“After his deep anguish, he will see light and he will be satisfied.”
Isaiah 53:11a (Common English Bible)
I know someone who, after misfortune, comments, “Why does everything always happen to me?” Once, that comment was made following an unusual hailstorm that destroyed her roof. The roof had to be replaced. Her comment failed to include that nearly every roof in a half-mile radius was also destroyed. The storm was not located only over her home as a popular cartoon depicts a storm cloud only over a single person. The unfortunate loss of a roof did not, in fact, only affect her. The difficulty was less the hailstorm and more a view of life that was narrowly focused on her. Many today suffer from defeatism—the quality of their response to life. Most people will experience an occasional defeat. It is the quality of our response to defeat that determines whether we live victoriously or fail to live.
These few words from Isaiah speak of the anguish of the cross that Jesus will experience some time out in the future—a time beyond the period of Isaiah’s day. The cross will appear to be a defeat for Jesus. Following three years of ministry, a ministry of teaching, healing, the inclusion of those once excluded, and extravagant love, Jesus’ work will culminate on a cross. For those who are unable to see beyond the length of their arm, it’s all over. Nailed to a cross, Jesus draws his last breath and dies. Jesus is defeated. Yet, beyond the length of an arm, the narrative continues. Jesus is buried in a tomb that is sealed with a large stone. Night comes, followed by morning, followed once more by night. Then morning returns again. Except this morning is different. The defeat three days earlier is transformed into victory.
Here, Isaiah declares that after Jesus’ deep anguish, he will see the light of Easter morning, realize that the power of God has destroyed death, and will be satisfied that his purpose has been completed—the purpose of destroying the power of sin that separates us from God. In a single moment of time, the cross may appear to be a defeat. But single moments are not left scattered across time as unstrung pearls. God, a master jeweler, strings all successes and failures, victories and defeats together into a life that finally satisfies. Sooner or later, loss causes a win, and the defeated shall triumph and prevail. History is one grand demonstration of men and women who simply refused to permit defeat to speak the final word. What is required is that we rid ourselves of a defeated spirit and wait upon God.
In the last analysis, there are no defeats. The world may postpone or put off for a time what we strive for. There will be disappointments, letdowns, and failures sprinkled through our lives. We may feel battered in some moments, but there remains a voice of our common faith that God intends that we prevail. In those moments that feel like a crushing defeat, pay fresh attention to Isaiah’s words, “After his deep anguish.” From the anguish of what feels like a defeat, something of value is realized, something of life’s values is deepened or enhanced, and we take from the experience something of worth. It was when Victor Hugo was exiled from his beloved France that he created his greatest work. It makes all the difference in how we respond to life’s misfortunes that mark us as defeated or people who strive forward.