Like everything else in 2020, Christmas this year proved to be more eventful than expected for my family. While driving to my grandmother’s house, a plow truck ran us off the road and into an exceptionally deep, snow-filled ditch. One moment I was working to ensure our family arrived at my grandmother’s house on time so as not to be berated by my relatives for delaying Christmas dinner, and the next moment I found myself impossibly stuck in a car tilted to the side at a 60-degree angle. In a moment, my world was flipped on end, immediately reorienting my thinking.
It is incredible how quickly difficulty can change our perspective. Things that were vitally important a moment ago abruptly lose their meaning. Other things taken for granted suddenly become precious. Difficulty can make us pause just long enough to permit opportunity to re-evaluate the path we are travelling and the choices we are making.
I don’t imagine anyone will argue that 2020 has been a difficult year. Even New York City’s New Year’s celebration has been rebranded with a “Good Riddance” theme. We began the year with an unprecedented effort to impeach President Trump based upon an anonymous whistleblower’s inaccurate account of a presidential phone call. Shortly thereafter, a global pandemic emerged.
Somehow “15 days to slow the spread” morphed into indefinite lockdowns that decimated the economy as well as our Republican form of government. Almost immediately, schools and religious gatherings were targeted and criminalized in the name of protecting the public from an emerging pandemic. Bars, strip clubs, and marijuana shops were classified as essential businesses, while churches and schools were deemed unnecessary health hazards.
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that while churches across the country were shutdown, anarchy reigned throughout the summer. Nightly riots were excused as “mostly peaceful protests.” Politicians and celebrities demanded that our police be defunded even as our cities were ablaze, autonomous zones were established, and crime rates soared.
Then, having successfully controlled the national narrative regarding impeachment, COVID-19, and the riots, our nation’s news outlets and social media chose to openly censor any information that threatened their preferred presidential candidate’s chances of success. This censorship has naturally extended to the thousands of sworn affidavits, state congressional hearings, and lawsuits alleging widespread fraud in the 2020 elections.
Of course, these are merely the highlights. Let us not forget the nearly 10,000 forest fires in California, the one in six Americans facing food insecurity, our nation’s most extensive security breach by foreign adversaries, the Nashville Christmas bombing, or the countless other life-altering difficulties overshadowed by the scale of events in 2020. Together, these have certainly made 2020 a memorable year. If there is a silver lining to all the difficulty we’ve experienced over the course of the last year, it might be that 2020 has been difficult enough to compel a significant portion of our nation to collectively re-evaluate the path we are travelling and the choices we are making.
The Bible has much to say about the kinds of difficulties we’ve been experiencing as a nation and how they are intended to compel us to make different choices. In fact, one of Christendom’s favorite verses actually begins with the idea of an epidemic and other national troubles: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:13–14).
The Bible provides God’s remedy for an infected nation! Incredibly, it has nothing to do with face masks, social distancing, lockdowns, or a vaccine. This is not to say these aren’t useful, but in-and-of themselves they are meaningless if not accompanied by humility and repentance. This is because God sometimes uses disease, among other difficulties, to get the attention of a wayward nation. God’s goal is to provide a reality check that compels the people to re-evaluate the path they are traveling and the choices they are making in an effort to draw the people of that nation back to Himself.
Indeed, we read in 2 Chronicles how God troubled the nation of Judah with “every sort of distress” because the people had abandoned God. This was not punitive judgment as much as it was mercy. Using His prophet, God told the king, “The LORD is with you while you are with Him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” The passage goes on to say, “In those times there was no peace to him who went out or to him who came in, for great disturbances afflicted all the inhabitants of the land. They were broken in pieces. Nation was crushed by nation and city by city, for God troubled them with every sort of distress” (2 Chron. 15:5–6).
Difficulty is like a fire. It either consumes or refines. Fortunately for Judah, it proved to be a refining fire. Second Chronicles 15:4 reads, “When in their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them.”
Nobody yearns for times of difficulty; nonetheless, it is sometimes necessary. At times God’s mercy allows difficulty to come upon a nation as a means of alerting the people to the destructive nature of their rebellion. Thus, difficulty can be a blessing because it can provide the impetus necessary to change our wayward behavior. Considering the scale of difficulties we faced in 2020, it seems that God is demanding our attention.
Let us not fool ourselves into believing that the year 2021 must be better than 2020. If we do not make a course correction, humble ourselves, and turn back to God, we have no assurances that 2021 will be an improvement. Instead, the potential difficulties laying ahead in the year 2021 may make us pine for the days of 2020!
This New Year let us re-evaluate the path we are traveling and the choices we are making. Let us submit to God, resist evil, and purify our hearts so that we might draw near to God and receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (James 4:7–8; Heb. 4:16). Moreover, let us prioritize spiritual solutions over political solutions. Let us seek refuge not in the presidency, stimulus bills, or a vaccine; let us instead seek refuge in the Lord. If we do, then we may claim the promises of Psalm 91:
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you. … If you make the LORD your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home. For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. … The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.”
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