Nothing Just Happens: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Three months ago, I had a startling revelation. Owing to a bit of arthritis in my knee, I was much less active physically. My clothes were tight and uncomfortable. I actually couldn’t wear some of my favorite suits. I needed to lose some weight.
Now, merely making the decision that I needed to lose some weight may have been admirable, but the mere decision meant nothing in and of itself. If I was going to actually lose the weight, a whole range of things had to happen. I would have to change my diet. I went to a gym and I hired a trainer. I began to count calories and combed the internet for new recipes. I bought athletic shoes for walking. I started at a half mile and worked myself up to a mile, then two, then three. I set a goal to return to my weight at the age of 30. That meant I would have to lose 23 pounds. I weighed myself morning and evening and wrote down the numbers. I gained and lost, plateaued, lost again and then gained again. I set a time to lift weights every day. I deeply disliked the discipline of it all and, at times, wondered if it was worth the effort. Slowly, however, the numbers came down. I now only have two pounds left to lose…
While many of my clothes now fit me just as they used to, others are too big and will have to be altered or discarded. When change happens, one has to face the results of that change. Yet, as I consider this change, I am drawn to the conclusion that nothing just happens. My initial observation that I needed to lose some weight would have meant nothing if I had not taken the necessary steps to make that change happen.
Of course, this observation is not limited to losing a few pounds.
When I started off in academic life, I had made the decision that I wanted to earn a doctorate in Church History. Once again, nothing just happens. First came undergraduate work, then post-graduate work. You sign on the line for student debt and apply for scholarships. One learns ancient languages and studies arcane histories. Eventually, you gain entrance to a doctoral program and you find yet more challenges. Your presuppositions are challenged. You strain to afford the tuition. You find yourself on the other side of the ocean. You deal with a foreign culture. The blank pages of a doctoral thesis yet to be written, lie before you. Finally, thirteen years after that initial decision, you sit your final examination, your thesis is published and it is done. Done, but with the realization that there’s so much more to learn.
My initial decision that I wanted to pursue an educational goal might have remained merely an abstract idea had I not taken the necessary steps to see that desire become a reality. Early on, I had to accept the hard fact that it was not going to happen on its own. Most of you reading this can most likely point to similar scenarios within your own life and experience. While there may be some rare exceptions, worthwhile ends seldom just happen.
At present, I believe we are facing a reckoning in the Church and Society. In the Church, we are trying to define our place, function and direction. As a matter of candor, I must say that I believe that those who are seeking to align the Church with a particular political party, right or left, or with some form of nationalism, are wholly misguided and wrong. This view is based, in my opinion, on a binary choice, a decision of “this over that”. It is as though the decision itself is the determining factor and that simply deciding on a course of action is sufficient. Likewise, in Society, we are struggling with the issue of race. Although the issue of race has been central to the American story for four centuries, there are those who seem to think that by simply making the decision to be anti-racist the problem will be solved.
Once again, I have to say, nothing just happens.
It is, perhaps, the inheritance of evangelicalism, that, “my decision for Christ” is a primary theological construct. It is individual; it is of the moment. Yet, I would contend that whether in regard to the Church, or to Society, singular decisions mean little unless we are willing to back up those decisions with the reflection, thought and actions that will, with God’s help, yield real and tangible results in our lives, and in the lives of others.