1 Corinthians 15:54-55. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
When Jesus faced death in the Garden of Gethsemane he did so in horror. He was not terrorized primarily by the idea of physical torture or pain. His terror was the separation from the Father that he would face, the God-forsakeness of death. For Jesus, death was a sting. It was the bite of the serpent.
Without Christ, death is horrifying. But in Christ, death is swallowed up in victory. Death is now the doorway into the presence of God and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Death, the most evil thing in the universe, is now for our good. How is this possible? Because Christ has swallowed death and defeated it.
Christ did not run from death. He did not deny the reality of death’s evil. He did not pass it on to someone else. He absorbed it into his own being and re-made it into something beautiful. Death is now absorbed into victory. It is part of the process to experiencing glory. Through death we live. Through weakness we are empowered. Through sorrow we enter into joy. In the face of evil we learn to love.
A friend of mine recently told me a story about his time teaching high school students in the Amazon. While exploring the forest, a student came upon and stirred up a hive of killer bees. My friend proceeded to wave his arms in order to attract the bees to himself so that the students could escape and not be stung. My friend was stung over 30 times. His loving sacrifice saved others. He said that this incident helped him to stop doubting his own salvation.
What if this little phrase, death is swallowed up in victory, is one of the biggest truths we have in all of scripture? Not just for our future, but also for our here and now? What if the way to find victory in the sorrows of life is not to avoid evil, or deny it, or pass it on to someone else, but to confront, swallow, and absorb evil into your story? What if the way Christ faced and swallowed the poison of death is the way we are to face and swallow the poisons of this life? What if this is how evil is turned into victory? What if this is how the stinger is removed from the bee- by taking the sting into yourself. What if we are called to “swallow evil?”
Please understand what I am saying. By “swallowing” or “absorbing evil” I do not mean becoming like the evil or even accepting the evil or overlooking the evil, especially our own evil within. What I do mean is that we must confront the suffering and the evil outside of us that is behind it. We must absorb its painful sting for the sake of the one instigating the evil, and for our own sake.
Constantly running from and denying evil, or blaming and seeking vengeance will never allow the sting of death to be swallowed into victory. It will never allow whatever in you needs to die to die. Your own selfishness and pride will never be eradicated. “Swallowing evil” when evil is done to us causes us to confront our own heart’s desires. When evil steals what we desire from us our truer deeper desire for Christ can only then be revealed. Evil steals from you. But it can never steal you. Not if you are in Christ.
“Swallowing evil” will allow the power of the living Christ within you to burst forth in resurrection power defeating the evil through love, grace, and forgiveness, thus quenching its sting. “Swallowing evil” will allow your inner evil and your inner holiness to be revealed. It will allow the gospel to do its work in your life.
Do you remember the Joseph story from the Bible? Joseph was tortured by his brothers and then sold as a slave into a foreign land, Egypt. Ultimately Joseph saved, forgave, and restored his brothers. But Joseph had to swallow the evil that they had done to him in order for this to happen. He did not deny the evil- he called his brother’s actions evil to their faces. He did not flee the evil- he found comfort in his sorrow through hard work and the love of an Egyptian wife. He did not avenge the evil or pass it on- he actually rescued and provided for his brothers and their families. And he did not curse God and die- he learned to trust God’s promise to turn evil into victory. Ultimately Joseph “swallowed the evil.” He took it into himself and let it do its work in his life through faith in God’s goodness and love. He let it bring a death to his fantasy of what life was “supposed” to be as daddy’s favorite son, and he accepted what God wanted his life to actually be- a life lived for others.
“To live is Christ” is what empowers us to taunt death and evil. It no longer has the victory over us. It is union with Christ that allows us in the face of suffering caused by the evil of the world, to not run from it, or deny its existence, or pass it on to someone else. Union with Christ allows us to “swallow evil.” To take the bee sting. To truly love our enemies and forgive those who have trespassed against us.
Do you find yourself denying or running from the evils around you? Do you seek vengeance against those who have hurt you? Or have you learned to let evil and sorrow bring about the death to selfishness that it is meant to bring? How does union with Christ allow us to not only confront the evil done to us but also to reveal our own inner evil and our inner holiness?