Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Life Issues

Life with the Black Swan

All of us find ourselves coping at the moment. We do so in different ways—walking, painting walls, reading books, binging on Foyle’s War for the third time. Part of how I cope is writing, processing. Working on a book I am not sure will be published, but giving eight, ten hours a day to it. Or writing an occasional blog. 

I just finished reading Ross Douthat’s new book, The Decadent Society. In his uplifting chapter “Catastrophe,” he speaks of empires that have sometimes fallen for reasons no one could have predicted. Such as the Native empires that fell because an army of microbes came with the conquistadores. Hmmm!

He makes the observation that any civilizational order, decadent or otherwise, is sustainable only until the right black swan arrives. Black swan events is a metaphor that describes an occurrence that comes as a surprise, having a major effect. The term is based on an ancient saying that presumed black swans did not exist. But then, they emerge from the wilderness. Just like an unexpected apocalypse, overwhelming the resilient and decadent alike. As Douthat puts it, “The whole thing accidentally goes bang—in a Y2K type meltdown.” (Definitely feel-good words)

Reading the morning headlines, “White House Warns Pandemic Could Kill 200,000 Americans in Best Case Scenario,” you can’t help but wonder, are we here? It certainly appears the Black Swan has arrived. Just ask a Wall Street trader. But the bigger question is, “Where is God, and what is he up to?” More importantly, “How should we respond?”

I do believe in a God who is providential, who orders all things, who governs history from creation to consummation.  He is not surprised by world events. My faith relies on this—that he has not lost control but rather is fully in charge. Always in charge. Whatever he wills he does (Psa 115:3). And whatever he does is wise beyond wisdom and good, perfectly good. Still, there is so much mystery.

I do know this. In such times as these, it feels like God has brought most of us into dry dock. We have been forced to leave our high seas environments, step aside, and allow God to scrape off the barnacles, be it fantasy bloated ambitions, envious spirits, or long-seated self-absorptions. He is inviting us to take a deeper look into the interior, beneath the superficial to the soul—what Dallas Willard refers to as the “life-center.” That aspect of our whole being that enlivens everything in the self. 

He has brought us more deeply to our knees (a good thing). But it’s more. Even here, he might be checking our motives. Certainly mine. What is driving my prayer? Is it simply that he remove this plague, let life get back to normal (back on the road, see my wife, no lines at Costco, the pool reopened, and news that does not have that hated word, “coronavirus” in it)? Or is it more?  

I am realizing I must pray a better prayer, one I am not so inclined to pray but need to pray. I was hit with this in the morning, reading PT Forsyth’s, The Soul of Prayer. Here he gives needed guidance (and I am paraphrasing)—

“We may pray passionately and exhaustively for the removal of our discomforts and disruptions. We may be feeling sick from hope deferred and wonder if the worsening condition is evidence of prayer’s failure. Why is He not responding?” But there is a higher prayer than this. A greater prayer than for pain’s removal, but for pain’s conversion. Rather than pray with a sense of resignation, ‘Thy will be done,’ pray with both energy and gratitude that God may be doing something amazing through all of this. He is doing a needed work in my soul, a scraping off of barnacles that would otherwise remain. He may be bringing our culture from a state of being full of itself to becoming full of him. And if we are to go higher still, it is to ask that he turn this ‘sacrament of pain’ into praise, thank him in the fires (the Catastrophe), review my life, and use the  energy I am spending–not in worry–but in recalling and tracing His goodness, patience, and mercy.”

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