We must not invest in the transient things of this world, the very worst of investments, but in the everlasting things of heaven. If we fight the long defeat with the things of heaven in mind, we will attain the final victory. It is this final victory that represents, for each of us, the final defeat of the prince of this world.
As we celebrate the glorious joy of the Resurrection, we might want to ponder the significance of Easter within the context of the political miasma in which we find ourselves. Is there room for the Risen Christ in a world that is proud of its Pride? Can the light of Christ prevail in the darkness of the culture of death? Is there room for hope, or should we despair?
These questions were answered with succinct brilliance by J.R.R. Tolkien. “I am a Christian,” he wrote, “and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’—though it contains… some samples or glimpses of final victory.” This concept of history was taken up by Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings when she proclaimed that she and her husband “through ages of the world [had] fought the long defeat.” If we focus on the defeat and forget the victory, such a perspective might seem pessimistic, even fatalistic; but if we keep the victory in sight, its light will guide us to the victory itself.
The problem is that the final victory is not to be found in the long defeat but in the place where all defeat has been defeated. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Christ tells us. “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not from hence.” The glorious truth is that the final victory is not thousands of years in the future but at the end of the world, which, for each of us, is the moment of our own individual deaths. Victory is not when the curtain finally falls on the long defeat of history at the final apocalypse but when the curtain finally falls on us. The end of the world is the end of our lives. What follows at that very moment, which could be today, is the final victory or the final defeat. We will either exchange the long defeat for the final victory or else we will exchange the long defeat for the final defeat. There is no other future for any of us when our world ends.
It is, therefore, crucial that we keep our eyes focused on the glimpses of victory. It’s not for us to know, or even particularly to care, what battles will be fought after our own particular battle has ended. Since all of time is simultaneously present to the One who brings it into being, the future is in safe hands.
As for the past, C.S. Lewis reminds us that the whole of history is enlightened by those who fought the long defeat by keeping their eyes on the final victory:
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those that thought the most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you’ll get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you’ll get neither.
The lesson of history is simple enough. If we keep our eyes on heaven, we will make the world a better place; if we lose sight of heaven, we will be making the world even worse than it is already. It is, therefore, necessary to see the defeat by the light of the victory, and not the other way around. It is, in any event, not possible to see the victory in the light of the defeat because the darkness of the defeat offers no light with which to see it.
In practical terms, we must love our enemies as well as neighbours. If we find that we are hating our enemies, or that our inner peace is being destroyed by anger, it is time to retreat from the battle. Such a retreat is not a defeat but a victory; it is a spiritual retreat, which is always a victory. It enables us to have our wounds healed that we might return to the fray as Christian warriors, filled with the love of God that enables us to love our enemies, which is the only way of winning them to Christ.
And there’s no need to take my word for it. Listen to the Word Himself:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing…. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love…. This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends…. These things I command you, that you love one another.
The paradox is that this is fighting talk. To love as Christ loves is to declare war on the world and its hatred. It is the love that costs nothing less than the laying down of our lives in the war with the Prince of this World and his legion of followers. “If the world hate you,” says Our Lord, “know ye, that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you…. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
It is, therefore, with the armour of Christ that we fight the long defeat. Mercifully, due to our mortal weakness, we are only called to fight for a brief time. Our tour of duty is threescore years and ten, give or take a decade or two, though some are called to the final victory sooner. During our tour of duty, we must not invest in the transient things of this world, the very worst of investments, but in the everlasting things of heaven. If we fight the long defeat with the things of heaven in mind, we will attain the final victory. It is this final victory that represents, for each of us, the final defeat of the prince of this world.
Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!
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The featured image is “Resurrection of Christ” (c. 1700) by Noël Coypel (1628–1707) and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.