Surveying the calamitous landscape wrought by the tiny coronavirus, Tom Frieden, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, conceded a grim reality: “This is here to stay, in all likelihood, until we have a vaccine, and a vaccine could be a year or two away.” And that’s the optimistic scenario. Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme, described the possibility of developing a reliable vaccine anytime soon as “a moon shot.”
This does not bode well, as I badly need a haircut.
It does not bode well for my barber either, one of the millions of people now out of work. Aside from the moon shot, or viable treatment options, the only shot at returning to some semblance of normal requires corralling our way to herd immunity. The risk is well rehearsed: viral exposure, widespread contagion, infection, disease, and more death. By the time we arrive, businesses will have been decimated and churches shuttered. Millions more jobs will have evaporated, poverty and indebtedness will have soared. Emotional devastation litters the route: depression, brokenness, terror, and grief. Some say it feels like the end of the world.
For Christians, the end of the world is the end of all hope because, for Christians, hope ends with its fulfillment. Jesus returns in glory to make all things new (Rev. 21:5)—so much so that the word hope never even appears in Revelation. Biblical hope is not especially optimistic but rather is the fruit of suffering, perseverance, and character (Rom. 5:3–4). Author Marilynne Robinson describes biblical hope as “constantly and intensely vulnerable.” G.K. Chesterton added, “It is only when everything is hopeless that [Christian] hope begins to be a strength at all. . . . it is as unreasonable as it is indispensable.” Paul assures us that hope cannot disappoint because it’s anchored in love, and love never fails (Rom. 5:5; 1 Cor. 13:8).
Still, perseverance requires patience, and patience is a virtue nobody has time for. Huddled in our houses, waiting for a vaccine, we wonder how long we can endure. In Revelation 6, martyrs who died for their faith huddle in heaven and wonder how long. As we wait for the end, Peter reminds us how, with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years and any slowness on God’s part is not really slow. What feels like forever is actually God being patient with us—“not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:8–9). Throughout the Bible, trouble and hardship—pandemics and problems—all shatter illusions of human power and control. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, and all are justified freely by God’s grace (Rom. 3:23–24). God has the power. God has the control.
The coronavirus has proven an equalizer. It infects righteous and unrighteous alike. But there’s viral inequity, too. The aged, the poor, the marginalized, and the already sick suffer and die disproportionately compared to the wealthy, the strong, and the privileged. This was the reason for the heavenly martyrs’ plea. Having suffered injustice on earth, they demanded to know how long till God would ride out in judgment and “avenge [their] blood” (Rev. 6:10).
In response, the martyrs are all given white robes and told to hold their horses, so to speak. Because our hearts and hurts so easily deceive us, Scripture continually cautions against throwing stones or passing judgment, lest ye be judged. To wait in hope for the Lord, “our help and our shield” (Ps. 33:20), starkly counters empty optimism or wishful thinking. To wait in hope for the Lord aims at a future so sure we can live as if it’s already happened. We are new creations now (2 Cor. 5:17).
In Christ, the future breaks into the present, pulling and empowering us forward to persevere with a purpose. Virtue begets virtue, and thus endurance produces character. As harbingers of new creation, we can provide foretastes of glory intentionally when we love our neighbors and enemies, when we forgive those who wrong us, when we care for the poor and the sick among us, when we speak truth and make peace and do right.
As I wait for my haircut, my barber waits for a paycheck. It’s the same for so many who serve—from housecleaners, restaurant workers, warehouse stockers, and delivery drivers to health care providers and doctors. I did what I could for my out-of-work barber: I contributed to a salary fund for him, even as my hair grows to my shoulders.
It’s a small offering given all I’ve received. But it’s a sure sign of the sure hope we hold to as we wait on Jesus to return.
Daniel Harrell is editor in chief of Christianity Today.
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