As a gamer I have unfortunately become very consistently schooled in the politics of losing. If you are the 1% that never endures the bitter taste of defeat, kudos to you my friend and may the odds ever be in your favor. As for me and the rest of us, it is a recurring theme that is baked into most gaming experiences. One might consider it to be the connective tissue that binds many of us… you will enter the match with high hopes, you will battle valiantly, and eventually you will succumb to the inevitable. Half of the combatants in every multiplayer match will depart disappointed, or in a free-for-all match only one will hoist the trophy while all others will be sent home with nothing more than some battle scars, maybe some XP, and a participant ribbon to show to mommy. For many, the multiplayer game of choice right now is Overwatch, and the division between the “haves” and the “have not’s” is pretty clear. You are either pretty good at Overwatch, or you are the person that makes those on your friend’s list spontaneously go “offline” when you sign on because they are afraid you will be joining their battles and bringing them down in the process.
In Overwatch you get to choose from a massive variety of characters with entirely different weapons and styles of combat, but even with all of these choices sometimes a game is just not the right fit for the player and can result in a large amount of losing, followed by extended periods of not winning, and finally culminating in a season of endless defeat. Few things are more frustrating than having nearly endless options to experience victory and yet still be unable to ascend to the winner’s podium. But here we are, another excellent multiplayer game that so many gamers simply can’t achieve a consistent level of success while playing. So if losing is such a natural and expected outcome in nearly all facets of life, why is it that we find it so difficult to accept? Whether it is your opponent’s foul-mouthed objections to the finish of a multiplayer match over your headset, getting the disappointing email that the job you had hoped for is being awarded to another candidate, or the wordless agony of losing a loved one to the ravages of an incurable disease, the truth is we all face the reality of losing in multiple arenas of life daily.
If you are like me, you have found a way to make losing into an art form. While I am sure your track record is impressive in its own right, I can assure you that through my own foolish life choices I have destroyed more than the devil has ever had the opportunity to steal from me, if I’m being truly honest. Fortunately, Scripture is filled with lovable losers just like me and anyone who can relate to the feeling of falling just one score away from finally tasting victory. So if you have experienced the pain of losing, take heart, because over the next few paragraphs we will visit three separate and severe occasions of loss and reveal God’s long term plan for losing… sometimes it is to restore, other times to replace, and many times it is to protect and save.
When He Restores: Our first member of the Survivor’s Club For Losers is a central figure to the Old Testament, King David. But when we find him in 1 Samuel 30 he is far from assuming the throne. One might argue this is one of the lower points in David’s life, but considering that across his years David would lose his first wife, multiple children, his best friend, his throne, and so much more it’s kind of hard not to place him in our Hall of Fame for Exceptional Losing. David and his small militia of loyal soldiers have spent years on the run from King Saul as he has led multiple campaigns to find and kill David and all those who support his candidacy for king. I guess since they didn’t have social media back then they took character assassination quite literally.
David has just been kicked out of his current gig as a mercenary-for-hire for the Philistines (yes, the same Philistines that he made his name killing. But that is a story for another time). As he and his men return to the city of Ziklag to regroup and determine what to do now that they had just lost their jobs, they find an even worse problem awaits them. As they drew near to the city they saw smoke rising in the air, and their arrival to camp confirmed the horrible truth…everything had been burned to the ground and all of their wives and children were gone. While the absence of bodies was minimally reassuring that at least their families were still alive, whoever did this atrocity surely had evil intentions in mind. Have you ever had a bad day at work only to find that an even more hellacious reality was waiting for you to walk through the door? Well, that’s where David finds himself now, with all that he ever cared about gone and his men on the brink of mutiny. But in verse 6 the tide begins to turn as David sought and found “strength in the Lord”. When everything is going wrong David turns to God and asks for His strategic plan to solve this dilemma. David is guided to the perpetrators, routs them easily in battle with only 2/3 of his army with him, and all that had been lost was restored. So we see that sometimes God permits the loss, but He has full restoration in mind. David and his men gained a totally different perspective on what losing meant when they thought the bad news was that they lost their job, and it turned out having regained their families that the job they lost was no longer as important as what they almost lost and now had found.
When He Replaces: If David belongs in the Hall of Fame, Job gets his own wing. Across the first two chapters of Job we see perhaps the most tragic collection of losses a human being has endured without respite. Verse after verse is a sword plunged into the heart of Job as he loses his wealth, his possessions, his servants, the lives of his children, and finally his health. The fall of Job continues as his friends turn on Him and His wife encourages him to “curse God and die”. I doubt he found that particular bit of advice helpful. As the losses pile up it had to be impossible for Job to see a bright light at the end of any of these tunnels. But through this we have an exceptionally quotable response from Job that really illustrates the character of this man of God. In Job 1:20-22 we find that Job’s reaction to his tremendous losses was to worship God and say, “The Lord gives and the Lord has taken away”.
Wow. Without a trace of the bitterness and resentment I know I would be feeling in that moment Job illustrates His full understanding of the nature of our mortal existence. We came into this world with nothing, and we don’t get to bring a carry-on into the afterlife. All that we have are temporary gifts from God meant to be used, given, and enjoyed. And when these are removed, we understand that just like checking a book out at the library it all eventually returns to the owner. We never “possessed” any of it in the first place… we were merely caretakers of the gifts and talents of what God has given us, and as illustrated in Matthew 25 there will be a reckoning in which we must give it all back. But Job’s story doesn’t end there… no, let’s fast-forward to Job 42:10 where the conclusion of this tale of losing ends with not only a replacement of all Job had lost, but a double-portion as well. Through his patient acceptance of this season of losing he came out the other side with twice what he had entered with, complete with another 140 years of life to enjoy with his new blessings.
When He protects and saves: Our final example is found in Genesis 42. Just to bring us up to speed, we are knee-deep in the story of Jacob and his son Joseph, who was sold by his brothers as a slave into Egypt and was thought to be dead by his father Jacob. Joseph has endured a host of trials and tribulations and has emerged as the new second-in-command of the entire nation of Egypt, but his family has no idea that he survived his ordeals and Jacob was misled to believe he was eaten by animals many years prior. So here we go at verse 36, in which Jacob is in an awful predicament. Of his twelve sons, one is believed to be dead (Joseph), another (Simeon) is currently being held as prisoner in Egypt, and the youngest (Benjamin) has been summoned by the Egyptian ruler who is the same one who detained Simeon previously. It is just too much for old Jacob to bear as he laments that he has already lost two sons, a third is being requested, and if he loses this one he will simply die a sad and broken man.
Against Jacob’s desires, the remaining ten brothers return to Egypt to purchase food from this Egyptian ruler who has them all quaking in their boots. And once the dust settles it is revealed in Genesis 45:4-8 that the temperamental and unpredictable Egyptian ruler is actually their long lost brother Joseph who had been sold and Jacob presumed dead so many years ago. All the brothers were reunited with their father Jacob as Joseph explains that this temporary loss was actually designed to send him ahead of them so he could save all of them as well as multitudes of others from the devastating famine that was afflicting the land and would have killed them all.
It can be very hard to endure a losing season or a sudden unexpected loss, but all of these examples are just the tip of the iceberg when trying to see the big picture. At no time are any of the losses minimized… to be fair David’s home was still burned, Job’s new children do not erase the freshly dug graves of their fallen brothers and sisters, and Jacob did not regain the years of fellowship with Joseph that simply cannot be replaced. The pain is still real, but the Lord in each circumstance was there all along guiding each tragic story to His intended outcome… restoration, replacement, or salvation.
Sometimes I struggle with why Christianity feels so much like losing… our Saviour was publicly beaten and executed, his followers were systematically hunted and killed in horrific fashion, and it seems that suffering is the rule rather than the exception for our time here on earth. But each of these examples remind me that, to paraphrase the one and only Captain Kirk, how we deal with death/losing is just as important as how we deal with life/winning. And in the Survivor’s Guide to Losing I found:
- David resisted the temptation to respond in his own strength and found strength and guidance in the Lord
- Job refused to blame God and accepted that all he had was merely on loan from the Almighty, freely given and feeely returned.
- Jacob finally found that what he thought was heartbreaking loss was actually future provision, and by temporarily losing one son all twelve and their families were saved.
If you are in a process of losing or trying to deal with a major loss, take heart. The Lord is faithful to make all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He may choose to restore what you have lost, or perhaps replace it. His larger plan may mean temporary loss for the salvation of others. But it all has a purpose, and as Christ Himself proved through His ultimate sacrifice it is through losing our life that we truly find it. The losing is necessary for the ultimate victory, and as Paul encouraged us he counts it all as loss so he can gain Christ. That is our final victory, and the one that truly counts.