The Year of our Lord 2020 was far from normal as we know. Many of us can’t wait to turn the page on the calendar, ring in the new year and leave behind what was the single most abnormal, unprecedented and extraordinary year I’ve experienced in my lifetime, which I can honestly say spans more than a few decades.
The beginning of the year brought us of course, the main story- which took global proportions, being the Coronavirus pandemic which has reportedly contributed to over 330,000 American deaths from more than 19 million plus cases of infection to date.
That bit of data doesn’t even begin to describe the massive impact and havoc COVID-19 has wreaked on our society and economy, having led to massive job losses and business bankruptcies, as well as new civil rights debate over what may be deemed “essential,” as institutions like churches and schools, closed, operated virtually and then reopened with heavy mitigation regulations amidst litigation throughout the year.
In late May, video showed a Minneapolis Police Officer kneeling on the neck of a prostrate and hand-cuffed George Floyd, an African- American man during an arrest after a store clerk alleged he had passed a counterfeit $20 bill, for nearly nine minutes, leading to his death and a nation-wide summer long, plus season of often violent, racially charged protests that included the ransacking and looting of businesses, city takeovers (e.g. Portland, Seattle) and more, in the aftermath of other high-profile police-related shootings of black citizens that occurred over the summer.
As a result, America’s long and blighted history of racial strife reared its head again in 2020, culminating in one of the most controversial and bitterly contested presidential elections in U.S. History in November, which by year’s end, was still waiting to be certified once and for all, as being won by the presumptive President-Elect Joe Biden over the incumbent Donald Trump, despite allegations of voting irregularities if not out-right fraud on a major scale.
Therefore, It would seem quite reasonable for a foreign visitor traveling to the United States right now – oops, if they were only allowed to, to understand why Americans are so anxious to be rid of 2020 and ready to move on to 2021, though with vaccinations notwithstanding, the COVID cloud does not seem to be lifting anytime soon.
Not only has this year been a trying one for the country as a whole, but for the church of Jesus Christ, which has struggled to find its footing on what to make of God’s sovereignty and providence in permitting, if not directly ordaining all of this to occur in 2020. Church leaders have been hard-pressed to make sense of what God has been doing with this nation this year. For instance, might we ask:
- Is 2020 a year of God’s judgment or Romans 1 wrath against our collective unrighteousness?
- Is 2020 a year in which the eschaton– the tribulation and end times for our world began? Some well-known “prophets” of our time have speculated that.
- Is 2020 and all of its mayhem a precursor to a revival of the church that could lead to another American, “Great Awakening?”
I might suggest that any one of those three possibilities are viable. However, since whatever God does in his good will and purpose is ultimately for his glory and the good of his own and that he often chooses not to reveal his sovereign will to us (Deut. 29:29), we might want to search for some theologically sound if not likely lessons he has taught us and is still teaching us as the new year dawns, lest this year’s frustrations and disappointments overshadow all of the good God has done in 2020.
Lessons Learned in the School of Discipleship
- Repentance (James 4:17)
If I’ve learned anything at all studying the Bible and history as a Christian and in particular as a pastor over these many years, is that mankind’s heart is deceitful, desperately wicked, worthy of judgment and in constant need of God’s grace, mercy and faith to repent- to turn back to him after prolonged seasons or years of sin, rebellion and rejection of his gospel and goodness.
When I think of our country, I’m reminded of Israel and the days of the Old Testament, God’s chosen nation, a lighthouse of law and grace to the world, who after a time of blessing and testing, would fail to thankfully live up to those blessings, in a repeated cycle of sin and discipline. We find in the book of the law or Moses, also known as the Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy and then on to Joshua), God applying a principle of testing and teaching to his people so they would trust in and obey him.
First, The Hebrew nation to be, was enslaved (Gen.), then redeemed (Exo.), taught (Lev.), tested (Nu.), retaught (Deut.) and retested again (Jos.) time and again. This cycle was repeated throughout Israel’s history through the era of their kings and resulting in their eventual captivity and exile as judgment for their infidelity to God.
Somewhat similarly, since the United States is not Israel and should not think of itself as any sort of replacement of it and its covenants, our nation has been providentially blessed by the Lord in other ways and yet failed to acknowledge him and his common ‘grace on thee’ so often – I would say dramatically so, for nearly a century now.
Our American, post-Christian culture influenced by a secularized, prosperity-driven society has forgotten God for too long, with Christ’s own church even keeping him at arms-length, as Israel had despite their heritage. Mind you, there is a price to pay for such spiritual amnesia (Deut. 8:11-14).
Now is a good time for Christians to lead a lost country by example, as to how to change its mind and heart about its sin- and to repent or turn back to its creator God for healing and refreshing grace.
May we learn from David’s song of repentance (Psa. 51) to cry out to God that we would be “purged and made clean”, and like that wise man of old, Agur, who prayed to be content with God’s provision and blessing rather than greedily seeking to be rich and profane God’s name in pride (Pro. 30:8-9).
- Endurance (Psa. 139:9-10)
Most of my readers have probably heard the adage that, ‘Christianity is a marathon race and not a sprint.’
2020 has proven that to be true. I know personally, since patience is not my primary virtue, and I have been itching for this COVID crazy season of life to just go away.
When I want something bad to disappear, I pray – sometimes I mistakenly “tell” God to, “take it away- now!” Pleeeease.. However, our God is a God of process and history if nothing else. Therefore, a disciple of Jesus Christ must learn how to persevere or endure in every circumstance (Phil. 4:12-13) in order to cope in this world and the Lord’s process of redeeming and restoring it. The apostle Paul warned his young apprentice Timothy, that perseverance in godly and faithful living will always accompany genuine conversion to Christ.
In fact, the scriptures teach us that the more we endure pain and persecution in the Christian life, the more God is likely to grant us his blessings, thereby enabling us to endure even further – endure years like 2020. The psalmist reminds us that there is great reward in persevering in this life. In keeping God’s commandments, there is “great reward” for our souls (Psa. 19:11).
- Dependence (Psa. 104:27; 1 Pet. 5:7)
Whenever I tend to fall prey to self-pity or despair over trials or discouragement, I’ll go to the Bible narratives for a jolt of comfort and encouragement from a biographical sketch of a hall of faith (Heb.11) warrior, or a historical figure from my library who faithfully lived a life of fruitfulness to help me refocus on and abide in Christ (Jo. 15), as well as trust in God (Pro. 3:5-6; Psa. 37:5) when my path looks dark. That has been a major lesson for me this year.
Fortunately, as I was recently praying for God’s restoration of my spirit, another contemporary hero of the faith came to my mind and lifted my spirits, upon hearing of her response to having tested positive for coronavirus.
Joni Eareckson Tada, the founder of a Christian ministry devoted to extending outreach to the disabled community, having already endured- overcome a lifetime of paraplegia and cancer, shared an update on her condition, highlighting how “what COVID meant for evil, Christ meant for good”, echoing Joseph from Gen. 50.
Tada, the founder of the Joni and Friends ministry, tested positive for COVID after experiencing flu-like symptoms, according to a post on that Facebook page.
She later posted an update to her personal Facebook page, indicating that she was in good spirits. “What COVID meant for evil, Christ meant for good,” she declared. “My faith has widened, my hopes are higher, my love for Jesus has skyrocketed, my appreciation for others has deepened, and God’s promises are cemented further into my soul. This is how Christ meant COVID for my good.”
That is an example to us all as to how one endures and depends on God during trying years like 2020. As the new year draws near this week, I will actually strive to thank God- ‘for all things,’ including 2020, for the lessons I’ve learned from it, as we walk by faith in 2021.