Please read 1 John 5:1-6. It seems to me that this blog is a kind of counterpoint to what I wrote last week. Interesting that it comes from a text in the same theological tradition as John 9. Perhaps what makes John’s claim of “victory through faith” different from the talk I complained about last time is that he does not deny the pain and horror of the cross, but sees it as a transforming power.

During the dark days of World War II, a young Dutch man named Christiaan Beker lay in a hospital bed in Berlin. Death was close at hand. Enslaved by the Nazis and forced to work in a U-boat factory, he had contracted typhus. Chris was sent to the infirmary of the labor camp, but there was no doctor there, only an attendant. Moved finally to a hospital, the Dutchman received care. But he was thrown out on the street in his pajamas when his bed was needed for a German soldier. Somehow he made his way back to the factory, but he found that the whole complex had been reduced to rubble by Allied bombs. So he was left with nothing. His captors sent him to yet another camp, where he collapsed. He was finally transferred to a hospital by some foreign workers.

One day a Polish boy was put in the bed next to Beker’s. Beaten senseless by the Germans for picking up a cigarette butt, the young man could barely mumble. He died three days later. A biographer of Beker’s comments: “Chris had never before been face-to-face with such brutally inhuman cruelty; its effect was staggering….It was then, while lying beside the wasted body of a Polish boy murdered for less than no reason at all, that Chris determined to become a theologian.”

The writer continues: “But it was not clear that Chris himself would live. Convinced finally that he would not, he made his way to the window to see how he would die. The night sky itself was a conflagration, bombs exploding and buildings consumed in flames. Sick with typhus and viewing the apocalypse, Chris confessed that ‘only God is real’” (Ben Ollenburger, “Suffering and Hope,” Theology Today, October 1987: 357).

J. Christiaan Beker did become one of the world’s foremost biblical theologians. Reflecting on the experiences of his life, he once wrote: “A biblical theology of hope views the present power of death in terms of its empty future and therefore in the knowledge of its sure defeat.”

For this man who came through the terrifying ordeal of war to affirm his hope in God’s reality and God’s triumph, death was very real and present. And so it was and is for scores of others, including ourselves. This side of the Holocaust and Hiroshima, in a world of terrorist attacks, of violence against women and marginalized groups, no one can naively pretend that evil and horror are not real. Confronted with cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, a debilitating heart attack or the death of someone we love, we fool ourselves if we underestimate the power of sickness and grief to rearrange our lives over the long term. Anyone who watches the daily news cannot deny that there are forces at work that seek to undermine God’s kingdom. And they’re doing a pretty good job of it.

The author of First John was no more a stranger to such deformative and destructive forces than Chris Beker or any of us. Yet it was precisely in the midst of the struggle against such foes that he made a startling statement. He claimed victory through faith!

It is no accident that John then goes on to assert that the one who overcomes the world is the very one who believes Jesus is the Son of God. He means that it is the historical Jesus–the one who lived and ate with sinners, who became hungry and tired, who died on the cross–it is this one who reveals God. Against his opponents, John insists that it is the very one who died that is the Christ, the Son of God. He came by “water and blood.” In other words, he was born. And he died. This Jesus is the object of the faith that overcomes.

In Jesus who suffered yet was raised, God has overcome every power that would hurt, divide or destroy us. God’s way of patient, self-giving love ultimately triumphs. Maybe that’s what Jesus knew on his last night with his disciples. He told them: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

It’s not how much faith you have. It’s in whom you have it.

© 2006 by Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

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