Christians have a unique opportunity during the COVID19 pandemic: we can give the gift of hopeful realism that prompts people to ask about the hope that is in us.
In his classic leadership book Good to Great, Jim Collins identifies a key maxim for leadership and life: we must face the brutal facts. We don’t get anywhere by minimizing a problem, or worse, pretending a problem doesn’t exist.
However, Collins also points out that simply facing the brutal facts is not enough. It must be coupled with the
“…unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Collins calls this “The Stockdale Paradox.” (named for the Admiral James Stockdale who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.)
We are in a Stockdale Paradox moment.
We must face the brutal facts while never losing hope that we will prevail in the end. Not because of the strength of the human spirit —
“if anything this pandemic has shown how weak and vulnerable we are. Not because we trust in health departments and hand sanitizer, but because we HOPE in a risen, and ruling Savior who has faced the worst that death and hell have to offer, and He has defeated them.”
While Collins calls this principle the Stockdale Paradox, we could just as appropriately call it the “Jesus Paradox”. Long before Jim Collins or James Stockdale, Jesus of Nazareth on the eve of dying a brutal death on a Roman cross said this to His best friends:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)
Do you see it? Jesus acknowledges the brutal facts: “In this world you will have trouble.” While at the same time giving us the foundation for the hope that we will prevail in the end: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And Jesus spoke “these things” (and everything else in John chapters 13-16) so that in Him we may have—what? Peace.
In this moment of fear, panic, stockpiling, and stock-selling, Christians have the opportunity to face the brutal facts and yet have peace. We can offer our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family members the incredible gift of being a “non-anxious presence.” Often being that non-anxious presence requires a conscious choice on our part. One pastor put it like this:
I learned well…the value of having someone who is decidedly non-anxious. I say decidedly non-anxious because so often—at least for me—it is just that: a decision. People in a panic rarely need someone to come alongside to panic with them. But I have found over and over again…that coming alongside anxious people and embodying non-anxiety (whether you want to call it stability, control, or general okay-ness) is a subtle and welcome gift….
When we are able to offer this gift of gospel-rooted, hopeful realism that faces the most brutal of facts while maintaining a posture of faith, hope, and love, we may just prompt people to ask about the hope that is in us (1 Pet 3:15). And when they ask may we point them to a Jesus who says to every fearful heart:
“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:33 MESSAGE)
Thank you for this. I was searching the web for info about Vice Admiral Stockdale, a man I greatly admire for his leadership and example. I never knew whether he was a Christian.
Even though you wrote this concerning COVID over a year ago, your words are directly applicable to the church in 2021. And they will be until we see our hope realized in Christ’s return.