his life on earth. But by his death and resurrection, he wiped out the contrasts and, lifted to the pinnacle of all things, joined the shattered pieces together in himself. Henceforth he was to be a magnet drawing all creation and reuniting it in himself.”
Can Christians really believe this? Some days it is perhaps harder to believe that all things are being drawn to Christ than that he rose from the dead. Durrwell observes that “these declarations are something of an anticipation. The world we live in is still torn apart. The submission of the angels is not yet complete, the rule of death has not been abolished. The world of harmony and peace, centered wholly upon Christ, belongs to the end of time.”
If we think of the end of time, it may well be true that we think of it more as did the poet William Butler Yeats, whose poem “The Second Coming” spoke to his time but also to ours. It includes these famous lines:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
How true these words are—yet not the whole truth.
As bad as it gets, the worst thing possible happened on the Cross two thousand years ago. The center did hold. As the late Fr. Leonard Klein preached seven years ago on Good Friday: “This is as bad as it gets. . . . Remember that in your own sorrows and losses. Remember that in every defeat; remember that in pain and illness; remember that as you watch our culture and public life decay; remember that as you confront your own death. This is as bad as it gets. Whatever may happen to you and me will not be this bad, for the Son of God has already endured and defeated the darkness of sin and evil.”
The message of Easter is that the center can hold. Though we must suffer in this life as we fight for our families, our churches, and our country, we must remember that the center did hold, the center holds, and the center will hold. The defeat of sin, death, and the devil is a matter of faith, for sure. But for Christians, the certainty of death and taxes yields to the greater certainty of faith. The influx of news about our world still seemingly torn apart yields to the glorious good news of a victory that has established a wholeness at the heart of things that will eventually encompass them all.
“If Christ is risen,” Fr. Klein preached on Easter Sunday in 2018, “then the human story is a comedy, not a tragedy.” Not strictly, he hastened to clarify, “a barrel of laughs but a happy ending.” But if Christ is risen, he added, “even in the modern sense” we will have comedy: “We can laugh in the face of evil and tragedy, opposition and disdain, because Christ is risen. We can take ourselves less seriously and others more so because Christ is risen.” Even before God’s V-Day, our knowledge of his victory makes for happy and even merry warriors. Happy Easter! Christ is risen!
David P. Deavel is Associate Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative.