When we tell the story of this unimaginable year to our children or our grandchildren in the months and years to come, we will grope for words to summon all its dark, disruptive power.
“It was as if a giant blanket suddenly descended on the world,” we will say to all the little faces, “and no one could do what they normally used to do. We couldn’t drive to Grandma and Grampa’s house for fear of making them sick. Daddy (or Poppa) couldn’t go to work because it wasn’t safe to be mixing with the people he usually works with. Mommy couldn’t teach schoolchildren in a classroom: everyone had to do all their learning online. Recess and the playground and going to Little League games all disappeared.”
And they will say to us what children always do when they have heard an unbelievable tale: “Is that a true story? Or did you just make that up?”
Imagining how we will tell the story of 2020 to the children we love brings us to two immediate conclusions.
Seventy percent of the nations of the world have been dramatically affected by the coronavirus. More than a million residents of the planet have succumbed to a mysterious disease that has no end in sight. The combined forces of national governments, international health organizations, and millions of safe-distancing and mask-wearing individuals have not eradicated a scourge that many of us were certain would be a fading memory before Christmas.
Adventists, of all people, must resist the siren song of fatalism.
Huge swaths of the global economy have been devastated—communication, travel, industrial production, and education. Hundreds of millions of people have lost jobs, lost income, or lost what little they had stashed away for the proverbial “rainy day.” It has been raining for eight months already.
Environmental disasters—fires, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes—have eaten into what little security we have left.
It is right to grieve the losses of this year.
A clear-eyed, candid look at all this year has brought us shouldn’t cause a people living by the Word to pull the house down about their ears or hide beneath the cellar stairs. While we may have previously been sleepily optimistic about the days ahead, there’s an equal and opposite danger that we will now “awfulize” the future, and dismiss all signs of normalcy and recovery as outliers to a plunging downward trend. As surely as successful vaccines will be found and schools resumed, and we will once again be able to assemble freely for fellowship and worship, there will come a corresponding temptation to huddle and to cringe at every bit of troubling news for fear we are beginning 2020 all over again.
Adventists, of all people, must resist the siren song of fatalism that would cause our mission and our purpose to wreck upon the rocks. Either Christ “is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17),* as the apostle Paul asserts, or we and all this movement stands for are but windswept leaves upon a dark and wild ocean.
There is a Lord who stands above this storm, and any other one that comes, who will not let a world He still loves go unwarned, unvisited, or unloved—by us and by His Spirit. God asks His fearful people, “Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver?” (Isa. 50:2). In your heart, you know the answer.
In this season of both scarcity and abundance, adversity and small contentments, we may yet offer deep thanksgiving for the knowledge that everything we experience is known to Him and matters deeply to Him. William Cowper’s wondrous, faithful hymn, written more than two centuries ago, reads like tomorrow’s headline:
“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.”
* Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.