Daniel Harrell on Hope Beyond a Vaccine

Daniel Harrell is editor in chief of Christianity Today.


Surveying the calamitous landscape wrought by the tiny coronavirus, Tom Frieden, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, conceded a grim reality: “This is here to stay, in all likelihood, until we have a vaccine, and a vaccine could be a year or two away.” And that’s the optimistic scenario. Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme, described the possibility of developing a reliable vaccine anytime soon as “a moon shot.”

This does not bode well, as I badly need a haircut.

It does not bode well for my barber either, one of the millions of people now out of work. Aside from the moon shot, or viable treatment options, the only shot at returning to some semblance of normal requires corralling our way to herd immunity. The risk is well rehearsed: viral exposure, widespread contagion, infection, disease, and more death. By the time we arrive, businesses will have been decimated and churches shuttered. Millions more jobs will have evaporated, poverty and indebtedness will have soared. Emotional devastation litters the route: depression, brokenness, terror, and grief. Some say it feels like the end of the world.

For Christians, the end of the world is the end of all hope because, for Christians, hope ends with its fulfillment. Jesus returns in glory to make all things new (Rev. 21:5)—so much so that the word hope never even appears in Revelation. Biblical hope is not especially optimistic but rather is the fruit of suffering, perseverance, and character (Rom. 5:3–4). Author Marilynne Robinson describes biblical hope as “constantly and intensely vulnerable.” G.K. Chesterton added, “It is only when everything is hopeless that [Christian] hope begins to be a strength at all. . . . it is as unreasonable as it is indispensable.” Paul assures us that hope cannot disappoint because it’s anchored in love, and love never fails (Rom. 5:5; 1 Cor. 13:8).

Still, perseverance requires patience, and patience is a virtue nobody has time for. Huddled in our houses, waiting for a vaccine, we wonder how long we can endure. In Revelation 6, martyrs who died for their faith huddle in heaven and wonder how long. As we wait for the end, Peter reminds us how, with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years and any slowness on God’s part is not really slow. What feels like forever is actually God being patient with us—“not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:8–9). Throughout the Bible, trouble and hardship—pandemics and problems—all shatter illusions of human power and control. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, and all are justified freely by God’s grace (Rom. 3:23–24). God has the power. God has the control.

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Source: Christianity Today