To say that 2020 has been one of the most unexpected, bordering unbelievable years so far, for me at least, is an understatement.
Just when I think the year can’t get much crazier, I simply have to peruse almost any social media platform to be quickly reminded that my thinking is wrong. A global pandemic, flooding, unexpected and deeply saddening deaths, swarms of locusts, hurricanes, political upheaval, masks, school cancelled, curfews, church at home, social distancing, no hugging, travel bans… and that isn’t even half of it when you also consider personal battles and crisis, adjusting and re-adjusting and re-re-adjusting plans and timelines and managing disappointment and unmet expectations, while trying to keep relationships thriving, personal health strong…..it is a lot. We have all been in a fiery furnace, in some ways or others, and that fire is hot and much is being exposed in us and around us.
But I have noticed a mounting trend in the last few weeks and months, both in my own heart, and in the words posted on many social platforms, that has alarmed me.
The trend is that our words (either them or their tone), as believers, have begun to turn to have a sometimes subtle, sometimes not-subtle-at-all, ring of distrust in God to them. We speak as if He has lost some element of control, painting a picture with our words that 2020 has reached beyond the grasp of God Himself with its wildness and loss. We speak as though 2020 is a lost cause.
I believe there is reason the Bible says “Rejoice in the Lord always” and also has a whole book dedicated to lamenting. Psalms frequently shift from grappling with discouragement to grandiose declarations of praise. It is one thing to grieve – it is quite another thing to grieve hopelessly. This is a huge point of difference for us as believers. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, in encouraging the church in how it handles the emotions of processing death, Paul, Silas and Timothy say, “We don’t want you to grieve like other people who have no hope.”
They did not counsel the Thessalonians not to grieve – that would make us inhuman and robotic. That is not how God created us. He put feelings and emotions in our divine design – we do grieve death. Death of loved ones, death of dreams, death of plans and expectations. We grieve because that someone or something mattered. Grief is hard and difficult and there is much room given for grief in our faith.
They did not say, “We don’t want you to grieve.” as though the refusal to mourn loss somehow makes us better or stronger followers of God or validates our faith in Him. No, they said, “We don’t want you to grieve without hope.”
The two, grief and hope, do not cancel each other out. They are not mutually exclusive. We can simultaneously grieve and process loss while holding to our hope in God.
I quote one of my favorite speakers, Os Guinness, here:
“…Christians do not say to God, ‘I do not understand You at all, but I trust You anyway.’ That would be suicidal. Rather, they say, ‘Father, I do not understand You, but I trust You’ – or more accurately, ‘I do not understand You in this situation, but I understand why I trust You anyway.’ It is therefore reasonable to trust even when we do not understand. We may be in the dark about what God is doing, but we are not in the dark about God.”
How beautiful is that quote? As a believer in God, while I may not have any clue as to what He is doing or what He is allowing or His timing, I trust Who He is. I know WHY I trust Him.
And this is the hope that we who believe have. I recently heard a lecturer of mine say that the English language does a disservice to the word “hope” because it carries a measure of uncertainty (e.g. I hope my team wins the game) – we tend to use the word where the outcome is not yet set. But Biblical hope, the hope we have, is the assured faith of an unseen future that is absolutely guaranteed.
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” – Hebrews 6:19 NIV
Hope is what anchors us in the storms of pandemics, unexpected loss and grief, new, unprecedented times and political upheaval. Hope is what keeps us secured and keeps us from being tossed about by the ferocious waves and winds.
So…why do we speak as though we are a people without hope? Why do we post statements, or re-post statements that lend themselves to the doubt that God is truly in control of 2020? Why are we giving up on this year or allowing ourselves to give into the inner grief that this year is wasted or useless or beyond the Master’s control…as if furnaces, fires, storms and graves are not places that He has used over and over and over again as places where He displays His power, control, goodness, intentions and Lordship? Why would we “grieve without hope”?
Is 2020 the storm that will finally sink the boat that Jesus is in? No.
Is the situation you are facing, or I am facing, so strong that even God has been overcome and caught off-guard? No.
We have struggled, many of us, with allowing our circumstances to dictate our view of God, instead of allowing our view of God to dictate our circumstances.
My friends, whoever might be reading this, may those around us see in you and I a hope that causes them to ask “What reason do you have to be so calm, to grieve so assuredly, to speak so trustingly?” Yes, we need to grieve and process the losses and the difficulties…but even in that, may our lives, our conversations, our social media posts, our grief, our laments, our praise, our rejoicing… may it ALL point to the Hope (the assured faith of an unseen future that is absolutely guaranteed) that we have – Jesus. He is our anchor. While the storms rage, and we are assaulted with wave after wave of unexpected or shocking or sad news, may we be held steady through each wave by our hope, our trustworthy Anchor.
Each of us can look back, along our life’s journey, and point to time after time that we sat in the deepest grief and could not at all understand what was going on – and only now, looking back, do we see His sovereign hand that was working it all for our good. Something happens that, at the time, is devastating (eg. the loss of a job or the end of a relationship), but later on, turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Those experiences from our past should teach us not to rely on experiences of our present as our judgement of God’s character, goodness or control. If He did it before, He can do it again! The same God Who used fiery furnaces to get rid the ropes that bind, Who used a lion’s den as a place to demonstrate His power over beasts sent to destroy, Who used a Cross to make the only way for the our redemption… He is the same God now and He has a flawless track record of using the unexpected as a means to His good purpose.
We need to remember the glorious afterward…the divine afterward, for God has NEVER wasted a furnace, a wilderness, a waiting, a trial, or a storm. It is in the afterward we are reminded that the then and the now are being used for His ever glorious next.
2020 has NOT been wasted. It has NOT been out of God’s control. Nothing that has happened, though it might truly be grievous and sad, has dethroned God or removed our hope. Nothing has happened that is worthy of our doubt in our God. We may be in the dark about what God is doing right now…but we are not in the dark about God.
Speak hope. Speak hope. Speak hope!
May we honor Him in our hearts, in our grief, in our words, in our responses…may we testify of this great, powerful, good, good God!