I suppose a reflection post on 2020 ought to begin with all the cliches about strangenesss, unexpectedness, and unpredictability discovered in odd times.
I’ll assume you know all that already and are, like myself, tired of such comments – though it’s hard to say anything else at times. It is all just so odd and weird and difficult.
Yet, 2020 was a year, like others before it: we worked, we grew, we learned, we prayed, we loved – though all of these were changed in scope or kind or degree, still they were what we needed this year.
So here are 5 things I learned in 2020, presented without complaining or grumbling.
Now that’s odd.
#1 – Gratitude is always possible, always required.
Why without complaining or grumbling? Because both are sins, no matter the circumstances.
We are commanded to pray with thanksgiving; so we know we can. We are never so deprived of God’s provision that we are justified in complaining ever.
More shocking than a global pandemic (worse of which the world has known) is that our prosperity has lasted this many generations of unbelief. Scripture and history ought to be preparing us for far worse outcomes to come for those who say, “By my own hand I have done this.”
Even while watching life-as-we-know-it collapse, we can be grateful for how God has provided for us and grateful in advance, through faith, that he will continue to provide.
The “rainbows and puppies” kind of gratitude lists won’t get you through an economic shutdown and social chaos. Only a personal, faith-filled gratitude in a personal provider is possible – and that’s a good thing.
We can expect that and we ought to recount how God turns to His people’s good even the adversity He sends.
#2 – Social media isn’t social at all.
Social media is a lie.
All the things it promises, it underdelivers. It is merely an advertising vehicle. It does the bare minimum necessary to deliver the most ads, the most effectively, to the most eyeballs.
Playing on the “content marketer” side on the field and watching Instagram go from no algorithm or ads at all to mere ad platform, I finally snapped. I’d listened to podcasts, watched YouTube videos, read blog posts about making Instagram a viable marketing platform and suddenly realized all these people were as much a part of the problem as the Facebook algorithms. They’re trying to game Facebook and Instagram to get the most clicks for the least money. Facebook (which includes IG) is trying to get the most ad exposure and wring as many pennies as possible out of anyone and everyone who wants to be seen.
So, I decided I didn’t care about being seen enough to play the game anymore.
Then, of course, there’s the censorship issues that have now cropped up – making everyone aware of what bloggers already knew (FB has control over who sees what when).
On top of the manipulation angle, though, there is the foundational lie: that it is social.
Clicking “like” is not communication. It is not social. That it counts as keeping in touch is simply a ploy and a lie made up by Facebook to keep people feeling obligated to come back no matter how much their privacy and psyche and intelligence is abused.
It is totally possible to just step out and live life with real people who matter to you – even if it’s via text or Zoom or voxer or chat apps where your data is not the product (ie – paid communities outside the mainstream apps).
Better yet, have your family and friends over for dinner and a board game. Take walks and smile at your neighbors. Take a meal to someone who needs it. Go to church and connect with your church body. That’s social.
#3 – Only Christ changes hearts.
2020 ought to be the year our idolatries were uncovered and toppled. Much uncovering has happened, but few seem to have taken up the toppling. Trying to topple other peoples’ idols doesn’t count.
Everyone in 2020 wanted a savior.
We were told that government action, economic shutdown, isolation, vaccines, presidents, rioters, the right social media posts, the right news sources are each means of salvation. Yet none has the power to save.
In fact, all of them are destructive precisely because they are trying to work salvation apart from repentance and Christ.
In 2020, I hope we all learned that our hope and security is not in health, prosperity, sports, or politics. We should feel a pity for those looking to these sources in hope – a pity that shares truth where it sees error, not a pity that tries to help people make their errors a little more palatable and viable.
People need hope and change. People want security and justice. Such words do not mean what each individual wants them to mean. These words are words God, the maker of all, defines and offers – on his terms, not ours – in his way, not ours.
Let us move forward ever more convinced that church is essential, that the gospel must be central, and that Jesus is Lord of all.
#4 – Safety is not a virtue.
These are the blessings given in a materialist society. When we don’t believe in the existence of anything we cannot verify with our senses (materialist), our short life is all we have.
What is a human? What does it mean to value human life? If we are just a collection of cells that randomly happened to coalesce and create a self-aware, capable, reproducing being, then staying alive is all that’s demanded of us. That’s all our cells, our being, wants.
Stay alive. Keep up the pleasure and comfort. There is nothing more. There is not only no meaning to life and nothing beyond the grave, but also nothing higher than ourselves to please and serve.
A human being, however, is a soul as well as a body. We each will be held accountable for what we did with the life we were given. We can become more or less human. Humans are worshipping creatures. Humans are social creatures. Humans are made in the image of God to have dominion and to be held to account for that dominion.
The virtues, for thousands of years and across cultures, have been recognized as including prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. In pursuit of these virtues, men throughout the ages have sacrificed safety.
You might think it’s prudent to prioritize safety, but prudence does not neglect other essential qualities of our lives and humanity in pursuit of a transitory, uncontrollable good. Transitory useful goods ought never be elevated in importance above transcendental goods – things to be enjoyed in and of themselves.
Safety cannot satisfy in that way. It cannot be enjoyed in itself. Safety is always for something else. And those goods which can be enjoyed in themselves don’t require safety to be enjoyed.
As safety becomes the god of the nation, I expect to have less and less of it. Such is the nature of idols. However, our ultimate, spiritual safety is secure, so we don’t have to prioritize material safety in such a way that we sacrifice our character: our fortitude, courage, and temperance.
There are many, many ways we can ensure more safety. Across the board, they diminish our humanity. We were not created and put in this world to stay safe.
Let us not value physical safety above what Scripture tells us to value: corporate worship, sharing life with other believers, ministering to the poor and needy.
#5 – We were made for such a time as this.
People want hope. People want meaning. If we give them anything other than Christ as they hunt, we are hating our neighbor, not loving them. It is not loving to help along others in deception and illusion.
If we ourselves look to anything or anyone except Christ as a sure hope for and source of salvation – in this life as well as the next – we are harlots and will come to no good. At the least, we are relinquishing our comfort and foregoing effectiveness and fruitfulness.
Christ isn’t a spiritual Savior only. His salvation of course begins there with our greatest need, the one everyone wants to ignore: sinful pride.
Repent of pride and a whole host of cascading repentances must follow, repentances that will affect every element of personal and social life.
Social peace and material prosperity are being whisked away. May we make good use of our times and circumstances as witnesses to the source of true peace and lasting worth.