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Confronting a killer (2)

“Victory Disease” is a phrase originally employed by historians to describe military leaders whose previous successes in battle created a hubris which blinded them from exercising sound judgment in regard to future conflicts. The French general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is a classic example.

If Napoleon seemed to be under the impression that the world belonged to him and everyone else was just living in it, it’s probably because it was almost true. By 1812 he rules over an area so large that you have to go back to the days of the Roman Empire to find anything comparable. Most of western Europe, with the exception of England, has either been conquered by France or is in an alliance with them.  None of this is lost on the emperor who has given his son born the previous year the title, “King of Rome.”

Napoleon is recreating Rome and nothing is going to stop him—not even pesky Russia, who seems to continually be at odds with the emperor. Napoleon’s answer to this is (per his Victory Disease) to invade the country. In June of 1812 he leads his Grand Armee of over half a million soldiers into Russia.

The problem Napoleon encounters is that the Russia doesn’t want to fight—at least not the way he does. Napoleon wants both sides to line up and engage in a traditional battle because he’s a master of strategy and tactics. The Russians want no part of this. Instead they get involved in minor skirmishes and then quickly retreat further into Russia. But as they do, they burn the farms and villages behind them so that Napoleon’s army will not be able to supply themselves. This puts additional pressure on the army’s already overextended supply lines. At this point, most military leaders would recognize their opponent’s strategy (you are being lured deeper into enemy territory as your supplies diminish) and change their approach. But Napoleon just keeps going.

When they finally make to Moscow, it is the brink of winter and Napoleon gets a reality check. He had been operating under the illusion that when they arrived in the capital, Russia would surrender. Instead, they find a deserted city—empty of people and resources. Even worse, that night the city is set fire by Russian patriots and the place that was to shelter the troops is destroyed. So are Napoleon’s dreams. He eventually limps back in retreat with less than 100,000 of his original 500,000 troops. It is the beginning of the end for Him.

One of the mysteries of Scripture (and life) is how blind people can be to their own disobedience and consequently, the fate that awaits them. Whether it's Israel grumbling their way through the wilderness, the hardness of heart displayed by the people of Jesus' time, or those of Zephaniah's day who are caught up in idolatry and immorality--our capacity for denial is incredible and seemingly endless. Despite examples, warnings, and chastenings, like Napoleon we on with out campaigns and agendas. The biblical terms for Victory Disease is less glamorous but more revealing--"complacent" (1:12). 

But the fact that we stubbornly pursue unrighteousness at the expense of good sense is only half the mystery. The other part is that after we've experienced defeat and limp home like Napoleon, often all we can think of is how to get back whatever we lost. There's no remorse or contemplation of of why were vanquished or if there is, it's at a level that has nothing to do with God. We stubbornly cling to our illusions rather than accept the reality God shares with us. 

There are lots of reason why we pursue destructive behavior and none of them are flattering. I suppose all of them have to do with some form of Victory Disease--we are convinced that things are going to somehow align so that what we desire will be accomplished so we keep going in the same direction. We believe this because it is increasingly ingrained in our culture through music, movies, marketing, etc. We have moved from a culture of humility to "The Me Generation" (Jean Twenge) or "The Big Me" (David Brooks). 

Disciples aren't immune to this and need to remind each other on a regular basis that the only way to avoid complacency is by practicing humility. Humility is spiritual self-honesty--it is the opposite of being in denial. It's where we consciously and consistently allow God's voice to be what shape, forms, and guides our life rather than our own voice or that of others. Zephaniah reminds us that only people who have humbled themselves can truly seek God (2:3). All others are simply using Him for their own agendas. 

We can't go back and change Judah's history but we can and should learn from it so that can stay as far away from complacency as possible.

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