2020 has been a year that has shattered all expectations and shown that our modern world, for all of its technological and scientific advances, remains ever dependent on the life-sustaining work of Christ in His creation. From a pandemic that has forced us to distance ourselves from our friends, family members, and church family for extended periods of time, to a derecho in the Midwest and wildfires along the Pacific coast, the normalcy of our lives has been torn from us. Inject into the pandemonium the tensions of prejudice and inequality in the criminal justice system, protests turned riots and violence against police, and an especially polarizing political season, and you have turned what was already a pressure cooker into a powder keg and lit the fuse. Our social moment feels on the edge of explosion.
In response to this incredibly intense cultural moment, many have reacted by personifying the year in which we are living in order to take their frustrations and anger out on it as a scapegoat. What seemed back in January to hold the promise and potential of a new year and new decade has now revealed itself as a multi-faceted monster that keeps growing new and more terrifying heads. 2020 has become the butt of our jokes and memes, which we use to help ourselves feel better about our present chaos. 2020 has become the object of our unified disdain, perhaps the only thing on which we can agree. Our world cries out with one desperate voice, “Can 2020 just be over?” Perhaps if we can just get to 2021 the curse of this year will be lifted.
2020 Is Not Your Real Enemy
Although this year has seen its fair share of trials and tribulations, the Bible points toward a deeper underlying issue at work behind the scenes in 2020. The problem of sin is typically applied to individuals and its effects on our relationship with the Creator. But sin has both internal effects on human beings and external effects on human relationships with one another and with the created world in which we live. In Genesis 3:17-19, Adam’s disobedience in Eden leads to the enactment of a curse on the ground which remains to this day. Paul says “creation was subjected to futility” and is in “bondage to corruption” (see Rom. 8:20-21).
2020 is not some kind of inherently evil entity. It has been a hard year because of the corruption of sin caused by humanity that affects each of us individually, our relationships with others, our businesses, corporations, governments, nations, and ultimately our entire planet. As Christians, we long for a day when the curse of sin will be removed and creation restored. An especially challenging year makes us long for that future day even more.
What if 2021 Brings No Relief?
This world is not getting better. 2020 should be definitive proof of that statement. We know that although we will have trouble in this world, Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33), and that he is building his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matt 16:18). Yet our future outlook is not promised to be fair weather and sunny skies. Our society’s talk of 2020 as some foul beast that must simply be endured in order to arrive at better days may be dangerously misleading. As Christians, we should understand we are not guaranteed “better days” in this life. This present cultural chaos may be prolonged beyond 2020’s temporal grasp.
What if 2021 is not the light at the end of the tunnel we all want it to be? How many would be disillusioned with a God who allows a year like 2020 to continue into a decade? As believers in Jesus Christ, there is something better for us to look to than the end of 2020.
A Better Hope
Even if 2020 expands to become the “terrible twenties,” God will still be good. He will continue to be faithful to his promises as outlined in the Scriptures. His grace will still be sufficient for our lives. He has, by his Holy Spirit, given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and that applies both now and into the unknown future. Our hope as Christians is not in something as uncertain as the comings and goings of years with their manifold events and issues. Our hope is in the unchanging character of our God.
This hope is infinitely greater than the false and empty hope of just trying to make it through the quagmire that is 2020. The apostle Peter tells us that followers of Christ possess a “living hope” that consists of “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4-5). This hope of our future inheritance is preserved by God Himself. Through His infinite power and the presence of faith in our lives God is guarding us “for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:6). In Christ, our salvation is secure and our hope is certain.
The words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:38-39 could rightly be applied to our present circumstances in this way:
For I am convinced that neither fires, nor storms, nor injustice, nor riots, nor COVID-19, nor masks, nor social distancing, nor the outcome of a presidential election, nor anything else in all of 2020 will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Years come and go, but God’s faithfulness endures to a thousand generations of those who love him (Deut. 7:9). 2021 makes a poor and pitiful savior in comparison to the certain hope we have in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jonathan J. Routley (JJ) serves as Professor of Bible and Theology at Emmaus Bible College in Dubuque, Iowa. JJ also serves on the Board of Directors for the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR). He holds a PhD in Theological Studies from Columbia International University, South Carolina. JJ and his family reside in Dubuque, Iowa.