It is the enduring buzzword of the revolutionary of all stripes and it connotes such a multitude of individual meanings that it is batted about without ever being examined. Struggle: the clarion call of all who would seek to overthrow the perceived overlords in their lives and rise to their own independence.
The word “struggle” is ubiquitous in revolutionary literature. Voltaire said, “My life is a struggle.” Engels wrote that “[T]he whole history of mankind […] has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploiting and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes […].” Mao Tse-Tung wrote: “Once all struggle is grasped, miracles are possible.” Hitler entitled his book Mein Kamp (“My Struggle”). And what does jihad mean but “struggle”?
What is the implication of the use of this word in social rhetoric? Just this: that if I try hard enough I can overcome the power over me with my own power or with the collective power of those who agree with me. I can do it. We can do it.
There is something very telling in the depictions of people in socialist propaganda posters. They are always very healthy, strong, intelligent. The farmer with his ramrod posture and sinewy forearms stands in front of a tractor or field of golden wheat. The thinker stands next to the soldier, both robust and enthusiastic. The only people who do not appear as glowing specimens of humanity are the actual leaders. Lenin looks like an old man. Stalin can’t lose the double chin. Mao is overweight. Hitler looks a bit too puny. But these are when photographs are used. When an artist drew the men they looked much more dashing and strong. The depiction of Hitler as a knight comes to mind. The years seem to fall away from a more spritely Lenin. Mao never improved much either way. The strength of the people is highlighted but the inconvenient reality remains: people are still just people. The message that our struggle is enough because we are strong enough does not reflect the reality of who we are.
The Bible holds a quite different message. At the impossible prospect of escaping the pharaoh’s chariots at the Red Sea Moses told the people: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” In Samuel’s last address to the Israelites he said, “Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes.” Before a great battle the prophet Jahaziel told the king, “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.” In Psalm 46:10 the sons of Korah wrote, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!”
“Stand firm”. “Stand still”. “Stand firm”. “Be still”. What the Bible offers is a mighty God, sufficiently powerful to overcome on your behalf. Scripture does not have to alter a person’s image in order to hide the weakness of reality behind the power of the paintbrush. It is honest about the weakness of man and like the father to whom the little child says, “I can do it myself!” is never swayed by vain professions of strength.
When the Jews hailed Jesus as the one who would complete their struggle over their political oppressors they forgot that he had said that the truth shall set them free. When they nailed him to the cross with that sign above his head they forgot that he told them that the one who sins is a slave to sin. When they buried him in the grave the disciples feared both Rome and the Jews under Rome. But when he rose they knew the Son had made them free indeed.