Our Blessed Hope
Months ago, COVID-19, otherwise known as coronavirus, swept through the world in a wave of fear, sickness, pain, and death. Millions have suffered from the disease directly while billions suffer from its fallout. We have seen this suffering as a result of coronavirus; however, these symptoms find an even deeper root in the sinful nature of our world. Unfortunately, the pain we experience today is the same pain humanity has experienced for thousands of years.
In the midst of World War II, Dietrich Bonhoeffer experienced the death of his fellow Germans. Though Germany was our enemy, many teachers, doctors, and even pastors, some of Bonhoeffer's own students, would sadly fuel Hitler's war machine with their blood. He reflected on this loss as well as the great pain plaguing the entire world during the war:
"Just as time-lapse photography makes visible, in an ever more compressed and penetrating form, movements that would otherwise not be thus grasped by our vision, so the war makes manifest in particularly drastic and unshrouded form that which for years has become ever more dreadfully clear to us as the essence of the 'world'. It is not war that first brings death, not war that first invents the pains and torments of human bodies and souls, not war that first unleashes lies, injustice, and violence. It is not war that first makes our existence so utterly precarious and renders human beings powerless, forcing them to watch their desires and plans being thwarted and destroyed by more 'exalted powers'. But war makes all of this, which existed already apart from it and before it, vast and unavoidable to us who would gladly prefer to overlook it all."
We can replace the word "war" with "pandemic", and this quote will still hold its weight. We are now not experiencing a new pain with this pandemic. Even the tribulation that plagues our individual lives, sickness, financial burdens, or like, is not a new human experience. Humanity together feels the collective suffering of sin. Due to this experience, many tend to give up all hope, and this desperation makes sense in the context of our history. There has always been pain. There has always been oppression. There has always been death.
This is the portrait of the human existence without God. We have effectively broken off our ties to anything good, anything just, and anything holy. However, this hopelessness is the exact reason why Jesus Christ died on the cross. In the face of all this evil and suffering, Jesus took it upon himself to bear the consequence of our sins, and we now have a hope that surpasses any suffering we can here experience on earth. Paul comments on this future glory:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25)
Paul exhorts the church and Rome, and by extension the modern church, to not dwell on the hopelessness that presents itself in various forms. Rather, he encourages us to look forward to the "glory that is to be revealed to us". Regardless of what we do, we cannot on our own fix the problem that is sin. Politics, social reform, and virtuous systems can only get us so far. As long as sin plagues our world, we will see this same pain.
Make no mistake. As God commanded the Israeli exiles in Jeremiah 29 to "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile", we should continue to seek the welfare of the community and society in which we live. After all, we are going to be here for the rest of our lives on earth. It would be nonsense to live in apathy of the events surrounding our lives. However, we cannot expect that anything we do will have a permanent change on our plight with sin.
Ultimately, our blessed hope is in the future promise that we too one day will live with Christ in paradise. This glory, as Paul explains, has not been revealed to us. We do not comprehend the beautiful life that awaits us, but we do know that the suffering and troubles in this life cannot compare. It is in this glory that we must place our hope. Otherwise, we will be left disappointed in our futile attempts to create a heavenly utopia in the midst of a fallen and sinful creation. As we continue to fight through the fallout of COVID-19, I urge you, brothers and sisters in Christ, to continue to look forward to the "eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17).