Malcolm Gladwell is a world renowned author, reporter and business strategy expert. Now, a reporter of Jewish descent may sound, at first, like a odd choice to talk about how God continues to act in our lives and has helped me grow in my faith, but it’s where my mind went when Martha asked me to speak in this series.
Malcolm has spent his career doing a very challenging and important thing. He has successfully looked at the world more deeply and clearly than most people, and shared what he has learned from his particular viewpoint. He regularly challenges assumptions, dogmas and “truths” that we commonly hold to be true. In doing that, and sharing what he finds, he teaches us how to look at the world, not as we want it to be, but how God really made it to be.
The lesson of seeing the world as God truly made it is epitomised in the passage of First Samuel 16.7. Samuel has been set by God to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king. Samuel is having Jesse present his sons and when Samuel sees the first son, strong and handsome, is convinced that this the one, but God surprises Samuel. “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’”
This is not the only instance of God, and later Jesus, looking at the world in a way different to the rest of us, but it is one of the clearest examples. Malcolm Gladwell also looks at the world differently than most, and has the gift of seeing important things we miss. It is this skill that has inspired growth in my faith.
In his book, David and Goliath (a happy coincidence), Malcolm challenges our assumptions about struggles between perceived underdogs and those in power. To do this, he recasts the iconic story of overcoming great odds: the battle of David and Goliath. When viewed from a different angle, we see that David was never at risk and that his victory was all but certain. Why? Because David refused to play the traditional rules and instead played to his strengths (those attributes that others saw as weaknesses). David knew he would lose in a sword fight, so he didn’t engage in one. He stayed well out of range from Goliath’s sword and flung stones with the deadly accuracy he had mastered through years of protecting sheep from wolves. In that view, David was no underdog, but the one really in control.
What God shows in the story of David, and others, is that we limited humans only see part of what is, and that much of the time we are stuck in a fixed, incomplete and dogmatic way of thinking.
What God invites us to do, and what Malcolm Gladwell teaches us to do, is to shed those blinders and see the world in all of its complexity, beauty and interconnectedness.