Losing lives—but keeping hope
by Leonard Johnson
Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities presents life as an alternation: “the best of times” and “the worst of times.”1 With our planet held hostage by a deadly coronavirus that reared its head at the beginning of 2020 and roared like a lion at the year’s close, we are witnesses to the worst of times.
Opinion columnist Kristin Clark Taylor wrote, “Farewell, 2020. Adieu. Goodbye. Lots of folks would say good riddance. I’m not at all sorry to see you leave. . . . You haven’t played fair, 2020, and you know it. You’ve been the most horrendously cruel Backyard Bully on the playground—except you didn’t just pinch an arm and pull a pigtail. You didn’t just kick up dust and cause a ruckus. No, you snuffed out lots of lives. . . .
“You placed a knee on the neck of a man lying helplessly on the street until he cried out for his mama then finally stopped breathing. . . . You showed us hatred and tried to separate us from love. You forced us to find a new language filled with pandemic-inspired phrases like ‘social distancing,’ ‘herd immunity,’ ‘Do-Not-Enter-Without-A-Mask,’ and the oh-so-often used, ‘You’re still on mute!’
“Worse, you silenced the heartbeats of hundreds of thousands of innocent souls—loved ones who once laughed with us and protected us and gave us good advice but whose hands we can no longer hold and whose presence we can no longer feel. Their hearts stopped beating in 2020. They will not be stepping with us into 2021. They are gone.”2
The worst of times
Unlike anything that most of us have ever seen, this pandemic has been pervasive and invasive, touching young and old, from the humblest to the most royal. It has rendered millions jobless and disrupted the daily practice of school, work, and sports. The call to remain home and social distance has changed our lives. It is frustrating to no longer greet with a handshake or an embrace. It is disheartening to see churches whose doors are closed and, in places where they have been allowed to reopen, whose attendance is smaller and scattered.
In many places, the rise of COVID-19 cases has spiked beyond previous levels, producing trepidation and anxiety and creating financial stresses for church institutions, such as hospitals, schools, universities, and publishing houses. So disconcerting is the current situation that many are prompted to inquire, When will life get back to normal? Or, Will it ever be normal again? Many wonder, Is there a realistic way out of this dilemma?
Scripture presents a story that may offer us some reference points, and something to cling to amid what is, for many of us, the worst of times. Upon returning to the city of Ziklag, David and his 600 men encountered the unimaginable: their city had been burned by invading Amalekites. The Bible describes them as sobbing uncontrollably
(1 Sam. 30:4). In addition, their wives and children, along with their possessions, had been detained by unknown individuals. It was the worst of times.
Consider David’s response in confronting the unexpected.
1. Elevate your thoughts
The first step he took was to elevate his thoughts. The Bible says, “David strengthened himself in the LORD” (1 Sam. 30:6).3 That suggests a determined response to counteract negative and difficult situations by turning to God. David, I believe, recalled past difficulties and deliverances, such as the defeat of Goliath. “In this hour of utmost extremity David, instead of permitting his mind to dwell upon these painful circumstances, looked earnestly to God for help. He ‘encouraged himself in the Lord.’ He reviewed his past eventful life. Wherein had the Lord ever forsaken him? His soul was refreshed in recalling the many evidences of God’s favor.”4 It is critical to fight off the temptation of allowing self to become weighed down by problems. Instead, focus on God.
2. Seek after God
Second, seek after God. The Bible says, David “inquired of the LORD” (1 Sam. 30:7, 8). He asked the priest for the ephod so as to seek God’s will or, more directly, God’s direction. To his inquiry, “Should I pursue them [enemies]?” came the answer, “Go after them, and you shall recover all.” How many would wish for God to answer us like that in every situation? We all would. However, while God does not answer all our prayers alike, He does answer prayer.
The reality is that many of us have lost much. The promise, “ ‘And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes’ ” (Mal. 3:11) seems to have passed us by. Yet in spite of our experiences, faith demands that we cling to the promise, “ ‘So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten’ ” (Joel 2:25).
3. Follow His instructions
Third, follow God’s instructions. Following the definite answer from God that David and his men would recover all they lost, David acted on the counsel of God “pursue, for you shall . . . recover all” (1 Sam. 30:8). Could it be that when God provides the direction, we decline the action? David recovers everything that was taken away from him and his men (v. 19).
Having recovered all, 400 of David’s men manifest selfishness in deciding not to share the spoils with 200 of their colleagues who could not make the full journey. David states emphatically, “ ‘My brethren, you shall not do so with what the LORD has given us, who has preserved us and delivered into our hand the troop that came against us’ ”
(v. 23). The reaction of David is a remarkable display of grace to those who were undeserving. Is that not what grace is all about? Max Lucado says, “A ‘crazy, holy grace’ it has been called. A type of grace that doesn’t hold up to logic. But then I guess grace doesn’t have to be logical. If it did, it wouldn’t be grace.”5
In our situation today with the pandemic, I see great manifestations of God’s grace toward His people. I see glimpses of goodness that have resulted. Though many people have become unemployed, new business opportunities have been created. We have learned to cook, sew, educate children, and use technology in unbelievable ways, and we are witnessing a remarkable attitude of magnanimity and creativity in response to the challenges of the day.
Who would have thought that technology, such as Zoom teleconferencing would enable churches to conduct services and board meetings and engage in social activities? Who would have known that churches would be able to access preachers from throughout the world without requiring visas, airplane tickets, car rentals, and hotels? Who would have imagined that in many places, through online giving, church tithes and offerings have eclipsed previous totals? Who would have believed that thousands of people who would not normally attend church would do so through electronic platforms?
While God is at work in definite ways, it is clear that “His ways [are] past finding out” (Rom 11:33). Ellen White wrote, “Let me tell you that the Lord will work in this last work in a manner very much out of the common order of things, and in a way that will be contrary to any human planning. . . . God will use ways and means by which it will be seen that He is taking the reins in His own hands.”6 We are not left to fend for ourselves, God is acting on behalf of His people.
The best of times
Perhaps the candle of hope burns brightest amid the darkness. We are told, “God calls upon His faithful ones, who believe in Him, to talk courage to those who are unbelieving and hopeless. Turn to the Lord, ye prisoners of hope. Seek strength from God, the living God. Show an unwavering, humble faith in His power and His willingness to save. When in faith we take hold of His strength, He will change, wonderfully change, the most hopeless, discouraging outlook. He will do this for the glory of His name.”7 What a privilege it is to communicate a word of encouragement even in times like these. Kristin Taylor ends her opinion piece with these words:
“But guess what, 2020? We made it through you. We fortified our strength. We found our courage. We came together. We tapped into a resilience we never even knew we had. . . .
“We held each other up. We refused to back down. We made it through you, 2020, and because we did, we will step into 2021 stronger. . . .
“Yes, you certainly brought the bad and you definitely delivered many dark moments, but what will keep us strong and focused as we say goodbye to you—most folks would say good riddance instead of goodbye—is the knowledge that the darkest moments eventually give way to the brightest light. As we say goodbye to you, 2020, we will strike a big old match and create a collective light that will carry us forward into 2021, and we’ll call it the light of hope. This hope is not to be messed with. This hope cannot be snuffed out. It is unsnuffable.”8
We understand how contemporary society may label our current crises as the worst of times. Every day sees us journeying through the valley of the shadow of death. But we hear our Lord Christ constantly whispering, “ ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’ ” (Matt. 28:20). Hope is the fuel that keeps us going and the Bible promises, “hope does not disappoint” (Rom. 5:5).
Now, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Cor. 15:19). But “We have this hope that burns within our hearts, hope in the coming of the Lord.”9 Hope makes us go one more mile. Hope makes us help one more person. “ ‘For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry’ ” (Heb. 10:37, KJV). It is the best of times.
- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (Boston, MA: Ticknor and Fields, 1859).
- Kristin Clark Taylor, “A Farewell Letter to 2020,” USA Today, January 1, 2021. https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2021/01/01/goodbye-2020-youve-put-us-through-lot-but-made-us-stronger-column/4062826001/.
- Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.
- Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1890), 692.
- Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1986), 91.
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1923), 300.
- Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1917), 260.
- Taylor, “A Farewell Letter to 2020.”
- Wayne Hooper, “We Have This Hope” in Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1985), no. 214.