A Lenten Motto: Anticipate Adversity

Most of us, I think, have an expectation that life will be good to us. When trouble rears its ugly head, we are surprised, even offended. We watch the news; we know terrible things happen to people all the time. But somehow we think we’ll prove the exception. 

In psychology this is known as the “Optimism Bias.” We have a bias—an unfounded, unrealistic presupposition—to expect the best for ourselves. Forty percent of people will get cancer at some point in their lives. But not me: I’m in the sixty percent. As we begin the season of Lent, maybe we should rethink this? 

I write this on a carefree day. I have problems, but today they’re all in the background and I’m simply happy. And my tendency is to think, This is normal. This is how things should be. At some level I know this can’t last, but it feels like it should. It feels like maybe I’ve finally learned a thing or two, broken into the clear, and from now on things will be good.

What a treacherous trap! I’m like the actor Jack Nicholson on the golf course, who after flubbing a shot threw down his club, raised his eyes to heaven, and cried, “If only, just once, I could play my normal game!” 

Have you noticed that your ‘normal game’ is actually quite elusive, and is maybe even a complete fantasy? The reality is that bad things keep happening, and we just get free of one problem when another rushes in to take its place. For “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).

Why is this? It’s because we are sinners living in a fallen world and bedevilled by countless enemies, both seen and unseen. This is the truth of our condition, and we cannot escape it. This side of eternity, we shall never break free into the clear. 

Given this fact of life, wouldn’t it be better, rather than thinking we can avoid trouble, if we could learn to expect it? Or even, more radical still, to welcome it? 

Say you are a drill sargeant preparing recruits for battle. Wouldn’t you want to train your soldiers with increasingly difficult challenges in order to fully prepare them for the reality of war? Isn’t this what is happening when bad things befall us? 

Our Optimism Bias must be shattered if we’re to be trained for reality. In the long term, of course, as Christians we are right to embrace a wild optimism, for we’re on our way to heaven where everything will be perfect. But not in the short term. And so Jesus taught, “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart, for I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). 

And this—both halves of this statement—is the good news. Notice that the first half is not just a statement but a promise: “In this world you will have trouble.” Of the 8,000 promises in the Bible, this is one, repeated many times. 

Why is this good news? It’s good because our loving heavenly Father allows all manner of pressures to bear upon us for our own good, so as to form our characters and equip us for eternity, and moreover to display to the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Eph 3:10) that we are His righteous and dearly loved kids, and how proud He is of us.  

“Look,” says God, “at my servant Job”—or at John or Cathy or Bill. “He is blameless and upright, someone who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). 

“Oh, yeah?” says the world, and the flesh, and the devil. “Just let me at him.” 

Accordingly, my new motto, which I highly recommend, is “Anticipate Adversity.” I won’t go so far as to say, “Bring it on!” No, but part of humility is to be unflappable: not to be surprised or offended when tribulation comes, but on the contrary to recognize it as a friend, as one of the foes of whom Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” 

Next Post:  The Gospel According to Job: Five-Minute Version

free ebook
Posted in Blog and tagged , , .