So, here is another crazy ‘what if’ question we are wondering…
But, think about what is taking place in the story of America.
You Christians – at least most of you – have migrated into the minimalist corner and are keeping your God at a distance.
And while you are hanging out in that fog, our secular story allies continue to win the story war.
So, the conversation is closing in America as your country is coming apart over the two opposing versions of the story we are in.
But — if Christianity is the story we are in, what if your God wants you to try to reopen the conversation in America – and, since you refuse to make an exodus from the minimalist corner — what if he has been allowing you to march yourselves onto desperate ground in order to bring about change?
This question is not one we would have even considered when we began this crazy assignment.
Seriously. We never thought about these possibilities.
But now, look again at that verse your Drollinger dude put on stage…
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
And look at the verses which come right before it…
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
So, we wondered about something. Would your God be passive and just let you sit in that minimalist corner?
Because, well, look what your Lewis guy wrote…
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
So, look at these insights from Shawn Coyne about the “all is lost moment”…
The all is lost moment is when we discover a lie that we’ve told ourselves and we recognize it for what it is, it’s a lie.This is Not Normal, by Shawn Coyne
When we discover that there is no easy solution to our predicament and all of our bargaining has left us broken and battered in worse circumstances than if we had faced the problem head on at the beginning, we finally come to the understanding that there is no way we can turn back.Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid
Our lives will never be the same. We’ve lost. We bottom out in DEPRESSION.
This depression is dramatized in what screenwriters call the ALL IS LOST MOMENT scene. We despair. There is no way in hell that we’re going to come out of this event anywhere near how we were before it happened. It’s finally clear to us that life will never be the same.
The depression moment is the all is lost moment and it’s usually at the end of the middle built. It’s the moment when the protagonist realizes, “Oh my gosh, everything I have tried to achieve has failed. There’s no way I can continue on in the way that I’ve continued my entire life. There’s only one thing I can do. I have to change. I have to figure out an innovation. I have to figure out a way to move forward in my life that will change my life and I have to accept that life for me will never be the same,” and then, you have to move forward and what’s the next stage after depression?Writing and Depression, by Shawn Coyne
The “All Is Lost” moment — We were talking about that. The All Is Lost moment is really the crucial element of your middle build. We need that All Is Lost moment for your protagonist because that is the moment when they change their world view. It’s not even — Like in a James Bond story. James Bond doesn’t have an internal change, but the All Is Lost moment is literally All Is Lost in a James Bond movie.
It’s when the Saw is about to cut him in half, and he somehow gets away from it. His world view change is all about his finding some brilliant thing in his brain to get him out of the predicament. It’s not an internal moral or ethical shift. It’s like, “Oh! If I hop off this way and put the rope this way, it’ll cut the rope.” Even James Bond has an All Is Lost moment.Ratcheting Up The Tension, by Shawn Coyne
And it really caught our attention when Paula showed us this…
During an all-is-lost moment, the protagonist realizes they must change their definition of success or risk betraying their principles.SECRETS OF THE STATUS GENRE, by Rachelle Ramirez, Story Grid
And she found this – which brings the binary core value in the story to the stage…
Then, if we do not suffer his pains, if we do not experience the weaknesses and temptations in the flesh that he faced, if we do not share in his agony and terror, if we cannot feel his compassion for the oppressed and have a share in his care for the poor, we are disqualified from accomplishing his task and mission in the world. How can we be the incarnate body of Christ in the world if we are not bothered by the sound of the adulations of the world’s powers? Can we have Jesus’ sensitivity toward human suffering when we rest unworried in our luxurious sanctuaries, and entertain each other in the superficialities of our religious lives? Instead of taking the church into the world we have taken the world into the church. Far from being the incarnate body of Christ in the world, we have let the world transform us into a bunch of puppets ready to surrender our loyalties for any price.Evangelism And The Third World: The Great Commission And The Great Commandment, By Pablo A. Deiros, Faith and Mission, Spring 1985
You see, as you Christians occupy the minimalist corner and seek human flourishing more than what your God wants you to want, which, as you know, is this…
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
… then it really makes us wonder about the possibility that, if Christianity is the story we are in, then your God is the Active Protagonist and will not be passive as you betray him.
Paula Wong showed us this passage…
You have shown your people desperate times; you have given us wine that makes us stagger.
And then she raised the possibility that, if Christianity is the story we are in, then God the Great Storyteller/Strategist is allowing your conflict in America as a turn the tables move, so you will begin to make an exodus out of the minimalist corner.
Look what she showed us…
Perhaps God is not casual but actually severe, in a sense to be clarified, owing to God’s vigorous concern for the realization of divine righteous love (agape), including its free, unearned reception and dissemination among humans. Perhaps the latter concern stems from God’s aim to extend, without coercion, lasting life with God to humans, even humans who have failed by the standard of divine agape. God’s vigorous commitment to that goal could figure in God’s making human life difficult, or severe, for the sake of encouraging humans, without coercion, to enter into a cooperative good life with God. This severe God would not sacrifice a human soul to preserve human bodily comfort. In this scenario, divine agape is the unsurpassed power and priority of life with God, and humans need to struggle to appropriate it as such, in companionship with God. It comes as a free gift, by grace, from God, but the human reception of it, via cooperative trust in God, includes stress, struggle, and severity in the face of conflicting powers and alternative priorities.Paul Moser, The Severity of God
That so fits with God being the Great Storyteller. And it made us think about this…
What is a story, precisely? The essential core event in all stories ever told in the history of humanity can be expressed in just three words: Conflict changes life. Therefore, the prime definition becomes: a dynamic escalation of conflict-driven events that cause meaningful change in a character’s life.Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace
Conflict changes life.
We know this all unthinkable for you.
But, just in case some of you are open to exploring these
crazy possibilities, you may be interested in reading a memo Paula wrote…
Mao Tse Tongue!
To: Chow Non Phat
Deputy Assistant Minister for Diet Control
From: Paula Wong
Re: Is God the Great Storyteller Allowing America’s Christians to March Themselves On To Desperate Ground?
Dear Comrade Chow,
I know our team thinks the game is over for the Christians in America. We now expect them to passively rot themselves out in the fog of that minimalist corner.
But I’m beginning to dissent… oh, wait, can I even use that word?
You see, if Christianity is the story we are in, well, this Chinese dissident who is a Christian may be on to something…
At the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, when the Communist party defeated the Nationalists and founded the People’s Republic of China, Christians in China numbered half a million. Yet almost seventy years later, under the Chinese government’s harsh suppression, that population has reached more than sixty million, according to Fenggang Yang, a sociologist at Purdue University. The number grows by several million each year, a phenomenon some have described as a gushing well or geyser. At this rate, by 2030, Christians in China will exceed 200 million, surpassing the United States and making China the country with the largest Christian population in the world.
The beginnings of this immense growth can be traced back to two moments in contemporary Chinese history: the Cultural Revolution launched by Mao Zedong in 1966 and the Tiananmen Square massacre instigated by Deng Xiaoping in 1989. Countless innocent lives were lost as a result of these two cataclysms, and the people’s belief in Marxism-Leninism and Maoism was destroyed. These events opened up a great spiritual void, and the Chinese began searching for a new faith.CHINA’S CHRISTIAN FUTURE, by Yu Jie, First Things, August 2016
Seriously, Comrade Chow, I think our team may have missed something big.
While I agree that the Christians in America are going to initially refuse to make an exodus out of the minimalist corner, I don’t think the story stops there.
The sum of the evidence is clear. Internal forces are already weakening the tree of evangelicalism in the United States, but in coming decades United States evangelicals will be tested as never before, by the ripping and tearing of external cultural change – a force more violent than many of us expect.
The oak of evangelicalism in the United States is struggling with the rot of internal disease. A look at the horizon reveals she is also in for a big storm. Testing and tearing winds of tumultuous change will rip at her.John S. Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession
And I saw this…
The shaking of American culture is no sign that God has given up on American Christianity. In fact, it may be a sign that God is rescuing American Christianity from itself. …. A Christianity that is without friction in the culture is a Christianity that dies.Russell Moore, Onward
And notice how that fits with this:
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
And look at this…
“When God’s people are not repenting, then they are not the instruments through which God can touch a lost world,” Blackaby said.As judgment looms, God’s people hold the future, by Henry T. Blackaby
So, what if their God is already putting his turn the tables strategy in play?
And maybe the book of Jonah can give us a better sense for it.
After Jonah’s fleeing refusal to go to Nineveh, look at how the Active Protagonist in the big story in the Bible responds to the inciting incident in this story… oh, and remember what McKee says:
The protagonist must react to the Inciting Incident.Robert McKee, Story
So, in the story of Jonah, their God does react… and he is very active… and notice how the other characters get drawn into the unfolding drama:
But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.
Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
So that first chapter ends with God putting Jonah on desperate ground.
But notice that Jonah was the one who marched himself on to it by refusing to do what his God had commanded him to do.
That is what I think we may be missing, then, Comrade.
The Christians in America may have already for some time been marching themselves on to desperate ground.
Or at least moving that direction…
It’s not a coincidence that in parts of the world where persecution still exists, people there are on fire to share the gospel of Jesus. This is a quality they share with the earliest Christians, who were so aligned with Jesus that they were honored to suffer as He did. Across the pages of the Bible and throughout history, there is a direct correlation between evangelism and persecution. But in most modern Christian circles, evangelism is dead. We’ve stopped sharing the story of Jesus.Phil Cooke and Jonathan Bock, The Way Back
We have gone silent as a trade-off to avoid any sort of discrimination, and it is to our everlasting shame.
So, let me explain this concept of desperate ground.
And it will resonate with our research because it connects not only with seeing the Bible as story from the inside out, but also with two fascinating concepts from Sun Tzu and Nassim Taleb.
Sun Tzu and Desperate Ground
The concept of desperate ground is something which can also be found in the work of our dearly beloved, Sun Tzu.
In his masterpiece, The Art of War, he explains a concept which can be translated either “desperate ground” or “death ground.”
In a 1983 translation of The Art of War, the Australian-British-American writer James Clavell chose the term “desperate ground.”
So, Comrade Chow, using Clavell’s translation, what I’d like to do is briefly show you some rather astonishing parallels between this concept and what the Christian New Testament has to say.
In Clavell’s translation, Sun Tzu advises the general to “Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape”; places where they are “in desperate straits”; where “there is no place of refuge”; and where they are in “the heart of a hostile country.” These soldiers have “fallen into danger” and “harm’s way” and “face death.”
They are on “desperate ground.”
But according to Sun Tzu – and the New Testament – being on desperate ground is not always bad!
Let’s start with the impact it has on soldiers. When soldiers find themselves on desperate ground a change comes over them. They are transformed.
They “prefer death to flight” and “lose the sense of fear.” They “stand firm” and “show a stubborn front.” They “fight hard” and “put forth their uttermost strength.”
But there is more. Desperate ground also transforms soldiers in the areas of obedience and initiative.
They “obey promptly”; they are “constantly on the alert”; they “do your will”; they are “faithful”; they “can be trusted” even without having been given orders.
And this all happens without the soldiers “waiting to be marshaled” or “waiting to be asked.”
When this transformation takes place, then the army “is capable of striking a blow for victory” and “there is nothing they may not achieve.”
According to Sun Tzu, desperate ground can be the difference between victory and defeat.
So, if the Active Protagonist in the story in the Bible is both a Great Warrior and a Great Strategist, we shouldn’t be surprised to find fascinating parallels between what he asks of his soldiers and what we find in Sun Tzu’s description of desperate ground.
And that is just exactly what you’ll find. The congruencies are remarkable! Notice the parallel with what the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians and Sun Tzu’s description of desperate ground:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
Desperate ground makes them ready to rely on the commander and do his will.
You can see right away, then, how that applies to the situation of the Christians in America.
Now let’s consider the concept from another fascinating angle.
Sun Tzu says when the general has put his troops on desperate ground, he should then make it clear to them “the hopelessness of saving their lives.”
But it’s a hopelessness which has one hope: “The only chance of life lies in giving up all hope of it. “
Surprising as it may be, this is also found in the New Testament. You’ll find it in each of the four gospels, Comrade:
Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.
Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
And notice how their famous Apostle Paul also understood this:
What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.
There are plenty of stories in the Bible of God allowing his people to experience desperate ground.
But what especially caught our attention is not only that the Active Protagonist allows Christians to experience desperate ground in relation to advancing his Quest, but also that his Quest bears a fascinating resemblance to a military campaign!
According to the New Testament, this military campaign starts small and local, but eventually sweeps around the globe, where it ends in a kind of military triumph as the armies of heaven follow the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” to victory.
Those who are involved in the rescue of the image bearers as part of his Quest are pictured in the New Testament as soldiers in a war:
Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
And Jesus, the Commander of the Troops, who has been given all authority for this task, promises to be with them as they go forward in this campaign. Remember the “great commission” passage you pointed out to us?
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
That promise to be with them is very much like the promise the Active Protagonist gave in the Old Testament to the Israelite general named Joshua as Joshua assumed the role of leading Israel into the promised land after the death of Moses — and into battle:
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. …. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
The British Christian writer C.S. Lewis, who you always talk about, also described things this way in his book, Mere Christianity:
Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.
The great campaign of sabotage Lewis is referring to is part of the Quest of the Active Protagonist in the story in the Bible.
And since the Great Strategist uses a “turn the tables” strategy in his rescue of the image bearers, we should consider the possibility he’s also doing that with the situation in America.
You see, Comrade, I saw a pattern in the New Testament book of Acts – the book which tells the story about the beginnings of the church and the early spread of their ‘gospel’.
In the book of Acts there is a pattern of a cause-effect relationship between persecution, suffering and increased witnessing by Christians.
The more they suffered, the more their ‘gospel’ spread.
You can see how this works out in the first part of the book of Acts. Consider what Jesus told the disciples in chapter 1:
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
So the plan from their Great General is for them to move out, to get involved in the quest which reaches to the ends of the earth.
But that is not what happened.
The Christians don’t move out.
In fact, they don’t start fanning out towards the ends of the earth until chapter 8.
It’s uncertain how much time passes between chapter 1 and chapter 8. I discovered that some scholars put it at a year or so, and some as many as 5-6 years.
But something happens in chapter 8 which puts them on the move.
The Active Protagonist allows them to experience desperate ground and it gets them doing what Jesus commanded:
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
And notice the ripple effect from this movement which shows up by chapter 11:
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
There’s a connection between desperate ground and the spread of Christianity.
And some of the Christians recognize this.
For instance, in a commentary on the book of Acts by a famous New Testament scholar, I. Howard Marshall, you find him believing you could “say that it required persecution to make them fulfill the implicit command in 1:8.”
In other words, they needed to be put on desperate ground.
And notice how this brings us back to the “good catastrophe” idea.
Remember the two theologians you showed us who wrote about God as a warrior?
Well, they also recognize the role of catastrophe in the great rescue operation.
This is fascinating stuff…
Like many Jews of his day, Paul was keenly aware that the day of the Messiah was a day of catastrophic action by God. …. But for Paul, this theme was not an invitation to triumphalism. Quite the opposite. The sign of the triumph was an instrument of weakness and shame: the Cross — the paradoxical hallmark of Paul’s theology. Just as in the catastrophe of Christ’s cross, the pain and suffering of the world were focused on Israel and her Messiah, so the church under the sign of the cross and in the power of the Spirit shares in the tribulation of the world and creation, awaiting the final day of redemption (Ro. 8:18-27). In this, the army of God follows the apostle in the campaign, “fill[ing] up… what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24). In this too she shares in the triumph. In the face of hardship, persecution, danger, and sword — facing death all day long — followers of Christ “are more than conquerors” (see Ro. 8:35-37).Tremper Longman III & Daniel G. Reid, God Is A Warrior
We know it’s hard to believe the Quest of the King of Kings can advance through suffering, but if you read the New Testament, you can find from the testimony of Jesus himself that he thinks in these ways.
It turns out conflict has a central place in the strategy of the rescue operation:
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
He’s asking a lot from his troops!
And look at this story from a Chinese dissident who turned to God…
Because of my legal work on behalf of groups persecuted by the Chinese government, I have been tortured three times since September 21, 2007. I have been subject to long periods of secret detention or formal imprisonment. At present, I can move freely within the bounds of a village in northern China, but I’m still in prison—it’s just that my cell has become larger. In negotiating with the Communist party, I have always been willing to compromise on technicalities, but on principle I have been immovable. As long as my physical shell can support my spirit, I will stand against the forces of evil.
STRUGGLE AGAINST THE GODS, by Gao Zhisheng, First Things, April 2017
The torture I suffered gave me a wonderful gift: faith in God. I was not born a believer. While handling the legal defense of Pastor Cai Zhuohua, who was charged with “illegal business practices” in 2004 for possessing Bibles, I first read Scripture. At the time, it left me cold. My attitude changed when the Beijing authorities began to persecute me. In time, I came to know God and join the brotherhood of Christians. Since then, God has given me great strength through difficult times. He has also given me visions, the first coming after I was abducted in August 2006.
But it makes sense Jesus would allow Christians to experience desperate ground.
It appears he has bigger fish for them to fry.
Because it sure appears he cares more about rescuing the image bearers than he does about the material prosperity of the Christians, or whatever diversions have their attention.
After all, if Christianity is the story we are in, what are those compared to his quest?
And here is something very interesting in relation to the priorities Jesus has.
Look at this from the Apostle Paul:
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
Suffering moves the rescue mission forward.
The American theologian John Sailhamer explains the story of the very important Old Testament figure named Joseph in a way which looks a lot like desperate ground.
This caught my attention because you had previously shared with us how Joseph was one of God’s favorites, and, in fact, there is a belief among some commentators he is some kind of ‘type’ or prefiguring of Christ himself.
So here’s this person God deeply loves — and what does God allow him to go through?
Read this quote from Sailhamer because there seem to be parallels here with what the Apostle Paul was driving at in the passage above about there being more to the story than simply the suffering…
The narrative turns once more to the scene of Joseph and his brothers and, in so doing, returns to the central theme of the Joseph narratives: “You intended to harm me but God intended it for good… to save many lives” (50:20).John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch As Narrative
So, what if Jesus, Great General that he is – if Christianity is the story we are in, uses desperate ground to turn his troops into obedient followers?
What if he intends to so transform them that the following explanation from a fictional demon, created by that British writer C.S. Lewis, will fit them very well:
He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Plus, consider this by Lewis:
You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it? …. Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
And that sure fits with what Taleb wrote…
How much you truly “believe” in something can be manifested only through what you are willing to risk for it.Nassim Taleb, Skin in the Game
So, what if these two guys rightly sense something…
Popular pastor and New York Times bestselling author Francis Chan urged thousands of Christians gathered on the National Mall Saturday to stand together as “rejects” in the face of the world.
“I think we all agree that the church needs a reset in a lot of ways,” the 48-year-old Chan said in the sweltering heat. “We have become somewhat irrelevant, sadly. But the path to relevance is not by trying to fit in. It’s by standing out. It’s is not be becoming popular but it is by becoming rejected.”
“I think the biggest challenge in this generation is what we just read. In a generation that is obsessed with popularity and being liked and getting ‘Likes,’ Jesus says the way to become significant and to have an impact is through rejection. That is what He just said,” Chan contended. “And, none of us like this. Man, the toughest thing for us is to see ourselves, as Jesus says, ‘as sheep amidst the wolves,’ ‘as hated by all men.’ And yet, that is what our Savior was. That was His example.”Francis Chan: Christians Will Be Relevant If They Become Rejects, Stand With Jesus, By Samuel Smith, Christian Post, July 17, 2016
“I started realizing that [Bonhoeffer’s] primary mission was to wake up the church because he knew that the church had the ability in that generation to stand against the Nazis, to be a powerful force if they would stand, if they would count the cost, if they would do what God called them to do, to not be afraid of death, to have courage. In other words, if they would actually be Christian,” Metaxas said. “If you are actually Christian, you don’t fear death because there is no such thing as death. Jesus defeated death. Like he actually defeated death, it is not a metaphor. You die, you don’t die.”
“Well, the church in the bush, the church in the jungle, the persecuted church, they know this stuff,” Metaxas added. “They know this stuff but the American church doesn’t know it and the German church didn’t know it. We have forgotten that these things are true that people are living their lives in faith everyday and under persecution you have to decide, ‘Do I actually believe this stuff or don’t I?’ I really think the irony is that it is the American church and Western church that needs this. We don’t have this and we wonder why we have a lot of problems is because we don’t have this faith. It is a bit of a catch 22 — If you get persecuted, you kind of find this kind of faith.”Eric Metaxas: American Church Lacks Faith That Only Comes From Being Persecuted, By Samuel Smith, Christian Post, July 8, 2016
You see that?
Jesus just might be up to something very surprising.
But if Christianity is the story we are in, and Jesus really is the Coming Black Swan, maybe we ought to expand the realm of possibilities when it comes to thinking about his rescue operation.
Maybe, if he exists, he is a Great General and a Great Strategist after all!
Now let’s take a look at another fascinating reason why Jesus may be allowing the Christians to march themselves on to desperate ground.
It’s about making them antifragile.
The great irony of existence is that what makes life worth living does not come from the rosy side. We would all rather be lotus-eaters, but life will not allow it. The energy to live comes from the dark side. It comes from everything that makes us suffer. As we struggle against these negative powers, we’re forced to live more deeply, more fully.Storytelling That Moves People: A Conversation with Screenwriting Coach Robert McKee by Bronwyn Fryer, Harvard Business Review, June 2003
We now can begin to understand the otherwise cryptic remark at the center of the ministry of Jesus: “Struggle to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will seek to enter and not be able” (Luke 13:24). Famously, Socrates remarked that the unexamined life is not worth living, but we now can add that the nonstruggling life relative to divine agape is not worth living either. Religion and philosophy, then, should make room for the kind of wisdom that includes a divinely offered and commanded agape struggle and its corresponding distinctive epistemology. This sea change would yield profound benefits for religion and philosophy as wisdom-oriented disciplines. The test of authenticity, ultimately, is in the living through the agape struggle on offer.Paul Moser, The Severity of God
God uses suffering to purify us for His purposes.Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option
Comrade Chow, as I began to explore the concept of desperate ground, I asked why God would let his own people suffer.
And although I’ve only explored it a bit, I’d like to go back to it.
Turns out it is relevant to this question of whether Jesus is allowing America’s Christians to go down a path of suffering and on to desperate ground.
One fascinating way to consider it is by taking a look at the concept of antifragility, which Nassim Taleb addresses in his fascinating book, Antifragile.
Here’s the question: Is there some way the American Christians could become more antifragile by re-engaging in the Great Rescue operation the hero, Jesus, has in play?
Turns out there may be.
The subtitle to Taleb’s Antifragile book says a lot:
Things That Gain From Disorder
Is one of the reasons Jesus allows – or even leads — Christians onto desperate ground – is so they will somehow gain from the disorder which is coming their way?
Here are a few quotes from Taleb which give a brief explanation of antifragility:
Fragility is the quality of things that are vulnerable to volatility. Take the coffee cup on your desk: It wants peace and quiet because it incurs more harm than benefit from random events. The opposite of fragile, therefore, isn’t robust or sturdy or resilient—things with these qualities are simply difficult to break.
To deal with black swans, we instead need things that gain from volatility, variability, stress and disorder. … Things that are antifragile only grow and improve under adversity. …. Modernity has been obsessed with comfort and cosmetic stability, but by making ourselves too comfortable and eliminating all volatility from our lives, we do to our bodies and souls what Mr. Greenspan did to the U.S. economy: We make them fragile. We must instead learn to gain from disorder.Learning to Love Volatility, by Nassim Taleb, Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2012
If we want our economy not to be merely resilient, but to flourish, we must strive for antifragility. It is the difference between something that breaks severely after a policy error, and something that thrives from such mistakes. Since we cannot stop making mistakes and prediction errors, let us make sure their impact is limited and localized, and can in the long term help ensure our prosperity and growth.Stabilization Won’t Save Us, By Nassim Nicholas Taleb, New York Times, December 23, 2012
Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love, adventure, risk and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile.
Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better. …. Let me be more aggressive. We are largely better at doing than we are at thinking, thanks to antifragility. I’d rather be dumb and antifragile than extremely smart and fragile, any time.Prologue to Antifragile, by Nassim Taleb
It sure is a strange concept!
But the crazy thing is how it fits with certain basic Christian beliefs.
Look at these two astonishing passages, which seem to fit amazingly well with Taleb’s antifragility concept:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Who counts trials and suffering as things you should go around rejoicing about?
And yet, there it is.
If Christianity is the story we are in, suffering can turn out to be pretty antifragile!
And this leads us to another interesting thing.
If Jesus takes Christians down a path of suffering, it won’t be a path he hasn’t already gone down himself.
It turns out that having Jesus suffer was part of God’s rescue plan.
Look at these passages from the New Testament:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
And Comrade Chow, there’s an identity element at the core of this suffering.
We know it’s hard to believe, but when you begin to look through the identity lens of image bearing, it pops out at you.
Notice how the American Christian philosopher Paul Moser connects identity with the path of suffering:
In humbling himself, even to the point of suffering and death, Jesus showed us what our humble and all-compassionate God is really like and what we too should be like. Jesus showed us what it is to be truly a human person, a person fully in the image of God.Why Isn’t God More Obvious? Finding the God Who Hides and Seeks, by Paul K. Moser
You see how that connects to what you say about God as the Empathetic Protagonist in the story?
And strange as it may seem, there’s also an antifragility connection to the sufferings of Jesus:
In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.
Notice how it’s connected to identity!
But it gets even stranger:
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.
We’re betting that for many Christians in America, this is surprising stuff. They didn’t realize suffering was part of what his disciples sign up for.
So, what’s going on here?
What’s the motivation for the protagonist in the story allowing his followers to end up on desperate ground?
It looks like it’s all about love.
If Christianity is the story we are in, Comrade Chow, Jesus flat out loves his image bearers.
And this isn’t some kind of shallow love.
Look at what Jesus himself said:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
As you know, Christians believe he showed that kind of love through the ultimate sacrifice of his own life.
Look at this passage from their New Testament…
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
There is the Active Protagonist.
So, if Jesus does exist, it looks like he is not, as many Christians in America seem to believe, ‘chillin’ out’ in heaven, just waiting for the day of his second coming while he spends his time choosing drapery for the places he is preparing for Christians.
Instead, while he may be preparing a place for them, he is also the commander of a worldwide rescue effort in which he is as intense as he was when he first came to earth.
And you might say he’s the ultimate case of someone having ‘skin in the game’!
So, if Christianity is the story we are in, Comrade Chow, this caught my attention…
The transformation of humans in divine redemption would oppose moral self-sufficiency in humans. Accordingly, it would oppose any presumption of humans being good on their own. Instead, it would aim for moral transformation in human companionship with God. For the good of humans, this would be reverent, submissive transformation anchored in the prayer offered by Jesus to God in Gethsemane: “Father, not what I will, but what You will.” Such transformation would be person-to-person, in a context where a human submits to God in companionship with God. The result would be significant human change via willing human participation in God’s perfect moral character. This book explores the nature and aims of such participation, including the bearing of divine severity on it.
God’s pursuit of the volitional transformation of humans would not be served by just abstract theoretical claims about God, such as claims about divine impassibility or divine omniscience. Claims of that sort would invite philosophical and theological discussion, perhaps even endlessly, but they would not challenge the volitional center of an agent. They would not challenge an agent to make a commitment of self-sacrificial love to a God of redemptive grace. Concrete self-sacrificial actions and corresponding commands from God, in contrast, could infuse the needed challenge with motivational significance for humans. Accordingly, the Christian message is that God’s culminating revelation comes in the self-giving and demanding person and life of Jesus Christ, who manifests God’s grace and wisdom, and not just in ideas or arguments about God.Paul Moser, The Severity of God
So, maybe the Christians shouldn’t be surprised when he tells them things like this:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
And look at this…
In the final paragraph of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis exhorts his reader, “Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death . . . and you will find eternal life.”Out of the Cave, Into the Wardrobe, by Andrew Salzone, Public Discourse, April 10th, 2017
So… if Christianity is the story we are in, then their God continues to be the Active Protagonist in the unfolding drama of humanity.
And every day this act in the story moves closer to the end.
Remember what that end is…
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
You can see the focus. And look what their King of Kings says in the last chapter in the Bible…
“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.”
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
And if you see the following verse through the lens of story, that coming soon stuff really does make sense…
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
So, it has just been a couple of days.
But if the Christians in America choose the Jonah Option, well… look at this, Comrade Chow:
And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!
So, if Christianity is the story we are in … and if America has been blessed by God in so many ways… what if the American Christians… or at least their leaders… fall into that “much was given” category?
And look at this…
Another major lesson of Amos is that people who have the light of God’s truth live with greater responsibility than those who live in darkness. The light exposes our sins, and when we see our sins, we must humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, or we will experience His judgment. Christians have a greater responsibility to judge themselves, “that we be not judged,” than the unsaved. We may be judged, not with separation from God eternally, but with separation from much future blessing.Notes on Amos, By Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Sonic Light
And another strange idea came to me.
Since this is all related to the simple, but astonishingly powerful story question…
What do you really want, here in the story?
… what if their God is testing them?
You see, I came across this very surprising verse…
The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.
We need to consider this possibility, Comrade Chow, because it certainly fits with the astonishing story of the growth of Christianity in China…
The government believes that it must above all continue its authoritarian rule, and to them Christian beliefs appear to be at odds with the heavily nationalist China Dream narrative. So they started demolishing crosses to deter and contain the growth of churches. But obviously they are not familiar with the history of churches in Wenzhou. The 1958 campaign drove the Christian communities underground, and 30 years later in the 1980s, they emerged like a miracle and have since experienced a spectacular renaissance. One thing is certain: Suppression will not destroy Christianity.Second Interview With the Wenzhou Pastor: After the Demolition Comes the “Transformations”, By Yaxue Cao and Pastor L, China Change, December 15, 2015
So, what if this is going to play out in America?…
It may be that we are awaiting a great change, that the sins of the fathers are going to be visited upon the generation until the reality of evil is again brought home and there comes some passionate reaction, like that which flowered in the chivalry and spirituality of the Middle Ages. If such is the most we can hope for, something toward that revival may be prepared by acts of thought and volition in this waning day of the West.Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences
I know all this seems crazy, Comrade Chow, but that’s the way your Uncle wants us to think for this crazy assignment.
Can you see why I love this woman so much? Sterling work, Paula Wong. And Paula is right. We have to explore the ‘what if’ questions.