You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
-1 John 4:4 (NIV)
You’d have to ask Anthony Miranda why he did what he did.
Maybe things were bad, and he was desperate. Maybe the guy sitting in his car on the southwest side of Chicago that night looked like an easy target. Maybe Anthony was simply acting out a script that’s been imprinted on his heart through years of repetition and example when he walked up to the car and asked the guy for a light. And why he then pulled a gun and demanded the guy’s valuables.
Maybe none of those reasons suffice as explanation. You’d have to ask Anthony. What’s clear is that Anthony picked the wrong target.
The guy in the car handed over his wallet, cash, and valuables. Maybe at that point, Anthony could have gotten away with it. Instead, he told the guy to get out of the car. As he did so, he grabbed for Anthony’s gun. As they struggled, Anthony squeezed off a round, hitting himself in the ankle. They went to the ground, and The Guy Formerly Known As The Guy In The Car got Anthony in a submission hold, where he held him until the police arrived.
As he turned Anthony over to police, he mentioned that he competes in Ultimate Fighting Championships.
If only Anthony had known. He was treated and released for his gunshot wound, and held in lieu of $350,000 bail.
It’s fun when the bad guys get a little justice served to them, isn’t it?
Life doesn’t always seem to work like that, though. A lot of times, when a victim reaches for a bad guy’s gun, it’s the victim who gets shot. Sometimes the victim doesn’t even have to fight back. Sometimes the victim isn’t the intended victim, and sometimes who the victim is doesn’t even matter to the victimizer.
For that matter, no every injustice in the world requires a gun, or for the perpetrator to even be aware that there is collateral damage to his selfishness, violence, or entitlement. Sometimes those who are victims don’t know who’s victimizing them. Sometimes, the damage done to us is done by the person in the mirror. And sometimes the victimizer’s not even a person, but illness, want, sin, death.
And we don’t win those battles. We don’t feel vindicated. We lay on the ground bleeding out, literally or figuratively, our hopes of justice, reparation, restoration fading as quickly as our lives. No way to resist, no one to save us, no one even to blame, sometimes, except ourselves.
That’s the world in which we exist. It’s a tough one to live in, whether, in the words of Mark Knopfler, you’re at any given moment the Louisville Slugger or the ball, the windshield or the bug.
In this world, you have to be wary of anyone who claims you can always win, always come out on top. Sometimes believers talk like that, spouting simplistic platitudes about joy and peace and victory and such. Sometimes we even say that the evil in our world isn’t real, that it’s all an illusion. Nobody buys it, maybe not even the people spouting it. It doesn’t take seriously the enormity of the pain, loss, and sorrow that human beings trying to exist in this world have to live and cope and die with.
But when John reminds his readers that they have overcome the “spirits” who slander the Lord and threaten them, and the people who work with and for and by those spirits, the past tense isn’t accidental, or wishful, or naive. He’s not suggesting that the world isn’t as bad as all that, or that the pain and sorrow and sin human beings have to face on a daily basis isn’t real. It may sound like he’s repeating those tired old triumphalistic platitudes. He’s not, though. The world’s a rough place, and he knows it. He knows who’s in charge of it right now, knows where those spirits that stand against Christ come from. He knows that the human struggle against pain, grief, sickness, sin, and death is really a spiritual one, and that by ourselves we have no hope. We’ll live, and struggle, and die, and that will be that.
Instead, he says, we have overcome. Not in avoiding all that pain. Not in escaping the suffering and aggression and evil of the world. Not in eluding in death. We have overcome, he says, because Jesus has suffered all those things. He’s lived through the worst the world could hand him, taken the same blows that we’ve taken. He even faced death. But he rose again, and shares his life with us through his Spirit. He’s defeated Satan, the one who rules this world. And he lives in us, who have put our trust in him and call him Lord.
And so we live hopeful lives, because we believe in the one who is in us. We believe that people can be redeemed, that marriages can be saved, that relationships can be restored, because we believe that the one who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world. We believe that our own sins don’t tell the full story of who we are, that there’s forgiveness and grace and redemption, because we trust in the one who loves us enough to take up residence with us and transform us “with ever-increasing glory” into his image. We even have the courage to believe that the last words of our own funerals don’t end the story of our lives, because we believe that Jesus our Lord is greater than the temporary lord of this world.
Never minimize suffering, sin, or death. Never pretend it doesn’t matter, or dismiss it - especially when what you should be doing is sharing in someone’s grief and pain. Jesus didn’t do that. He wept at his friend’s tomb, and he wept at Jerusalem’s impending catastrophe, and he was angered by sin and injustice and indignant enough about sickness that he cured it pretty often.
But don’t imagine, either, that the struggle between God and Satan is anything like a fair fight, a conflict between equals. The one who is in us, God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, has already conquered the lord of this world. And all who belong to him share in that victory. Even if we don’t see it now, even if it’s sometimes hard to believe.
UFC skills not required.