Now begins a new series here at Hopeful Realism. We will be focusing on vocation (with some other stuff inserted from time to time).
By vocation, I mean divine calling. Part of my own vocation seems to be wrestling with the idea of vocation, especially now that I am working overseas on a doctorate in biblical studies.
Lately I have been thinking that when I finish this PhD, it will be a “Pyrrhic victory.”
Pyrrhus was a Greek king who soldiered valiantly into the might and muscle of Rome in the 2nd century BC. After a brutalizing series of particular engagements, the battle dust began to settle and someone gave him the news that he was the victor.
Pyrrhus did not feel very victorious.
In fact, he felt messed up, broken down, and demoralized. To gain this “victory” he had sustained massive losses. Though most of the 15,000 corpses lying across the outskirts of Asculum belonged to the Romans, the Greek body count was grievously high (and the Romans had been much better resourced).
A Pyrrhic victory is one in which the gains are roughly commensurate with the losses. From the annals:
“Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one more such victory would utterly undo him. For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders….” (see here for Plutarch’s biographical sketch).
Vocational calling often feels like a “Pyrrhic victory.” There are many beautiful narratives described in inspirational books and sermons that spur us on to victorious Christian living; you know what I mean—the stories of those who accepted God’s call and miracles seemed to fall from the sky while obstacles below dissolved with each vocational step.
But the idea of a Pyrrhic victory seems quite compatible with the biblical portrayal of discipleship. At least in part.
This is because any “Christian” sense of “victory” is scarred by two perpendicular wooden beams. The cross of Christ splinters the idealization of Christian vocation. God’s call hurts… and the path is often ugly. Vocation is messy. And pursuing it may cost almost every resource you’ve got.
[Author’s note: My original post ended here… wrongly.]
Then again, the promise of Christian discipleship is that our vocation will ultimately never be Pyrrhic in the sense that the losses and gains come out nearly equal on the scales:
Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:28–30)
Giving up everything to follow the call of Jesus (our vocation) will ultimately amount to giving up a pint of goodness for an ocean of extravagance.
But the way vocation often works itself out in the daily grind, in the here and now, sometimes involves a series of Pyrrhic victories.