Discouragement is an easy trap. You don’t have to look very far, or very long, at our world and culture to observe and lament battle after battle raging in the marketplace of secular thoughts and habits; all designed to devour our hearts and minds, and the ones whom we love. (1 Peter 5:8)
Recently, I caught myself feeling deflated given our current moral, civil, and political climate when I was reminded from a book I’m reading Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America's Destiny (I’m a history nerd) of a great biblical truth: The war for this world is actually already over! Jesus Christ has already won! “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Allow me to explain what I mean:
The battle of New Orleans was fought on January 8, 1815 roughly five miles southeast of the infamous French Quarter. Led by Major General Edward Pakenham, the British gambled on a forward attack of 5,300 well-trained and experienced red-coat soldiers. Despite an inexperienced and significantly smaller army, the American forces led by Brevet Major General and future President Andrew Jackson, easily defeated the British in under just one hour. Military historians have contemplated and debated all kinds of theories as to why Jackson’s men were able to accomplish such an astounding and unlikely victory so quickly (David and Goliath stretched analogies aside). But here’s my point in bringing this up: The battle of New Orleans was fought 18 days after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which formally and legally ended the war of 1812.
This battle, which claimed the lives of more than 2,000 British and roughly 50 Americans, was fought despite the war having already ended. The peace treaty had been signed on December 24, 1814 in the United Netherlands (now Belgium) city of Ghent, by American and British representatives essentially restoring pre-war territorial borders. But geography, travel, and technology being what it was in the early 19th century, word would not arrive to the shores of the United States till after the Battle of New Orleans had been fought.
What does this have to do with the Christian life in 2021? I think its a helpful analogy (granted: analogies are never perfect!) of our current status in the world. The war over the dominion of sin, the flesh, and the devil is already over. However, we are all well aware of daily battles that continue to wage on. We live in a state of tension between the “already” and “not yet”, as reformers like Luther and Calvin helpfully distinguish. And yet despite all the pain and suffering, despite all the tensions and landmines, and despite all the hurdles and backsliding, Jesus Christ has commanded us to “let not your hearts be troubled” John 14:1. If I was a disciple in the upper room, I likely would have put my foot in my mouth (like Peter often did) and challenged the Lord: “It seems like things aren’t going too well- why shouldn’t we be discouraged?!”
Indeed, as believers given all that’s happening around us, how can we keep our heads up and not surrender to a cantankerous outlook in life? The answer is as humbling as it is astonishing: by going to the cross, Jesus has prepared a place for us. God has accepted his sacrificial death in our place, and just as Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the father, so too will one day we be raised to our eternal home in the new heavens and new earth. Take heart indeed! Far from being a cosmic escape, the victory of Christ over the grave gives us a deep hope and sure foundation in which to face our daily struggles and battles. Be them personal, relational, or contextual, we do not need to fight as though we are unsure or worried about the outcome. Jesus told his disciples, and by application all of us, in John 16 all these realities so that we “may have peace”. Despair and discouragement is not a fruit of the spirit. And so with our lives in this world, our peace is found in Him, not our momentary battles.
Even if the battle had not gone according to General Andrew Jackson’s plans, and the Americans had lost the territory of New Orleans , the war of 1812 would still have been over. “Victory" takes on a new meaning then for the believer, since we are not called to political, civil, or cultural transformation and success, but rather our call to arms is to simple faithfulness to the one who “began a good work in you and will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6) . Cheer up, my friends! Despite our battles today and tomorrow, the war is over.