For a brief moment, I wanted to be on a debate team.
In high school, I would have argued with a rock if I thought I could win the argument, and this trait carried over into college. After several instances where the limits of my own knowledge were evident, I began to rethink debate and rhetoric a little bit, but I did not lose my desire to win. I wrote papers designed to argue with professors (which in hindsight, probably got a number of laughs in their staff offices) and I took to the burgeoning social networking sites to make sure I was heard. Writing out debates was easier: time to research, spellcheck and a sense of protection in the event of a volatile turn in discussion. I was decent at it, winning an argument online, but my win to loss ratio was never high enough.
Once I finished my Master’s degree, I figured, “now, I will finally be right.”
It didn’t take long for me to realize that education does not substitute for quick wit. Facebook battles became increasingly frustrating for me, even though I felt like I was putting plenty of tally marks in the W column. I couldn’t figure it out; despite all I knew and my growing ability to be nuanced in heated discussion, I wasn’t really “winning.”
I was 28 years old when I realized that my definitions were all wrong.
Initially, to win a debate meant to have the opposing side concede merit to my point of view. But I began to notice that even then, no one’s opinion changed. If I lost an argument, I didn’t change my mind; I simply looked for better ammunition. And of course, this is what my regular sparring partners were doing as well. We weren’t convincing each other. We were proving something to ourselves.
That such a perspective would coincide with a new interest in the works of John Calvin could only be providential. It didn’t take long for me to realize what was wrong: what I actually wanted was for people to believe in Jesus Christ because I beat them in an online debate. That’s why I was frustrated: no one was coming to Christ through my arguments. And as far as I could tell, I had some pretty good ones. So even if I won a debate here and there, I always felt like I was still losing.
Space doesn’t really allow for me to get too detailed here, plus I’m still on my journey, but it is sufficient to say this: the sovereignty of God as I have begun to understand it has completely reoriented my definitions of winning and losing.
If faith is a gift from God (Romans 12:3), and it is the Spirit Who is at work (Philippians 2:13), what pressure is there to win? What condemnation is there if I lose? None. This doesn’t mean I don’t do the best that I can (I Peter 3:14-16), but rather my purpose has shifted. I don’t prepare sound arguments or study and research that I might win souls for Christ; I do those things that I might honor the God Who saved me, and I recognize that the result is always God’s (Colossians 3:17).
One of the unexpected benefits of this realization was that I no longer found myself needing to argue with every opposing view I saw on Facebook or Twitter. That doesn’t mean I don’t weigh in on certain topics from time to time, only that I don’t have to win, much less convince everyone else to think like me.
It makes the internet much more enjoyable.