What Comes Next? This is the question I keep asking myself as we near the end of this pandemic. I’m not the only one. There are political, social, and financial implications that have many sectors scrambling to anticipate the future. Much ink has been spilled already in potential answers.
Followers of Jesus have extra motivation for prayerful discernment about what comes next. We are always interested in where God is moving and how we can join Him. I have no doubt that God has incredible plans for our community, our nation, and our world, and that 2020 was not wasted time for Him.
While I cannot predict the future, a few guiding principles shape my thinking.
There is nothing new under the sun.
This is the constant refrain in the book of Ecclesiastes. While things may appear new, they are only new to us. If you pay careful attention, a prominent design pattern of the Bible is the repetition of themes and motifs, especially human sin and depravity. From the family dysfunction that follows Abraham and Sarah through their children and grandchildren, to the cycles of idolatry, rebellion, oppression, and deliverance in the book of Judges, the Bible is always echoing itself. From God’s point of view, there is really nothing new about human behavior or the brokenness of the world. What will that mean for our future? I’m not sure. Some, like Andy Crouch, are predicting a repeat of the roaring 20s with social conditions that created the depressed 30s. It makes sense, but only God knows at this point. Whatever comes next, it may feel new, but it really is not. One of our previous pastoral residents, Kristen Brown, who now teaches at Northeastern Seminary, put it well in a recent talk: “…we live in precedented times…” From a biblical point of view, I think she is spot on. There is nothing new under the sun.
There will be loss.
Even though there is nothing new under the sun, we still feel the changes from what was to what is, and that is always accompanied by loss. That is part of the nature of change. When the Jews, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, return to Israel from exile in Babylon, rebuild the Temple and begin to worship, the older generation weeps as they remember the glory of Solomon’s version (Ezra 3:12-13). That glory would never come again, at least not like that.
We know that a better Temple was coming (Jesus!), but there was still an experience of real loss, and we should anticipate that loss. Personally, I find myself praying often about the church. What will happen to attendance and participation after a year of quarantining and more online options than we could ever dream of? How will the church heal from a year of division in our country and even among fellow believers? I don’t have these answers, but I anticipate that we will feel a sense of loss and grief, even as we begin to return to “normalcy.” That’s okay, and it is often a part of how God works.
There will be gospel opportunities.
In the book of Acts, when the church experienced persecution in Jerusalem for the first time, believers began to scatter across the region. Without realizing it, the cataclysm of oppression launched the Gentile mission that is still happening today. If we sense some doors are closing, we can be sure God is opening others. At Christ Community, I can tell you that our online presence is bigger, faster, and stronger than ever. The internet, while containing threats to the gospel, also presents a new “Roman road” by which to share Jesus. God is working there.
Christianity looks weirder and weirder to our surrounding western culture, and the data tells us that many who were only nominally participating in church before the pandemic will likely never return. That’s hard. But remember, God famously whittles down Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 before rescuing Israel from Midian, reminding us that He often does His best work when we feel at the end of our rope. Our faith is only going to stand out more and more, even if our numbers and influence may appear to diminish. My sense is that God sees that as a strength, not a weakness. What opportunities is He opening in our lives for greater witness and service to neighbors?
What do you think? These are just my thoughts. What about you? I really want to know! Leave your comments here around how things might change, and what doors God may be opening. We can’t predict the future, but we can be faithful and prayerful in anticipation of what comes next. God is ready. Let’s be ready to move with Him!