Jack the giant killer, Popeye, The Lord of the rings and The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe – what do they have in common? On the surface not much. One is a fairy take, one is a cartoon, one is the nation’s favourite novel and one is a children’s classic. But they all share the same story-line – the battle of good against evil.
This theme fascinates people everywhere. On one side stands some monstrous, invincible evil; on the other a small, lonely figure, foolish enough to stand up for good. And, as the story unfolds, brave ‘little good’ wins out – against all the odds!
Sociologists call such stories ‘myths’. They say children love them because they make them feel secure, because ‘small’ always wins. And adults like them too because they firm-up society’s values – what people want to believe about themselves.
No nation can afford to be cynical about its belief in goodness. Otherwise it will fall apart, as folk give up trying to be good. This is what is happening in Britain today.
Our society is losing its cohesion as people see no values worth uniting around and fighting for.
All at sea
Myths, learned at Grandma’s knee, help to preserve the distinction between good and evil. However, this raises a problem. Mythology is fiction. No one expects to see Popeye pushing a pram or Sauron the Great in a supermarket.
But if ‘morality tales’ are make-believe, does that mean that the triumph of good over evil is make-believe too? And if so, then why is ‘good’ worth fighting for? Perhaps the very idea of goodness is itself make-believe.
When people start thinking like this, cynicism takes over and societies crumble. That is what happened to ancient Greece and Rome. Confidence in traditional ways was lost, public morale declined, and the old virtues of courage and family honour were sneered at by the sceptics. Many historians believe that is why these great civilisations fell into decadence and decay.
It is not hard to see a similar decline in Britain today. ‘Society?’ people say. ‘I blame the parents! I blame the teachers! I blame TV!’ But this is too simplistic. The truth is that we have all become morally disoriented. Parents, teachers, TV producers, politicians – everyone is at sea.
We are not sure what virtue is any more. We are no longer certain of our values and have lost the will to teach them or stand up for them.
The day the myth came true
There is only one way a society can survive – by being sure of well-founded values. We need a ‘mythology’ that will stand up – a ‘mythology’ that is real. And that is precisely where the Christmas story comes in.
The day Jesus Christ was born was the day mythology came true. Christianity does not deal in myths and speculations, but in history. Here was a historical ‘little good’ born into our world – in a real town called Bethlehem in the days of a real Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus.
A real battle between good and evil had been joined. In Jesus, God became a frail man and took on all the forces of darkness – finally defeating them as he became a sacrifice upon the cross. That triumph was demonstrated when he rose from the dead on the third day. This is no myth.
This battle took place in history – played out through historical figures such as Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas the high priest. And especially through the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth.
In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the decisive battle between good and evil has been fought and won. The first Christians, who witnessed these events, were willing to die for the truth of what they had seen.
And against all the odds, the early church – made up of people like fishermen, minor civil servants and ex-prostitutes – began to spread across the world. They had joyful news. Evil has been struck a death blow. In Jesus, good has really conquered.
This was true then and it is still the truth today. Our nation needs to come to terms with this. It is the good news which can turn us around.
But someone might ask, ‘If Jesus conquered evil, why is there still so much suffering in the world?’ Fair question.
This year we celebrated the 60th anniversary of D-Day. The victory secured through that great invasion was decisive. That battle made Hitler’s downfall inevitable. Knowing its impending doom, the Third Reich fought all the harder, but the evil of Nazism faced certain defeat.
Just so, Jesus’ death and resurrection was decisive. From then on, evil knew that it would ultimately fall. It has been thrashing around in its death throes ever since, but Christians believe the time is drawing near when Jesus will return – to finish off evil for ever. There will be a new world, where there is no more sorrow or sin, death or despair. ‘Little good’ has triumphed. The facts of history declare it.
The question is which side are you on? When you watch the Lord of the rings you probably see yourself on the side of good. But which side are you really on? For Jesus or against him?
It is a decision we need to make – as individuals and as a nation.