No matter how you look at it, 2020 has been a painful year. For the first time in living memory Australians faced shortages of essential items in supermarkets, endured long periods of lockdown, and lived through the worst economic downturn since the great depression. Not to mention a highly contagious virus was at loose across our country.

Few of us will be sorry to leave 2020 behind

While Australia fared remarkably well compared to other countries (e.g. the US and UK), few of us will be sorry to leave 2020 behind (especially if you’re from Melbourne).

But before we say ‘good riddance’ to this challenging year, it’s worth reflecting on some of the lessons we can learn. Here  are five of my reflections:

1. The Pandemic Is a Sign That Something Better is Coming

We live in a culture of instant gratification, where we expect our desires to be met almost immediately. We expect this world to work for us. We expect life to be comfortable and stable, ‘Instaworthy’ and satisfying.

But 2020 has reminded us how broken our world is. Romans 8 puts this in blunt terms: our world is ‘subjected to futility’ (v20), ‘in bondage to corruption’ (v21), and ‘groaning together in the pains of childbirth’ (v22). Those words aren’t going to sell any holiday packages.

2020 should also cause us to lift our gaze upward to our full redemption in a new creation.

And yet, the ‘pains of childbirth’ experienced by our world—of which the global pandemic is but a part—remind us that something better is coming: ‘the redemption of our bodies’ (v23). The pandemic is a sign that the new creation is coming, in which God’s children will live in glory-filled freedom (vv22-23).

And so, while COVID has caused us to lament 2020, it should also cause us to lift our gaze upward to what’s coming next: our full redemption in a new creation.

2. Western Peace and Tranquillity Are Fragile (And Not The Norm)

Let’s face it: Australia—and much of the Western world—has had a good run since World War 2. Sure, there’s been small-scale wars, economic downturns, and a Cold War in the meantime. But by and large western living standards have gone through the roof since the Axis surrenders of 1945. Your average middle class Aussie is living a longer, healthier life than the last Tsar of Russia. The world has improved dramatically in the second half of the 20th century.

And yet …

2020 is a reminder that such peace and stability is fragile. It hasn’t been the norm throughout human history. A microscopic virus from Wuhan can bring the world to its knees. Which is another reminder that human achievement and stability is fragile. Humanity doesn’t rule this broken world—at least not like we’re meant to. And so, we shouldn’t be surprised when our Western comfort is upended.

3. Are We Too Happy To Give Up Our Freedoms For the Sake Of Safety?

Christians have had varying opinions about the lockdowns. For some, the lockdowns were necessary and proportional to the threat posed by the virus. For others, the lockdowns were a disproportionate response to a problem that could have been addressed with fewer restrictions.

Now, because there’s no authoritative word from the Bible on the lockdowns, we need to treat this as a disputable matter, over which faithful Christians can take differing views in good conscience (see Rom 14). Suffice to say, it’s not an issue to break fellowship over.

With that said, it’s still worth discussing, not least because of the massive impact it had on 2020. While I’m thankful that the lockdowns did bring the virus under control, I do wonder about the cost—especially the human cost. I know that might sound naive, especially considering the virus’ impact on the rest of the world. After all, we didn’t end up like Italy, where medical professionals were making life and death decisions about which COVID patients to care for.  Our state borders are now (more or less) open, and life is getting back to normal. Isn’t that enough evidence to prove that the lockdowns were justified?

There was very little pushback from us Aussies. Safety seems to be our priority—even when the cost is massive.

Well, it’s interesting to note how little high-level discussion and debate there was around the imposition of these unprecedented (months-long) lockdowns. There was no in-depth consideration by our political leaders of whether the lockdowns were worth the cost to churches, individuals and the rest of society; [1]  little discussion about the months-long suspension of civil and religious liberties. Instead, our governments simply gave us a binary option: lockdown for months, or risk becoming like Italy.

Which again is interesting, when you consider that the virus we’re up against is non-lethal for the overwhelming majority of people (according to recent US data, suicide is a bigger risk factor than COVID-19 for under 45’s). And, more to the point, there was very little pushback from us Aussies. By and large, we happily accepted them. As a nation, we’re more upset by our football team losing a grand final, than losing our civil liberties for months on end. Safety seems to be our priority—even when the cost is massive.

Now you might think the lockdowns were/are worth it—and you could be right.

But at the very least, we should reflect on the collateral damage lockdowns have caused to so many, in various ways. And given the Bible’s view of human sinfulness and the role of government (Rom 13:1-6)—not to mention the experience of history—we should be more vigilant about a government’s use of authority. Especially when it involves locking churches and people down for months on end.[2]

4. Physical Presence Is Vital

The lockdowns have shown how important it is to connect with people in-person

The lockdowns have shown how important it is to connect with people in-person—not merely virtually. After months of zoom church and small group, it felt so refreshing to be in the same room with other people from church. Because we’re created as physical, embodied souls (Gen 1:27), physical presence is something we need if we’re to flourish. Which is why for example, the apostles prioritise the in-person connection to the virtual (i.e., long-distance) connection (e.g., 2 John 12, 3 John 13-14).

5. Opportunities For The Gospel Can Come In Unexpected Ways

While the pandemic doesn’t seem to have led to a wide-scale existential crisis among non-Christians in Australia, it has brought about new opportunities for the gospel. Some ministries have adapted well to the online world, and are seeing more people come to Christ than before.

God uses all situations to further his gospel.

Either way, there are many, many opportunities to connect with our non-Christian neighbours and friends and show them what it means to live a hope-filled life in these uncertain times.

A Love and Hope That Never Fail

In the wake of Christmas, we’re reminded of the amazing gift of Christ Jesus, whom God sent into the world 2000 years ago—when sickness and death were daily realities for people. While we can look forward to a 2021 in which COVID-19 will be no more (assuming the vaccine delivers), Jesus has promised us an even better future: A future without pandemics; without fear; without death.

And for that reason alone, we can rejoice, no matter how tough 2020 was for us.

First published at akosbalogh.com

[1] Journalist Trent Dalton reports on one unseen aspect of lockdown causing human suffering:
[Frontline Brisbane DV workers] reported an escalation of violence experienced by women [during lockdown]. Strangulation, threats to burn down homes and burn partners and children, pressuring victims for sex and preventing partners from going to work were all identified as forms of abuse during lockdown restrictions…[As a former DV survivor put it], ‘A mum in lockdown doesn’t even have the opportunity to drive the kids to school to get a break…You normally take that time driving home from school drop-off to buy a coffee, take stock, think about strategies moving forward, put a bit of distance between you and the perpetrator…In lockdown, you can’t even go out. You can’t escape at all.’ Trent Dalton, Hands and Hearts, Weekend Australian Magazine, (Dec 12-13 2020), 18.

[2] Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean lockdowns are wrong. But I think governments should be made to justify such big decisions, rather than arbitrarily imposing them. The threshold for such intervention should be high.