In the Face of Defeat
Psalm 108 starts off well enough. The singer praises God, exalting in the Most High. God's steadfast love is above nations. God's might exceeds any strength or power on the earth. To be in good with God? Oh, that is to be blessed beyond blessing!
God's blessings are there, but for some reason the people of God are not feeling blessed. Actually, they are feeling quite lost, abandoned and overcome by enemies, foes and misfortune. The psalm, which starts out as a triumphal anthem, concludes with petitioned prayers for God's intercession.
We literally travel from "the thrill of victory, to the agony of defeat...."
Many grew up with the image of the ski jumper Vinko Bogataj tumbling from the jump ramp at a competition in Germany as TV announcer Jim McKay spoke those iconic words. What makes it even more profound is that just moments before, during the "thrill of victory," we see Pele and Mario Andretti celebrating victories. One is being carried on the shoulders of adoring fans and teammates. The other is showering his team with champagne in the winner's circle. The contrast is stark, and has an iconic place in our media history.
That is Psalm 108 in a nutshell. Along with Amos today, we get a full dose of "the agony of defeat." The continuing plummet of the nations in their estimation before God for injustice reminds us that no one is above being called out for their transgressions. The prophet's oracle names nation after nation, and we bear witness to their plummet. Like Vinko's fall, their tumbling out of control now stands for the eons as a material example of coming out on the short end of God's stick.
There is hope, however...in Jesus' commissioning and sending out of the twelve on their first mission to proclaim the inbreaking kingdom of God he reminds them to keep moving, to keep preaching and to let go of those moments when rejection is their reward. Defeat will only be agony, he reminds us, if we insist on its retention. When the blessing returns to you, when people won't hear your words...then let it go. Shake the dust off, and move on. There are other places, and there will be other opportunities, to proclaim God's victory. Today was just not your day.
In the film loop of Vinko Bogataj's fall, we know now what the agony of defeat looks like. At least, we see a momentary representation of it. The reality is that he went on, after recovering from the minor concussion he received during the fall, to compete. After retiring, he became a ski instructor and coach to Olympic athletes and then raised a family working in heavy industry.
I am sure he had to make a decision at some point to shake the dust off his skis and move on to the next of life's challenges. I pray it was done with faith in a loving and forgiving God who was as much with him on that fateful day as when he landed well.
Still, it stands as a signal lesson to us...that even when the agony of defeat is upon us, in God's economy the worst thing is never the last thing. There is always another chance, another opportunity, another grace awaiting....