The one thing we cannot lose

Christianity Today recently ran an article by history professor Susan Lim about the faith of the Founding Fathers, featuring a brief account of the life of Alexander Hamilton. It was timely: Broadway’s unlikely hip-hop hit musical based on the patriot’s life just won a Best Musical Theater Grammy.

The Christianity Today article was titled, “God Loved Alexander Hamilton,” and was subtitled, “but did this particular Founding Father love God?” As interesting (and debatable) as that question is, the article caused me to think again about God’s seeming predilection for losers.

What does Alexander Hamilton have to do with losers? He was George Washington’s right hand man, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, the first Secretary of the Treasury, and the genius behind the national banking system. He was a prominent lawyer and one of the most influential people in government and, indeed, in the history of the United States.

But he was born a loser. His mother was married but separated from her husband and was living with another man when Alexander and his brother came along. Their own father deserted them when Alexander was still a boy (his first great loss), their mother then died (his second great loss), and her former (and still legitimate) husband took everything of value in her estate (his third great loss).

Yet through the care of a Presbyterian pastor and the generosity of some of the wealthier men of his town, young Alexander was given a first-rate education. He was connected to a prominent patriot and took up the cause of American independence. He caught the attention of George Washington and became his trusted confidant.

Hamilton’s last great loss was in a famous duel with Aaron Burr. He was mortally wounded and lived only a short time. But in that time he reaffirmed his faith and received Holy Communion.

Did God love Alexander Hamilton because he succeeded in escaping his loser status? No, God loved Alexander Hamilton “because,” to quote the Bible, “God is love.” We just see that love more clearly when it is lavished on losers because we wrongly assume that winners – the people who’ve got it altogether; the nice people from good families – deserve to be loved.

But nobody was ever loved because they deserved it. That’s just not how love works. Respect works that way, responding to the worth of its object, like echoes rebounding from granite. But love does not respond; it initiates. Love does not materialize because of the loveliness of its recipient, but because of the character of the one doing the loving.

Because that is true, it must also be true that God loves losers just as much as winners and winners just as much as losers. It’s just that, in our merit-driven, image-conscious world, love for losers stands out in bold relief.

That God loves losers is obvious. The Bible is full of examples. Consider the long list of losers in Jesus’s genealogy. There was Judah, whose shameful behavior toward his daughter-in-law is a matter of biblical record. There was Rahab, remembered forever as “the harlot.” There was David, who stole the wife (also in the line of Jesus) of one of his most faithful supporters.

The list goes on and on. As U2 frontman Bono once put it: “The fact that the Scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, adulterers, and mercenaries used to shock me. Now it is a source of great comfort.”

It’s a source of great comfort because it means God’s love is not conditioned on our success but on his character. He loves us not because we’re lovable but because he is love. We can choose not to care about that love, but we cannot choose not to be loved. Ours may be a long, sad story of failures and losses, but there’s one thing we can’t lose: God’s love.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 2/20/2016

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