Providence and zero-sum games
It is an ancient saying for what is called in the modern world a “zero-sum game” – a situation where “win-win” is not possible: one person wins absolutely and the other loses utterly.
It is vitally important to avoid such situations, of course. A “win-win” situation is better for everyone.
But sometimes that is impossible.
Today’s first reading (Joshua 24:1-3) and Responsorial Psalm (136:1-3, 16-18, 21-22, and 24) describe a situation which was de facto a zero-sum game: the survival of the Children of Israel in the Promised Land was incompatible with the previous status quo and... God cared for His people.
Thus we have these verses from today’s Psalm that sound so strange to our ears:
...Who smote great kings,
for His mercy endures forever;
And slew powerful kings,
for His mercy endures forever.
Yes, God showed great mercy to the Children of Israel, but should not God have shown mercy also to the kings and their people?
We cannot exclude the possibility that these great and powerful kings brought wrath upon themselves and their people by imprudent choices and wicked deeds.
Nor can we exclude the possibility that these kings and their people did not deserve all of what happened to them.
No matter what: the mercy of God endures forever and His providence is often beyond our ability to comprehend.
How did God show mercy to these kings and their people? We may never know in this world.
We do know, of course, that even when bad things happen to us, we can rely on the mercy and love of God in faith.
God is mighty. God is wise. God is loving.
The loving mercy of God can and will overcome – even when we think it impossible.