Whose side is God on in a war? Neither side. God is greater than humans, so he cannot be on our side. We can be on his side, in the sense that we can do what is right. Whenever we do what is right, we are on his side. Indeed, two men on opposite sides of the battle, each one fighting for his country, trying to do what is right, could both be on God’s side. Such are the unfortunate circumstances of this fallen world.
The Israelites were losing their war with the Philistines, but then they had an idea. They thought that they could not possibly fail once they had brought the Ark of the Covenant into their camp. Then they lost the war worse than ever before. They had faith in the power of God to win the battle for them. The Philistines were frightened at the thought of fighting against the powerful God of the Israelites. So what went wrong? The Israelites forgot to account for one thing: God is not our slave who does whatever we tell him to do.
God is powerful, but his power is not at our beck and call. If God had let the Israelites win that battle, what sort of lesson would it have been for them? They would have thought of the Ark as a magical device. They would have thought of God as a power that they could control. We are constantly tempted to see God as our servant and to be upset with God when he does not do as he is told.
We cannot be entirely independent of God, so we must either see ourselves as his servants or see him as ours. The only solution is to submit in service to God. I must view my life as that of a servant. This is a completely different mindset that affects my whole life. The purpose of my life is not to seek pleasure or to amass wealth or to win the esteem of my fellow humans. The purpose of my life is to serve, and that is the purpose of your life too. It does not matter – deacon, priest, husband, wife, whatever – we are called to serve. To live as a servant is to grow up, to be an adult. This world is full of the spectacle of fully grown people wanting to be served like children. We Christians are called to put away childish things.