Now that we are finally counting down the few remaining hours in this rough year, it might be useful to reflect on the year that was. As with any sort of retrospective pondering, this is usually a bittersweet thing to do, but with 2020, there may be more bitter than sweet.
For me, 2020 began with us having to euthanize a beloved dog, a member of our family for over 15 years. That was the first weekend, and the year never really got much better. There were bright moments, to be sure, but it was definitely the type of year that could leave one wondering where God was in all the messiness. It breaks my heart to say this, but one of my adult children has basically walked away from the faith (at least for now) because she has asked a similar question about the pattern of bad things that has seemed to plague her throughout her relatively brief life: if there is a loving, caring God, how can He allow so many bad things to happen to me?
He is the short answer regarding God’s whereabouts: He is here for us and with us to help us weather the storm. To expand a bit, God has never promised us an easy life. If someone has convinced you to believe otherwise, they need to read the Bible. It is a collection of true stories written by and about people who endured unspeakable hardships, and most of their stories do not have happy endings. At least not for their time on earth–the eventual ending is glorious, being restored and in the presence of God for all eternity. In fact, Jesus Himself confirmed that life is hard when he said, “In this world, you will have trouble.” (John 16:33, NIV, emphasis added).
However, He also added, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
But if Jesus has overcome the world, why does it still suck so badly sometimes?
That is a fair and natural question. The answer plumbs the depths of theology, I think, but here is how I understand it, in a nutshell. When Adam and Eve listened to Satan and ate the fruit God told them not to eat, sin (and Satan with it) gained a foothold in this world. It has been spreading like a plague (worse even than COVID-19) ever since, as history and the evening news clearly show. When Jesus came to earth, lived a sinless life, died on the cross to pay the price for the sin of every person who has ever lived or ever will live, and then rose again on the third day, He defeated Satan and death in the spiritual world. The book of Revelation contains some details (but not many), but this victory won’t manifest itself in the physical world until Jesus returns (the Second Coming). Battles will ensue in this physical realm, the end result of which will be that everyone who has called on the name of Jesus and accepted His gift of salvation (the only requirements) will be restored, along with a new heaven and new earth, to dwell forever in paradise with our great and loving Creator.
So unfortunately, because of the brokenness introduced and spread throughout the world by Satan, this world will suck until then.
But here’s the really great news: God has also promised to never leave or forsake us! Said another way, rather than just sit up in heaven eating bonbons and saying, “Wow, look at the mess they’ve made! Good luck with that!”, God has entered into our messiness. Because there is growth to be had through the muck and mire of life, He doesn’t usually take us out of the messiness, but He does find various ways to help us through it. He gives us shalom (deep, lasting inner peace) if we ask Him for it. He puts people in our path who will help us (financially, spiritually, emotionally, and in myriad other ways), if we let them. He has spread churches and other gatherings of believers all around the world with the intent of giving us a place to worship Him and remind ourselves and each other that this isn’t the way it was intended to be, nor will it be this way forever.
Even if you’re not yet a follower of Christ, He stands always at your door, knocking softly and waiting for you to open it. In conjunction with the Holy Spirit, He is only a breath, a brief prayer, away. You have only to say, “Help me, Jesus, I need you,” and He will step in to help you carry your burden. You may not be able to imagine how He will help you (His answers never look like our questions, but they are always better!), but He will. It’s what He does. He does not want a single one of us to endure the hardships of this life on our own.
So where has God been during the storm that has been 2020? Standing on the shores of heaven cheering us on? No way! Our kind and loving Savior has left the grandeur of heaven to get into the rocking boat with us, even as it gets tossed about by ferocious waves. It may not make sense, but this is our God. Someday we will understand.
I pray you will have a healthy, prosperous, and peaceful 2021, but even more so that you (as well as I) will always remember to look to God, our Creator and Giver of Life and Light, all throughout the coming year, regardless of what comes our way. May God bless your 2021!