It was the most powerful song of the 20th century. It started out in church pews and picket lines, inspired one of the greatest freedom movements in U.S. history, and went on to topple governments and bring about reform all over the world. Word for word, the short, simple lyrics of “We Shall Overcome” might be some of the most influential words in the English language.
Twice God assured a young prophet: “They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you” (Jeremiah 1:19 and 15:20). Jesus announced to Peter and the other disciples: “I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it”(Matthew 16:18). Each of Revelation’s seven letters to churches closes with a promise for overcomers (a.k.a victors or conquerors). Too bad Christianity, like Judaism and Islam, has often been hijacked by fear-mongers, war-mongers, torturers and perpetrators of ignorant or imperialist interpretations of Scripture.
Puzzling over God’s and humans’ roles in overcoming today I read all 200 pages of Love Wins. Now I affirm my overwhelming need to overcome paralyzing fear and hurtful anger or judgment of others. Jesus saves everyone whether they recognize him as God or not. The gates to the New Jerusalem are never shut. Some, like the prodigal son’s older brother, may stay out of the party for awhile, unable to overcome their shock at the Father’s unconditional welcome and seeming ignoring of their own dutiful labors. But “all who go down to the dust will kneel before him” (Psalm 22:29). God even promises to “restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters” (Ezekiel 16:53), and Jesus says “it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for towns which do not listen to his disciples” (Matthew 10:15). Some, like Hymenaeus and Alexander, may be “handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20) or, like a man in another of Paul’s churches, “for the destruction of the sinful nature so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5). Now I affirm: “God is love. And love is a relationship. This relationship is one of joy, and it can’t be contained.”
Love wins. Evil can only be overcome with good and eventually all evil will be overcome. That’s what those civil rights demonstrators were singing about.