“It’s important for me to level with you — we know things will get worse before they get better.”
Boris Johnson wrote this line in a letter sent to every U.K. household at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. Hope is mixed with realism.
But can we hope that life gets better after it gets worse?
A little while ago we saw the peak of the virus. We’re on the other side now, but there’s a way to go. There may be a whole host of new challenges we face caused by the pandemic. It may be the economy. It may be political. It may be grieving loss. It may not feel ‘better’.
Even if things went back to ‘normal’, that would entail a lot of hardship for a lot of people.
Matt Gallagher wrote for the New York Times in April about this promise he whispered to his newborn son while watching the London Bridge Attack in 2017:
“‘It’s not always like this,’ I told my newborn son. But I don’t know what he will face in his lifetime.”
Before COVID-19, normal life was already fraught with news stories of tragedies.
Writing now in the midst of the pandemic, Matt concludes:
“I realize that ‘It’s not always like this’ was a foolish promise. I have no idea what awaits my son’s lifetime . . . Good intentions are no match for the harsh, unexpected gales of existence.”
We have no idea whether it’ll be better in year or two.
Everyone tells a different story to make emotional sense of the world. Maybe our short life is sandwiched between billions of years of nothingness, or maybe every human life is heading somewhere eternal. Whatever the story is, it must grapple with the issue of suffering with realism and hope.
Ricky Gervais once tweeted:
“Nearly 14 billion years of non existence, one life, then back to non existence for ever. Enjoy it while it lasts!”
Enjoyment is one emotion. In this global health crisis, we’ve experienced a whole range of them. But if that story’s right, if this is it, then our happiness counts on life getting better. The thing is, no one can guarantee that for us. Anyone who isn’t enjoying life is entirely on their own.
A friend of mine shared an article by Jonny Patterson in The Independent.
When his dad died in 2017, he found himself faced with questions about life it threw at him. Other friends carried on life as normal. But now, he writes, we’re in this crisis together:
“Netflix’s profits are soaring as scores seek new means of diversion. But we cannot distract ourselves forever. The eerie slowdown forces us to confront the nagging question: is this it?”
Is this it? The secular view is one of the only stories in world history that places total significance on life here and now — while it lasts. Across the world, many people have faced suffering placing meaning in something more lasting.
Some world religions have an idea of a paradise that’s an escape from life in our broken world here and now. Usually, in this view, this life is a test that determines your quality of life in the next. For others, it’s more like stepping off the cycle of life into oneness with everything that exists.
None of these views actually offer redemption, returning what’s lost.
I have favourite things about where I live. I love BBQs on the beach or drinks in the garden in summer. I don’t want to leave all that… I just want there to not be a virus pandemic, economic inequality, racial injustice and a whole host of other problems. We want this world put right. Not a ‘delete’ or an ‘undo to start again’, but redemption.
In the Harry Potter books, on the tombstones of Harry’s parents is a quote:
“The last enemy to be defeated is death.”
Imagine life with everything that’s wrong with it, even death. All done away with. The line is actually a quote from one of the earliest pieces of Christian writing we have saying that Jesus has been raised from the dead (you can read it here: 1 Corinthians 15).
Ancient Jewish scriptures already spoke about a day when God will have ‘swallowed up death once and for all’ and ‘will wipe away the tears from every face’ (Isaiah 25). It was never understood as the offer of a life elsewhere, beyond our world. Rather, it’s this world made right. When we see tragedy, it won’t always be like this.
When Jesus was at the house of his grieving friends who’d lost their brother to a fatal sickness, you can imagine how much they’d be longing for that day to come:
‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’
Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’
Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’
This is taken from the disciple John’s eyewitness account of what he saw of Jesus’ life (you can read it here: John chapter 11).
When Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again,” he meant hope. Martha, who had lost her brother, knew Jesus meant there’d be a day when everything sad would come untrue. Jesus meant he came to make it happen.
Resurrection isn’t a word that means life after death, it doesn’t mean reincarnation, it doesn’t mean life in any other dimension.
It means real human life that’s beat death forever.
The world would get darker — as he died on the cross and was buried in a tomb — before it got brighter.
After those who knew Jesus saw his empty grave, after they saw him alive (cooking a BBQ on a beach), they knew all the hopes of the world were fulfilled in this redeemer. He was the first sign of a new creation.
His resurrection is the first light that breaks through the blinds in the bedroom to tell us morning is nearly here. One day all the world will be made new.
We can tell each other, “It won’t always be like this.”
Until then, many people are discovering the difference he makes here and now.
Without a solid hope like this, we end of placing total significance on this small life and the fragile things we use to make it more enjoyable. Or we long for an escape. Jesus offers redemption.
“Do you believe this?” Jesus asked Martha.
You might have a thousand questions. But can I ask, what are you hoping for? Can we be sure things will get better, and what happens if they don’t… if this is it? Wouldn’t you want to begin finding answers?