Of all the guilty pleasures that exist in the world of entertainment, pro wrestling fills a unique niche with a popularity that has continued for decades. This unique combination of athleticism, ballet, soap opera, and gymnastic violence has ebbed and flowed through mainstream America’s consciousness and this is mostly due to the larger than life personalities that occupy the squared circle. And in the strength of these characters a video game iteration of WWE 2K is released every year, which is noteworthy considering how difficult it is to pull off an annualized version of any game these days. Granted, like most sports games the differences from year to year are not tremendous, consisting mostly of roster changes and new story modes. But I have to give credit where credit is due… this “sport” has demonstrated a staying power that is rare and is worthy of investigation.
Since wrestling matches have pre-determined outcomes (I apologize if that required a spoiler alert for some of you), the draw is less about the physical act of grappling and more about the characters and their presentation before, during, and after a match. If you have watched a match (on purpose or accidentally, I’m not judging), then you have seen one of their elaborate ring entrances. First, the music hits, typically with a wailing guitar riff or an epic orchestral note. The ring lights pulsate, the background of the gigantic screen at the stage changes to showcase epic moments of previous clashes by the performer, and as the pyrotechnics and fireworks erupt a chiseled figure will emerge from behind the curtain as the crowd either erupts in cheers or boos depending on their current status. With all of this pomp and circumstance, even the least talented wrestler appears to be several steps above mere mortals thanks to the audio/visual cues presented.
I will confess to having spent some time playing a few wrestling titles over the years, from the original Pro Wrestling on the NES (Starman for the win!) through classics such as WCW/NWO Revenge as well as some serious stinkers like several of the Smackdown Vs. Raw titles prior to the 2K rebranding. But no matter what the title and its features are, my very first steps have never been to lace up the boots as one of the pro wrestlers du jour who grace the cover of the game. No, that’s weak sauce, my friend. Instead, I would spend several hours in the “create a wrestler” mode in which I would craft a character in my own image, only a lot more talented and with muscles in places that I’m not even sure my actual body currently possesses. And as I labored over each move, mannerism, and nose contour I saved the most important part for last… the entrance. Despite the fact that this had zero impact on my character’s in-ring prowess or physical capabilities, I knew that for my wrestler to be a success they needed to have the perfect walk, ring entry, music and pyro to set the stage for the upcoming destruction that I was certain to rain down on my next opponent.
In retrospect, it seems kind of silly. The whole rationale for the “ring entrance” is to create a sense of intimidation for the opponent, similar to the tactics of animals in the wild who create loud bellows or roars and demonstrate their dominance through violently pawing the ground or other aggressive actions. But since my opponent was an unfeeling, emotionless computer AI construct it was unlikely that my athletic displays combined with a driving rock anthem would have any impact on the game console’s approach to the match. I am quite sure that regardless of my exquisitely choreographed routine, the computer character I was about to face was not impressed. They probably didn’t even watch.
What you may be surprised by is the fact that elaborate ring entrances are nothing new. As a matter of fact, the very first recorded ring entrance occurred thousands of years ago and was staged by none other than God Himself. Surprised that the Lord of Glory has the capacity for showmanship and a flair for the dramatic? You shouldn’t be… after all, where do you think we get it from? Our Heavenly Father understands the importance of presentation, and I invite you to join me in Judges 6 as we dig a little deeper into the story of an underdog character who blazed a trail for people like you and me who could use a little help with our “conquerors” vibe.
The book of Judges stands out as one of the most colorful books of the Bible, with a roster of characters who seem like they belong in the world of wrestling. You have the epic strongman Samson, the wily assassin Ehud, the ageless Caleb, the prophetess Deborah… and sandwiched between all of these titans we find the story of a passive rebel named Gideon who fails to enter the stage with a heroic theme and epic fanfare. No, we find him in Judges 6:11 secretly processing wheat in a wine-press so he could hide it from the marauding Midianites who were currently raiding the fledging nation of Israel and taking all of their food. And in a comical scene, an angel sent by God greets this man who was currently hiding from his enemies with the phrase, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!” Either this is the case of God showing His sense of humor, or more likely it is another instance of Him calling the things that are not as if they already are. Gideon was not currently showcasing courage and leadership, but over the next few chapters we will see what the Father saw hidden inside him.
The exchange between the angel and Gideon was refreshingly honest and direct. Gideon pulled no punches as he brought the angel up to speed on the current Midianite predicament and his personal view that Israel had been forsaken by the Lord. He had given up on hope and accepted the current reality of his situation as all that would ever exist, choosing to spend his energy on the best solutions he could devise to just keep food on the table one more day. Ever been there? I know I can seriously relate. And when the angel tries to confirm the message, Gideon reminds them that he is the lowest member in the lowest family of a lowly tribe. Gideon attempted to disqualify himself before phase one of the project even began, but the Lord was having none of it. For his first mission, Gideon was tasked with tearing down the pagan altar to Baal that had been in use by the backslidden people of Israel. Gideon did so, but once again in his own way… in verse 27 he tore down the altar, but he did it in the cover of night for fear of what his family and his community would do if they caught him. Let’s put some obedience points on his skill tree, but leave the courage points at zero for the moment.
If you have heard of “Gideon’s fleece” before, brace yourself because here it comes. Before Gideon was prepared to engage with the vast multitudes of the Midianites, he sought the Lord once again to confirm His plan. Gideon placed a wool fleece on the threshing floor, which is the place he should have been processing the wheat, and asked the Lord two separate times to make it wet and make it dry. There is a significance to this… Gideon finally went to the location where he should have been in the first place and asked the Lord to show He was with Him. And when Gideon stood in the place of obedience, the Lord met him there. Now right now you might be saying, “This is all nice and exciting, and I’m very happy for Gideon. Where is this wrestling theme music you promised?” Fair enough, let’s fast forward to Judges 7:16, where we find that the Lord has whittled the already out-numbered Israeli army down to just 300 men to take on the sprawling multitudes of Midianites. But this story of “The 300” will finish with a much happier and more victorious ending, and as we catch up with Gideon he is readying the theatrics that will start the attack.
He places an empty pitcher with a torch inside of it into each soldier’s hands and equipped them with trumpets. After splitting his men into three companies, he surrounded the Midianite camp at night and waited for the perfect moment. At the changing of the guard Gideon gave the signal and in a move that would make Stone Cold Steve Austin proud (shattered glass, anyone?) every soldier smashed their jars and the sky lit up with fire all around the camp amid the sound of breaking pottery. Then the theme music hit as every man blew their trumpets and shouted, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” Not a great way to wake up if you are an enemy soldier, and a pretty impressive way to stage the battle to conceal your limited numbers and yet appear to have your adversaries surrounded. General Gideon obeyed the Lord, and the Lord put such a fear into the Midianites that they were killing each other in a panicked attempt to flee. The victory was overwhelming, and the oppression of the Midianites was ended after this mighty battle waged by an underdog challenger, his small group of soldiers, and a mighty God who keeps His promises even when you are making bread in a juicer.
Confession time… I have a lot more in common with the Gideon who continually needed God’s reassurance that He was still with him than I have in common with the victorious leader who stood tall over his enemies at the end of his story. And I believe I know why… unrewarded hope is one of the saddest and most painful emotions I have personally experienced. I have prayed prayers that seem to hit an iron curtain in the heavens. I have laid claim to miracles that never materialized. I have trusted God to make a bad situation right, only to eat the bitter bread of shattered dreams when my hopeful visions were forced to face my stark and unchanging reality. Gideon, I feel you, brother. Pass the fleece, because I’m not sure if I am ready to hope again.
An angel of the Lord appearing to someone in the Bible typically had an overwhelmingly positive response, but Gideon had been defeated and living a shadow life for so long that even this supernatural event failed to impress him. Accepting his lot in life as a person of no consequence in an existence spent in hiding, he had such a jaded worldview that despite the angels positive greeting and assurance of victory Gideon simply couldn’t bring himself to hope in a better outcome to his situation than the reality he had finally accepted. Have you been there? So beaten down by the day-to-day reality of a hopeless situation that even a light at the end of the tunnel fails to excite you because you are certain it’s just another freight train headed your way? If so, we are on the same wavelength, my friend.
Hebrews 11:1 may be the definitive verse on hope. It reads, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. I’ve heard that verse so many times, memorized it in Sunday School, and got my gold star and a jolly rancher for the effort (watermelon flavored, in case you were wondering). But putting it into practice can be much more difficult, and to truly understand it I had to break it down for myself and found that in the Greek this powerful verse is actually only nine words long and translates directly as:
“Now is moreover faith of things hoped for assurance of things the conviction not being seen”
I know that doesn’t read well… but if you bear with me we are going to unwrap this once and for all. The Greek word translated as “faith” here is the word “pistis”, which may have a different interpretation than you may assume. This is not blind faith or wishful thinking… this word refers to the faith that God places into us as redeemed believers (see Romans 12:3 for an example). This is not some personally generated faith we manufacture. This is something Divinely implanted into us, something heaven-born that confirms to us the existence of something not yet visible.
Here is the hard truth… most of my disappointment with God has come from times that I had faith for something to happen that He never actually promised. Gideon became disillusioned with God and thought his people had been forsaken, when the truth was they had erected an altar and were in a state of idolatry. They were the forsakers, not the forsaken and they had removed themselves from the protection He offered as a result. He never promised them He would protect them while they were living in an open state of sinful rebellion. And He was clear in the ten commandments that no other gods were to be served but Him. Once Gideon pulled down the altar to Baal deliverance could begin.
Much of my broken hopes are not founded in a true promise from the Lord, but in my broken interpretation of the Scriptures to best suit my situation at the time. It’s easy to claim the provisions of God, but He promised us daily bread, not crab cakes. He didn’t even provide His own Son with a permanent roof over his head, so as long as I am indoors as I lay my head down I am blessed. He promised to supply all my needs… but His definition and mine are not always aligned. The more I reflect on areas where I have experienced damaged faith or lost hope in God, the more I realize that I built expectations on Him that He never actually guaranteed. His promises sound more like this…” In this world you will experience tribulation… both the house built on sand and the house built on the rock endured heavy storms….” He promised challenges, battles, and daily warfare with an enemy bent on our destruction.
As we close this up, I take heart in the fact that Gideon was used by God to bring a great deliverance when it was the right time and done the right way. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts… His history is to deliver His children IN the fiery furnace and the lion’s den, rather than FROM them. And our faith must be based on a true knowledge of what He has ACTUALLY promised us, rather than what we may have selfishly misappropriated to ourselves. Armed with this new knowledge, it is easy to restore hope to even the most hopeless situation because the problem you are experiencing is not proof that the Lord does not see or care. To the contrary… as Gideon found out God is simply allowing events to exist in our lives to propel us into a place of truly recognizing Him for who He is as well as who we truly are in Him. Gideon saw a hopeless situation thanks to a God who had failed His people. Gideon saw himself as a cowardly insignificant speck within his nation. The truth was the nation was reaping what they had sown, God was continually there waiting for them to return in obedience, and Gideon truly was the mighty man of valor that the angel proclaimed he was.
Your situation, no matter how challenging it is, is meant to bring you closer to your true calling as well as into a deeper understanding of the true nature of God. And you may think you have been defeated because the enemy just hit their finishing move and you are on your back looking up at the ring lights… but like all the best wrestling moments His theme music will hit right as you reach your most desperate point. So don’t tap out yet… He has a history of making grand ring entrances that might seem too late but always turn out to be right on time.