If you had asked William Shakespeare, or any other Englishman of his time, what colour a swan is, he would have said, “white,” without hesitation. In Shakespeare’s time, no Englishman had seen a swan of any other colour. But in the 1760’s the first English settlers in Australia discovered black swans there. Black swans aren’t native to England, so before then no Englishman would have imagined that a swan could be black. The term “black swan” can be used to describe an unexpected event that cannot be accounted for because it is outside the realm of normal experience.

For Ezekiel, exile must have been a “black swan.” The son of a priest, Ezekiel would have been expecting to become a priest himself. But he was deported to Babylonia, and in his thirtieth year—the year in which he should have been ordained to the priesthood (Num. 4:3)—God called him to something different. Instead of serving God in the temple in Jerusalem, he found himself serving God by serving a group of fellow exiles near the river Chebar, not far from the city of Babylon. He served them not as a priest but as a prophet.

Maybe you’ve had a “black swan” in your own life. You’ve suddenly lost a spouse to death or divorce. Your “dream job” has become a nightmare, or you’ve lost your job. Or the child you’ve raised in a godly way has rebelled and fallen into sin. You don’t know how to deal with what’s happened because you never imagined it could happen.

For God, there are no “black swans.” He knows the end from the beginning, so nothing happens that he doesn’t know about and nothing surprises him. You may have heard it said that God never has to go to Plan B. This is something that we can take comfort in. Whatever happens, God has already included it in his design. Every mistake we make, every hurtful thing that others do to us, every shock that we don’t expect God weaves into the tapestry of his good plan for us. To shift the metaphor a little: I do cross stitch, and I often notice that the patterns I form don’t become clear until I add the outlines, which are usually done in dark colours, or black. Let’s remember that whatever happens, God knows about it in advance, and he’s able to help us deal with it.