The Agony of Defeat

Many in my generation grew up watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Each week the show started with Jim McKay’s narration over a montage of various video clips from various sports. Jim’s most famous phrase from the show’s opening was, “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.” Coinciding with the audio phrase “agony of defeat” was a video clip of Yugoslavian ski jumper, Vinko Bogataj, loosing his balance toward the end of the inrun, tumbling, flipping, and ending with a spectacular crash through a light retaining fence near spectators. Most everyone in my generation has that image and phrase fixed in our minds.

This past Monday night Alabama’s football team experienced the agony of defeat … an image that also may stick in the minds of many a fan. Tuesday morning I had a couple of out-of-state friends text or email to ask if I was doing much grief counseling that day! I honestly saw most of my Alabama fan friends handle it fairly well … not too much mourning, grieving, excuse-making, or complaining. But I did notice a common theme from several of them. It was the idea that it’s actually good for Alabama to lose a game like that … that the humbling effect of the loss would prove to ultimately be a good thing.

While I absolutely agree that the character development of young men on the team is far more important that wins or losses, I also know that this comment is made only half seriously. It’s a way to help soothe the pain of losing. I say this, not to enter into a debate about college football, but rather to show the parallel of how we as Christians think about losing, pain, suffering, the agony of defeat. I suggest the average Alabama fan may be okay with losing an occasional national championship game but likely expects to be there again and win it all next year. I suggest the average Christian may be okay with experiencing some occasional suffering but likely expects God to make it soon go away, not have to experience that agony again, and start living in victory. If losing a national championship game builds character, then wouldn’t an entire losing season build even more character? If occasional suffering on the part of an American Christian builds character, then wouldn’t it be better for us to experience the intense persecution that fellow believers face in much of the world?

This is in no way an indictment of Alabama fans … every fan of every team is guilty of the same thing. Sure, I want the players on my team to have and build character, but I also want them to win! It’s just a game and we need to keep that in perspective. But I am trying to seriously address the mindset of Christians when it comes to adversity and loss. I suspect this is why the prosperity gospel message is so popular and well-received … you don’t have to factor in suffering and persecution. But authentic Christianity is full of pain, suffering, opposition, agony, loss, and trouble. Most Christians throughout history and around the world today have barely even been able to field a team, much less make it to the national championship game. The only “victory” they know is the abundance of grace they receive while in the midst of suffering.

I certainly don’t want and I’m not suggesting we ask God for more adversity. But if it does come our way, in large or small doses, we can be certain God is working to build our character and make us more like Jesus. Let’s fix our gaze on Jesus rather than desired outcomes and enjoy the abundance of grace He gives.