We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, May 21, 2012

Black Swan Events & God

Christ on the Cross, Diego Velazquez
Two recent postings (here and here) described and reflected on the idea of Black Swan Events, historical events that are unexpected, have a significant impact, and are later accepted as having been almost the natural course of things.  We've seen that Black Swan Events are complex and that the name itself names something historians and many others were already aware of.  We know they exist, but coming to terms with them is the issue.

Viewed theologically, we might be inclined to embrace this concept as describing the way in which God acts in human history.  Any number of biblical events including the call of Abraham, the Exodus, and especially the "Christ event" fit the description of Black Swan Events.  They were unforeseen, significant, and later were turned into a narrative that purported to explain them so that we don't normally even think of them as being Black Swan Events.  We might conclude, then, that God uses Black Swan Events to influence and change the course of human history.

The problem is that the temptation of Adam & Eve, the death of Abel, and other biblical events can also be seen as Black Swan Events—as can a myriad of ugly, tragic historical events right down to the present.  God did not cause the death of Abel, and God was not the author of 9/11.  So, then, we should amend our inclination to say that God acts positively ("redemptively" in theological-speak) and  occasionally in history and does so through Black Swan Events.

OK, sounds good, but does God actually instigate Black Swan Events to influence the course of human history in an intentional way?  Or, are we reading God as the cause of such events back into them so that we can make sense of them?  The concept of Black Swan Events, that is, leads us back to a perennial theological issue, which is the way in which God is present in human history (and in our personal lives).

With all due humility, we must confess that we do not know how God is Present in history and our lives.  We know what the Bible says, and we put a good deal of stock in scripture; but it was written at times when humanity had a vastly different understanding of the universe.  In those times, it made perfect sense to believe that God causes Black Swan Events.  The vast majority of Christians still accept that ancient view, but one wonders how much spiritual sense it actually makes today.  In particular, are we willing to accept the biblical understanding that God repeatedly failed to make effective use of Black Swan Events, which is the tale the Old Testament tells?  God created humanity, which rebelled.  God called the Hebrews, who time and time again failed their calling.  It is an open question whether the Christian church will prove the Black Swan Event of Christ was any more of a success.

In our day and age, how do we best make sense of the Presence of God in history and our lives?  Given the complexity of Black Swan Events, does it make sense to believe that God uses some of them for divine ends?