It is hard to believe that November 2020 is upon us. Where in the heck has this year gone? Oh, that’s right: COVID-19 stole it. That’s how it feels, at least.
In one sense, it seems as though I have gone from February to November in a blink. Days, weeks, and months have blended together in a strange hodgepodge of viral updates and news scandals and political ads (which might be the worst of the three). Every week has felt the same, in one way or another. Yet, in another sense, the “2020 Experience” has also carried on slowly, laboriously. There are times when this year has felt like a veritable slog. Trying to make sense of it all gives me an ample dose of anxiety.
And yet here we are: nine months into this thing known as “COVID-19,” with debates about its extent (and how to extinguish it) as loud as ever. We have already witnessed protests, riots, murder hornets, potential asteroid threats, hurricanes, and Kanye running for president. And now we are a weekend away from the “most important election ever” (or so we’re told). These are, indeed, “unprecedented times.” You have undoubtedly heard that sentiment or something similar approximately 1,000,000 times by this point. The unprecedented nature of our day is being repeated ad nauseam. And I cringe every time that adjective is employed. It’s like a broken record at this point.
Nevertheless, notwithstanding how “unprecedented” these days, weeks, and months have appeared, God has never been surprised by anything that has transpired thus far. Not even for a nanosecond.
And guess what?
He never will be.
Ours is a God who is never caught off guard by the bedlam of events that occur in this sin-riddled world. Even as travesties and tragedies strike, the Lord of Hosts is not indifferent or negligent of our plight. Rather, he is attentive to us, mindful of us. (Ps 8:3–4) He reigns unyieldingly from his throne in the heavens, unmoved and unshaken by those very things that so easily bewilder us. So writes G. Campbell Morgan, in what I am deeming the “quote of the year”:
None of the things happening in the world which surprise and startle me, surprise or startle God.1
God has not been surprised for instant throughout this year. Nothing has shocked him. Or left him nonplussed. If I were to let the headlines be my guide, I would have likely already lost my mind. Trying to make sense of what is going on in this world might leaving your head swimming. Thankfully, we have been given a much better Word — the Word of God himself — who is, himself, our Anchor. (Heb 6:19)
And the thought that has occurred to me lately is that our God knew that these circumstances and conditions were going to happen in 2020 and he knew that we were going to have to endure them. Now that might seem too elementary to even be worth typing. But I find something tremendously comforting in that thought — namely, that God has seen fit to allow us to see these days, these “unprecedented times,” because he has called us to them in order to showcase more of his glory and grace through us in these times. He is always and forever looking to reveal more of himself.
There are moments when I have caught myself questioning God’s plans and purposes. When I have seriously struggled with notion of the Almighty Sovereign allowing me to endure such weirdness in my first year as a pastor and ministry leader. And I can attest to the fact that there are several other brother-pastors who feel similarly. Even still, the prevailing truth of Scripture reminds me that this affliction is not accidental. It is not a coincidence that you and I are living in this moment. The seemingly random happenstances that have allowed these events to occur are actually the evidences of God’s providence at work.
You and I have been called to this moment. As St. Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica, “For you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.” (1 Thes 3:3) We are “appointed” — that is, destined — to live and minister faithfully in this moment, in these times, “unprecedented” or not. He has foreknown this moment from before the “foundation of the world.” (Eph 1:4; 1 Pt 1:20; Rv 13:8) Therefore, even though we might be surprised to find ourselves coping with the cornucopia of confusion that this year has presented to us, God has not once been surprised.
It is probably the worst kept secret that 2020 has not gone according to “my plans.” I would hasten to say that it hasn’t gone according to your plans either. If you asked me a year ago if I would want to serve the Lord as a pastor through the crazy and chaotic circumstances that the year 2020 has afforded, I would have likely said no. Who would sign up for this? And yet now I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t change anything about 2020 because even through everything that has occurred, the inimitable faithfulness of God has taken centerstage. His grace has proven stronger than anything this life could ever offer. His faithful love has been there through it all. And I am so glad that I have been given a front row seat to witness that.
I pray that 2020 has let you see that the only moorings that are secure in this life are those that are fastened by grace through faith to Jesus Christ. He is the Steadfast One who keeps us from being tossed about to and fro. He is our Anchor, our Hope, our Strength. And as we enter into a future that is fraught with even more uncertainty, may we go out in confidence that Christ holds us fast.
Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1927), 282.