Barack Obama is a victor. No doubt both exhausted and elated, he has won the American presidential race for a second time. I used to work for a direct sales company, which talked a lot about winning, about being a champion. Whether it was through the hours you worked (12-14 hours per day on average), or the number of customers you had, or the number of products you sold, there were goals for everyone and everyone had a shot at winning something. You could sell zip one week but still be the team champion for having worked 80 hours. That said, some ‘wins’ clearly mattered more than others. There’s a big difference between working 70 hours and earning $1000, and working 80 hours and earning nothing. The first is exhausting but elating, the second merely exhausting. Where is the victory in that?
Tensions between hard work, self sacrifice, victory and defeat are visible right through the Bible. Some ‘wins’ are easy to quantify: David’s defeat of Goliath; Joshua’s conquests of lands and kings; Gideon’s victory over the Midianites. Others, less so. Where is the victory in Paul’s profession of faith while beaten and chained in a prison cell, or in the persecution and murder of the first Christians, or indeed in Jesus Christ’s own death on a cross?
The Bible has some striking and paradoxical things to say about winning and losing. Quite often winners turn out to be losers and losers come out victorious. Goliath was a mighty man with the right weapons and military strategy to win the Philistines’ battle with Israel. Yet he was defeated by David, a shepherd boy wearing a shepherd’s uniform wielding a shepherd’s tools (1 Samuel 17). Technically, Moses and the Israelites should have been defeated by the Egyptians at the Red Sea (Exodus 14). Technically, Gideon’s 300 men should have been vanquished by the Midian army’s countless numbers (Judges 7). But it is the unlikely candidates that emerge victorious.
The fact is that in all these situations there is only one true winner: God himself. And the fact that God chooses weak people, weak nations, the ‘losers’ of the world to fight and win his battles, tells us something very important about God’s character. God cares more about preserving peace than he does about making war. He cares more about making disciples than he does about creating heroes.
God’s victories in the New Testament come not in the form of physical battles won, but in Jesus’ conquering of sin, sickness, disease and death through his own life, death and resurrection. God’s victories come in the form of the sick being healed, dead people being raised to life, spiritually crushed people being set free, relationships being restored, sins forgiven, those in despair being given hope. According to Scripture, God is not a politician with votes to win, or a taskmaster with a long list of goals for us to meet before he gives us his approval. God is love (1 John 4:16). God gives victory to those who in every respect are defeated because it gives us life and it gives him joy.
In a presidential election, there can be only one winner. Yet in God’s agenda, even a loser may triumph. If this God was my nation’s God, I’m pretty sure our politics could look different. If this God was your God, how might your own gains and losses be changed?