As I write this, my father is on a ventilator in an ICU, fighting for his 73-year old life. As you might suspect, he has COVID-19. I received the call from my mother that they had made the decision to intervene while we were live streaming our worship from my phone. My mother, one year younger, also has COVID-19. Thus far her symptoms are mild. My sister is an RN who has specialized in COVID treatment over the last year. One of the frontline workers who has traveled to the country’s worst regions, she is now taking on the role of private in-home nurse, PPE and all.*
I am concerned about my dad. I am concerned about my mom. My dad was pretty much only concerned about my mom as they spoke on the phone before he was sedated. This whole situation creates a flood of interesting, if not difficult, emotions and thoughts to assess.
My parents are Christians. But this does not insulate them, or the rest of us who are Christians, from the emotional difficulties of our own mortality. Yet, the Christian life provides one thing that is unequalled in the realm of mortals: hope.
The word “hope,” as generally used, is something akin to a wish. Perhaps “hope” has a tad more reality to it than “wish.” We “wish” we could find another solar system with a planet like ours, build a stellar engine, or a Dyson sphere, or find a wormhole we can crawl through, or colonize another planet in our own solar system, eating nothing but potatoes. These things are – at least for now – only loosely connected to reality. However, we do “hope” we get off work in time to catch the end of the game. That could actually happen.
But biblical “hope” is not like either of these. It does not describe the impossible, like building an engine to literally move a star. It does not describe the merely hypothetical – the “certainly possible, but there are so many uncontrollable variables” – like whether or not traffic will comply with your commute home tonight. Rather, biblical hope is certainty that has simply yet to manifest. The only unknown-to-us variable of biblical hope, is time.
This certainty is built on a sure foundation, that anchors the very soul of man. That foundation is like the buildings I used to construct and renovate over 20 years ago. You dig a footer, you pour concrete, you find square and lay a cornerstone. It might be a 12” cinderblock, a form built to handle poured concrete, it can be a pre-fabricated slab that is delivered on a flatbed and set with a crane. No matter what you use, you have to start in one corner, and you have to set that corner “stone” square and level. If you don’t, as you make the final turn to re-connect to your starting point, you will have failure.
But the Scripture tells us that the cornerstone of our faith is Jesus Christ. It is not just that he represents the cornerstone, he is the cornerstone. It is all for him, by him, and through him. It is his person – it is his life, his teachings, his suffering, his burial, his resurrection, his ascension, and his reign, that give us assurance of his one day reconciling all things.
Our faith foundation includes the lives and writings of men like the prophets and apostles, but it is Jesus Christ that provides the square edge by which everything else comes into alignment. They were all anticipating him, after all.
This cornerstone is also an anchor that holds fast in every storm of life – and there is no storm that churns the murky waters of life quite like the prospect of impending death. But the reality is that we’re all sitting atop a melting iceberg in the same murky waters. Some of us are closer to the peak, some of us have toes already dangling in the water. We may not even realize it.
Why is the world is in a relative craze right now? It’s not because of the pandemic. It’s not because of something external. It’s because of something internal. It’s because something like a pandemic makes us feel as if everyone is sitting on the edge of that melting iceberg, submerged to their knees with one arm tied behind their back. We are facing our mortality, not just as individuals, but as a global organism of thinkers-therefore-I-exist-ers. That’s right: we are experiencing a collective existential crisis. And we’re scrambling for anything that will make us feel like we’ve got two feet back on the iceberg, shuffled somewhere more toward the middle, and preferably near the peak of the tallest ridge, sitting atop the tallest guy’s shoulders. But you know – and most people intuitively know – that the iceberg was always melting beneath us. More of us are paying attention to it now.
I suppose some of this has and will bring people to their spiritual knees. That is the only response that has any lasting value. Not that there hasn’t been plenty of good responses that are not of eternal value; they have been of tremendous temporary value. But, there are also those who are frozen, and there are those who, overwhelmed with despair, assuming all is lost and inevitable, just let themselves slip into the water.
Everyone on the ice is either a believer or an unbeliever. The difference in their demeanor? Hope. Not of stellar engines and colonial Mars. Not of navigating traffic well enough around the other mouth breathers in time to catch the last quarter of the game. The only hope that will endure is the anchored trust that, although all of us have an appointment with the edge of the iceberg, our Savior walks on water – even stormy water – and will not let us sink.
*My earthly father went on to be with the Lord on Saturday morning, January 27; at the time of this writing my mother is still doing reasonably well. Your prayers for my family are welcome and appreciated.