Did God really say?
Fifteen years ago I went through a deep crisis of faith. In a singe moment Satan asked me: “Your entire life-and-worldview Christo is based on a mere book. Just a book. What is left of it when the book is no more?” Of course I had brief moments of doubt before, but this time it felt as if I was tumbling down a deep and dark empty shaft. My struggle would continue for six months, every waking hour of the day.
This is how it came about. I was in church one Sunday in Pretoria, tired after a very long flight. I had just read some blasphemous quotes by a New Testament professor from Pretoria the previous night after landing, that stung my heart. And so as I sat in church the next day, Satan saw a gap… and went for it.
As I sat listening to a powerful sermon on Jesus’ ascension the thought entered my mind for a split second: “Hey preacher, how do you even know its all true?” It came as if from nowhere. Today I know it was a flaming arrow from the evil one (Ephes. 6:19). For any thought forced into your mind against your will from the outside, is just that: a fiery arrow from the devil, which we must resist with all our might with the shield of faith.
Just think about it: Who put it into the heart of David to count Israel? Or into the heart of Judas to betray Jesus? Or into the hearts of Ananias and Saphira to lie to the church? The Bible tells us it was the same old serpent and his demons. You must resist him with everything you have, for the biggest battle is always for our minds. Someone mentioned that the most common factor in all forms of mental illness is this: ruminations. We need to guard our thoughts.
But I was far too vulnerable in those days. And so, Satan led me into a six-month life-and-death struggle every waking hour of the day. I wanted to believe, but found it very hard. “Its all just in a book”, the adversary kept on saying.
Thanks be to God, early one morning, six months later, as I read John’s prologue on the beach of Lake Malawi – with the sun breaking across the water and its waves upon the shore – God finally told Satan to leave me alone. Like so many times before, nature and Scripture combined to convict me of Divine truth. I knew it was true. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the word was God…”. It was April 27, 2006. I limped back to my chalet… like Jacob of old, coming up from the brook with the sun rising upon him. It was all of over and it was all of grace. And so, do I ever love to tell the story of Jesus and his love again!
I learned the hard way: Against this book (the Bible) nothing can be said. Nothing! Let me tell you why I say so.
The grand narrative of Holy Scripture
I say so in light of the Bible’s amazing message. Let’s go back to a garden at the dawn of time and to two people called Adam and Eve, when sin and death entered God’s perfect creation, turning their own son into the killer of his innocent brother.
When God found Adam and Eve hiding, he began addressing everyone involved in this mammoth tragedy, beginning with the old serpent. Elohim said to the serpent. “I will put enmity between you and the woman. Between your offspring and her offspring. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15)
That promise is the story of the Bible. That promise speaks of a mighty cosmic battle, which will be brutal and fierce, but which will have an incredible ending for mankind and for creation. Yes, there is hope for our sad world!
“I will put enmity between you and the woman. Between your offspring and hers. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel”. So, who’s his offspring, and who’s hers? His offspring is Satan and his evil dominion, including all his earthly cohorts. Her offspring is humanity, more specifically believing humanity.
Putting enmity between the two was an act of mercy. God interrupted the fatal alliance between humankind and the serpent. From now on there will be war… a very long and bitter war, until her seed – Jesus – would crush the serpent’s head, even though this Jesus would be mortally wounded by the serpent himself.
The war is thus ultimately between God and Satan. But what is the nature of this war? Is it a war about power, like the wars on earth? No, it’s the ultimate cosmic conflict between good and evil, like CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia tell us. But to be absolutely precise: It is a war of epistemology. How do you and I know what is good and evil? Where do we turn for the answer? That is exactly why the devil wished to destroy my trust in God’s Word!
And that’s exactly why the Bible is so utterly unique. The Bible is the only source in the world that not only defines the origin and nature of good and evil accurately, but also how we can know the difference, and it also foretells the final liquidation of evil and the triumph of good.
The Bible alone has an answer for evil. No other philosophy or religion has. They can’t even begin to define it. And whatever problem you cannot define, you cannot solve, says our good friend Jordan Peterson from Toronto. Peterson is absolutely right in saying so.
And so, the long story of these 66 books written by 40 authors over 1600 years, is all about God’s promise to this poor woman who listened to the serpent and how He came again and again to renew that promise throughout history. So, when humankind was almost wiped out by a flood, because we became so evil that we broke God’s heart, He made a covenant with the only surviving family, renewing his commitment to all humanity (Gen. 9).
And then, when the descendants of Noah had degenerated into rank paganism, God called one man – Abram – and his wife, and promised to bless them abundantly if they would walk uprightly before him (see Gen. 12-25). And then, when God had miraculously rescued this man’s offspring from Egypt, he renewed his commitment to them at Horeb. He promised to be their God if they would keep his covenant forever (Exodus 19).
And then, when they had finally settled in the Promised Land, he made a covenant with King David, a man after his own heart, promising that he would give him a son to sit on his throne and to rule with righteousness for ever and ever (II Sam. 7). And then, when David’s dynasty lay in ruins due to their sin and rebellion, and God’s people had proven themselves to be an abject failure, Yahweh promised to come and fix the problem himself. Read Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 and see for yourself.
He would come to his wayward people, now in exile – for his own name sake – to purge away their filth and radically renew their stony hearts. For that’s where the problem lies. They would be so ashamed of themselves, so as to cast away their idols , loving their God for ever.
In the meanwhile, one prophet after the other spoke of the Righteous One, the Son of David that will come to put an end to all injustice and establish peace. This servant of the Lord would even be punished by God for the sins of his people (Isaiah 53).
And then, when we reach the end of the Tenach (the Hebrew name for the Old Testament), there is silence for 400 years, while Judah is nine months pregnant with messianic expectations. In fact, the very last Hebrew prophet pronounced that Yahweh himself would suddenly come to his temple… (Malachi 3:1). What in the world could that mean?
And then Jesus appeared by the River Jordan… during the reign of Tiberius Caesar around the year 30 AD.
My Kingdom is not of this world
Now think of that for a moment. If it was simply a power struggle, then God could have settled that by destroying the foreign powers ruling over Jerusalem. But long ago already the story of Job told Israel that it is not simply a power-struggle. It’s a struggle between good an evil. God could have told Satan to get lost, and to leave Job alone. But He didn’t, because that would have proved Satan’s point that “Job only fear you because you bless him”. So, God allowed Satan to go for Job. But Job, in spite of everything, did not curse God. He only came to a much deeper understanding of how awesome He is. And so he put his hand to his mouth in stunned silence. Good triumphed over evil in spite of everything.
So when Jesus goes into the desert to be tempted by the Devil, he doesn’t fall for Satan’s tricks either. Jesus will not use his divine power to make life easy for himself, nor will he surrender to his adversary in exchange for some short-term benefits. He has but one mission, to overcome evil, by proving his Father to be just, holy and gracious, and Satan to be infinitely evil and the father of all lies, and thereby to save mankind. That’s’ how he will crush the serpent’s head. But how will he accomplish that?
Hours before Jesus was betrayed and arrested, the serpent tried once more to divert him from his course – in a garden – just like he beguiled Eve long ago. But Satan failed, for the second Adam had his eyes fixed on His heavenly Father’s will and our eternal salvation. Nonetheless, Satan still launched one final assault, for this was “the hour of the power of darkness” as Jesus had told his own a few hours before.
And then later that day at noon, the Nazarene was hoisted – naked and flogged – up a cursed Roman cross outside Jerusalem, after a mockery of a trial. Satan and his dominion’s victory seemed certain. And so the Son of God bowed his head to die, in God-forsaken dereliction. Evil had finally gained the upper hand, or did it not?
No, what happened instead was that man’s evil, hatred and depravity was now finally revealed for what it was. And Satan vizor was finally ripped off. And sin’s infinite curse had been borne once for all for all who would believe. And so a Roman centurion standing there could cry out: “Truly he was a righteous man, the Son of God!” At that moment, maybe as far away as the nearest shores of Europe, the sun’s eclipse and the earth’s violent shaking signaled the victory of God’s own Son, as recorded by Phlegon in his Chronicles around 80 AD.
Jesus died to finally conquer sin, death and Satan, all in one. But He not only died for our sins. He also entered into our suffering, showing us once for all how to deal with evil. Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord.
For a brief two days his disciples thought his cause was hopelessly lost, until the break of dawn on that first day of the week, when the devoted women went to the tomb… while the eleven were all sleeping.
He is risen!
The rest is history. Literally. Mankind would never be the same again. Now even National Geographic has to admit: “No single movement has impacted human history like Christianity”.
Why? His apostles soon began proclaiming his victory. Jesus had routed the demonic powers though his cross and made a public spectacle of them wrote Paul in Colossians 2. He destroyed the works of the devil, says I John 3. He destroyed him who had power over death, proclaimed Hebrews 2.
And not only that. All Jesus true followers now heard that that they have already passed from death to life… yes you as well if you are a believer! When we die, we will simply fall asleep in the arms of Christ, to be awakened by his call in the last day. If ever again you fear death, ask yourself if you fear falling asleep? Often, I can’t wait to lay my head on the pillow. That’s what Jesus accomplished for you. “My friend Lazarus is not dead, he is asleep”, Jesus said to the folks around Lazarus’ tomb. So why fear anyone who may only succeed in putting you to sleep to be awakened again by Jesus Christ?
Jesus’ own voice will awaken our new day, when finally, all his enemies will be put under his feet. Little wonder that Paul could encourage the church in Rome facing immanent persecution under Nero with these words: “He will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).
Isn’t it amazing?
Do not be overcome by evil!
And yet, the church also got a very clear message from Christ how not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good, just like He did. See Romans 12. He taught his disciples on the mount: “You have heard it was said: and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I tell you: Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek too” (Matt. 5:38-39)
I once listened to Leo Tolstoy’s audio book Why I am a Christian driving down to Florida. The famous Russian spoke for hours on the words: “Do not resist an evil person” I won’t follow his radical passivism of course, but he convinced me how central this command should be to genuine Christianity.
Jesus did not address the role of the government to reward the good and to punish the evil. Neither was he suggesting that we may allow sin and error to destroy his church from the inside (He gave us Matthew 18 to prevent that). Nor did he argue against basic self-defense.
He was speaking about our attitude as his disciples towards any who plot or commit evil against us personally or collectively. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, wrote Paul in II Cor. 10, but spiritual. If you are excluded, maligned, slandered, cheated, assaulted, exploited or abused, never, ever reply in kind. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. It is as if Jesus was saying: “I have shown you the way: My kingdom is not of this world and I have never called my servants to arms. That is the world’s habit ever since the fall… but you be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect”.
Many through the centuries have taken Jesus up on his word, like Tsar Nicholas II who left a note to his daughter Olga before he and his family were finally executed in 1917: “Tell my followers not to avenge my death. Evil will never conquer evil. Only love will”. Happy are we, if we follow in his footsteps.
To come back to my own story. I came to realize all this at a much deeper level after my trial fifteen years ago. Since then, as I studied Islam and the religions of the East, or Communism and Hitler, and even the Secular Humanism of the West, and other schools of thought, I realized, none of them can even define evil, let alone conquer it.
Do you see why nothing shall be said against the Holy Bible?
It’s an incredible story, with its main character – a penniless preacher from Galilee – towering over history as humankind’s only hope against the reign of Satan and his dominion.
Gerard van Honthorst Christ before the High Priest – 1617