“If you know the enemy and know yourself, the victory is not at risk.”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War (c. 400 B.C.)
Our oldest son, Randy, was a SWAT team commander for the Boise Police Department for many years and is now an instructor for the Department of Homeland Security, training other police departments in Active Shooter Response. One of the topics he covers is called the OODA Loop.
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The OODA Loop, as I understand it, comes from Col. John Boyd and his concept of decision-making in battlefield conditions. (OODA is an acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.) In its simplest form it describes the process by which combatants react to an enemy threat: (1) they observe the threat as it occurs; (2) they orient themselves to the threat; (3) they decide what action they will take, and (4) they act. All of which takes a certain amount of time.
Boyd’s theory claims that the key to success in an encounter is to shorten a combatant’s reaction time by formulating a strategy ahead of time for dealing with specific threats. (In other words, one thinks through the “Loop” before an encounter.) Success, therefore, depends on mental preparation: anticipating every strategy an opponent might use and deciding in advance what one’s response will be so that when an attack occurs the appropriate action becomes instinctual and automatic.
The theory has an elegant simplicity that lends itself to many applications, not the least of which is our ongoing conflict with evil. As Wisdom would say, it supplies “guidance to wage war, and wise counsel to win” (Proverbs 24:5,6).
Peter had something like Boyd’s premise in mind when he enjoined us to be “self-controlled (to be in control of one’s thought processes) and alert (in readiness) [for] your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). In other words, we must be mentally prepared and know what to do when attacked.
This is what early Christians called solertia, a Latin word that means “shrewd.” It’s a process of deliberation by which an individual envisions an impending circumstance and prepares for it by deciding beforehand what she or he will do. Thus, when the crisis arrives the person is not driven by emotion and passion, but by calm, reasoned resolution. This is providentia (another word they used) or “seeing before” — envisioning what needs to be done before one has to do it and giving thought to what has to be done and how to do it.
Solertia means, among other things, taking time each morning to think through the day and anticipate difficult and dangerous situations so that our response to spiritual threats is immediate and instinctual. Do I have a meeting with an “unfriendly” today? What do I think he or she will say? How can I respond in truth and love? Will I face a temptation for which I must be forearmed? What steps must I take to guard my thoughts and actions? Do I anticipate a challenge in my business in which I’ll be tempted to bargain away my integrity? What will I do when told to lie and my job is on the line? Then having deliberated in advance I can respond to moral crises with calm conviction for the decision has already been made.
It’s not mere forethought that saves us, however. Jesus instructs us to “watch and pray” lest we fall into temptation, for we may be willing and resolute, but the flesh (our unaided humanity) is weak (Mark 14:38). It’s not by decision and determination alone, but by prayer — utter dependence on God — that we prevail.
Jeremy Taylor gives solertia his typically commonsense spin: “Before you go forth of your Closet, after your Prayers are done, set yourself down a little while, and consider what you are to do that day, what matter of business is like to employ you or to tempt you; and take particular resolution against that, whether it be matter of wrangling, or anger, or covetousness, or vain courtship, or feasting: and when you enter upon it, remember, upon what you resolved in your Closet. If you are likely to have nothing extraordinary that day a general recommendation of the affairs of that day to God in your Prayers will be sufficient: but if there be any thing foreseen that is not usual, be sure to be armed for it, by a hearty though a short Prayer, and an earnest prudent resolution beforehand, and then watch when the thing comes.”
So Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come .... Therefore watch yourselves (be in a state of preparedness)” (Luke 17:1).
David and Carolyn Roper co-direct the work of Idaho Mountain Ministries, a ministry of clergy care. David is the author of 14 books. The most recent: Teach Us To Number Our Days. His musings are archived on davidroper.blogspot.com/
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.