How to Adapt to the Unthinkable

//How to Adapt to the Unthinkable

How to Adapt to the Unthinkable



Perilous Times Primer #8

How to Adapt to the Unthinkable
 
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and

 

where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things
shall be added to you.”  Mat 6:19-20; Mat 6:33
 

 

The Unsettling Conclusions of the Economic Elite

 

 
A recent quote from Dow theorist Richard Russell, in an article posted May 18 on www.businessinsider.com by writer Joe Weisenthal provides some food for thought.
“Do your friends a favor. Tell them to ‘batten down the hatches’ because there’s a HARD RAIN coming. Tell them to get out of debt, and sell anything they can sell (and don’t need) in order to get liquid. Tell them that Richard Russell says that by the end of this year they won’t recognize the country.”
Though I know nothing of Richard Russell (and I am sure he is highly qualified and respected in his field), his warnings spurred some responses I think are worth sharing.
The Pessimist vs. the Optimist
 
There are many jokes around about the difference between the pessimist and the optimist. I remember my father telling the following story in his many talks to young people:
“A father had two sons–one an incurable pessimist, the other an unshakeable optimist. For Christmas he decided to try to cure them of their extreme views. The pessimist had asked for a watch for Christmas, the optimist for a pony. In the stocking of the pessimist the Father placed a fine Swiss watch, but in the stocking of the optimist he put only horse manure.
“On Christmas morning, the father eagerly waited to see how his lessons would strike his unrealistic boys. After each one had reached in their stocking, the father asked, ‘And what did Santa bring you for Christmas?’ to which the pessimist replied, ‘Well, I got the watch I asked for, but it probably doesn’t work.’ Then the optimist excitedly responded, ‘All I found was this horse manure, but I’m sure the horse is around here somewhere!’”
When it comes to predictions, people tend to be either pessimists or optimists. No matter how grim the signs, some remain blissfully assured that things simply can’t be that bad, while others are sure that only the very worst is in store. I am not inclined to put too much confidence in any predictions, for I believe in the words of the Preacher, “For he does not know what will happen; so who can tell him when it will occur?” (Ecc 8:7). The optimist is able to lay out his strategy for financial gain, yet as James points out (Jam 4:13-16), you don’t even know if you will be alive a year from now.
The Wager of Pascal
 
Blaise Pascal, the brilliant physicist, inventor, and philosopher, was also a devoted Christian. In addition, he was a hard-nosed realist. His wager said, in essence, when it comes to the question of the existence of God, bet your life on the position in which you have the least to lose if proven wrong. In other words, if I believe in God, and I am wrong, I lose much less than if I deny His existence and find myself accountable to Him in the end.
In his outstanding book, A Vietnam Experience, Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale often refers to this principle. Referring back to a speech presented to the Naval Academy in 1979 regarding the possibilities for future wars, he said, “I advised the midshipmen not to waste emotional energy on the twists and turns of every current event, but to rest their nervous systems and gird their loins for World War III. Said another way, ‘put your money on the number dictated by Pascal’s logic and concentrate on acquiring the traits you will need to meet the tests ahead.’”
Although this approach to life may seem to many as pessimistic, in the world of cold reality, it is not a matter of being right all of the time, it is a matter of being prepared for the worst. “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and be ready for anything,” has long been a fundamental of my own code of conduct. I have found it to be of great value.
Stockdale goes on to say in another passage, “Viktor Frankl (author of Man’s Search for Meaning) and I agree that babbling optimists are the bane of existence to one under stress –give us a pessimist every time for the long pull.” And again, “The problem is, some people believe what professional optimists are passing out and come unglued when their predictions don’t work out.”
Today, the pundits and prognosticators run the gamut between the starry-eyed optimists, all aglow with the “change” of fantasy, versus the grim pessimist who cries “Havoc!” at every turn. While I subscribe totally to neither, the logic of Pascal does cause me to incline to prepare for the worst.
The Good Times Ahead
 
It may appear somewhat frivolous, in a post regarding “perilous times,” to suggest that there are good times ahead. I do this, however, based on the overwhelming evidence and experience of my own short life and that of countless records of many who have endured more than I can even comprehend at this point.
The scriptural records of Joseph, Job, Ruth, and Paul—to name just a few of the roster of great men and women—convince me that what is truly “best” in life is most often “discovered” in the times of darkness and suffering. To quote Stockdale again, “Then Arthur learned, says the legend, as all leaders are astonished to learn, that peace–not war– is the destroyer of men; that tranquility, rather than danger, is the mother of cowardice; and that not need, but plenty, brings apprehension and unease.”
To prove the point, I recently found a book at the local Farmer’s Market with the title, We Had Everything But Money, an anthology of stories and records from the Great Depression. In it is a letter found by Sally Wall, whose family endured the Depression in Texas. The letter was written by her father and was discovered after he had died. I present only parts of the letter:
“I LIKE the Depression. No more prosperity for me. I have had more fun since the Depression started than I ever had in my life. I had forgotten how to live, and what it meant to have real friends, and what it was like to eat common, everyday food. Fact is, I was getting a little to high-hat.
“I like the Depression. I am getting acquainted with my neighbors and following the biblical admonition to love them. Some of them had been living next door to me for three years; now we butcher hogs together.   My wife … and I believe we are falling in love all over again. I am feeling better since the Depression. I get more exercise because I walk to town, and a lot of folks who used to drive Cadillacs are walking with me.
“I like the Depression. Three years ago I never had time to go to church. I played checkers or baseball all day Sunday. Besides, there wasn’t a preacher in Texas that could tell me anything. Now I’m going to church regularly and never miss a Sunday. If this Depression keeps on, I will be going to prayer meetings before too long. Oh, yes! I like the Depression.”
For the Christian, who practices “abiding in Christ” (Joh 6:56, Joh 8:31, Joh 15:4, Joh 15:7), the hardships of life only increase our conviction of the sovereignty and providence of God, and our assurance of His presence and power to sustain us. In the final analysis, and in the simplicity of all true wisdom, there are two fundamental things we must acquire–preferably before we find ourselves in the grim grip of extreme hardships. These two things are conviction and conduct, and they mirror the basic outline of every one of Paul’s epistles.
We must ask ourselves: What is the bedrock of my convictions? It has been well said, “Opinions are what you hold, but convictions are what hold you.” Secondly: Does my conduct reflect my conviction, even when no one is looking? To quote Stockdale again, “If anything has power to sustain an individual in peace or war, regardless of occupation, it is one’s conviction and commitment to define standards of right and wrong.” Regarding how this played out in conduct in a brutal prisoner-of-war environment, he says, “Ritual fills a need in a hard life and it’s easy to see how formal church ritual grew. For almost all of us, this ritual was built around prayer, exercise, and clandestine communication. The prayers I said during those days were prayers of quality with ideas of substance.”
 
In Summary
 
I would suggest that we bet along the lines of Pascal’s logic. We are heading into an unparalleled time of trial and turbulence. In that light, we would do well to make preparation along the lines of conviction and conduct. It has been well said that your mind is your only weapon–everything else is a tool. Without an invincible spirit of faith, all other preparations are in vain. It may be wise to develop the attitude of a pessimist regarding events, and that of an optimist regarding their outcomes, so long as we “play the man.” Then, “Be ready, in season and out of season” (2Ti 4:2).
Lest we give in to fear or despair, I close with some final thoughts from Stockdale:
“Those who wring their hands at frightful prospects in these ominous times, apparently don’t know it, but the human spirit has a lot of nobility that doesn’t show till the going gets tough … It was only when I lay there on the rotting prison straw that I sensed within me the first stirrings of good.  Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states nor between classes nor between political parties but right through every human heart … and that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me, ‘Thank you, prison, for having been in my life.’”
I hasten to add, and this is proven throughout Stockdale’s memoir, that these discoveries are possible only to one whose pride is broken and who, in humility, is brought to the place of a spiritual beggar, coming to Almighty God with nothing to offer but a simple faith in Him, and in His willingness to receive us through the sacrifice of His Son.
By His grace, and through His Spirit, may we all live out the reality of His Word in the days ahead. “The just shall live by faith” (Hab 2:4)!
In His service,
Gene Cunningham


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2018-07-19T01:09:16+00:00