“There are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” So declares Linus in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
Today, let’s discuss all three.
We’ll begin with the last. As Maggie Maloney observes in Country Living, “No autumn is complete without the most sacred of traditions,” which she identifies as viewing the classic Peanuts movie. The Halloween special first aired in 1966. It centers on Linus’s belief that the Great Pumpkin exists and that he will appear on Halloween night.
Alas (spoiler alert), the evening ends with no Great Pumpkin sighting. But the movie closes with an undeterred Linus vowing that the Great Pumpkin will come to the pumpkin patch next year.
Now, in a sign of the times, we learn that the film will not be shown this year by any of the major or cable networks but will air exclusively on Apple TV+. The good news is that the streaming service will offer it free to all users from October 30 through November 1.
What does the Great Pumpkin have to do with politics and religion? A great deal, as it turns out.
Hope in an election and a vaccine
The 2020 election is less than two weeks away. Depending on whose polls and analysis you read, Democratic nominee Joe Biden is on his way to a landslide victory, or he will eke out a narrow win, or the race is too close to call, or there will be no winner on November 3 and the election will descend into chaos, or President Trump will win reelection. We’re all waiting to see which version of the story will come true.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic is spiking as predicted. The World Health Organization noted in a recent press briefing that Europe’s case numbers grew by a million in the span of just ten days. One official warned that a much larger number of people could die in this upcoming season of COVID-19 than did in April.
Reports indicate that more than half of US states are seeing an “uncontrolled spread” of the virus. This wave threatens to be the worst since the pandemic began. Since death rates lag behind infections, mortalities are expected to rise as well and constitute an urgent call to intercession.
In the meantime, we’re watching the economy, where sales are up but a surprising increase in jobless claims is raising alarms. As with the pandemic, we are hoping that successful vaccines will enable us to return to a financial “normal.”
What the election will not change
Here’s my point: like Linus’s Great Pumpkin, our greatest hopes for the election, the pandemic, and the economy will not change the underlying realities before us.
Whoever wins the election, our country will face deep and angry divisions over foundational issues such as when life begins and how it should end, the nature of marriage and the family, and the role of religion in our secular society.
Whatever happens with community spread, therapies, and vaccines to stop the coronavirus pandemic, we are likely to face more viral pandemics in the future. Not to mention the perennial facts of heart disease, cancer, aging, accidents, and other causes of human mortality.
And even if the post-pandemic economy rebounds to new heights, millions of Americans will still face unemployment and underemployment. Economic discrimination will be a tragic fact. And all the wealth in the world cannot buy what we need most.
This last observation leads us to the hope we need most.
The hope we need most
Chuck Colson famously noted that the Kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One. Americans may elect the “Leader of the Free World,” but the “King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” will still rule the universe (1 Timothy 1:17).
As St. Augustine said to our Lord, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
We find true and transforming unity when we draw close to his throne (cf. Revelation 7:9–10). We find true and transforming hope in the face of mortality when we make Jesus our Savior (cf. Matthew 1:21). We find true and transforming help for our needs when we trust them to him (cf. Philippians 4:19).
When we do, our lives and our witness can draw others to his throne in worship, to his salvation in faith, and to his provision in trust.
A booklet from my past
Yesterday, I was working in my library when a book title caught my eye. When I pulled it from the shelf, a small pamphlet came with it. Titled Live With Yourself . . . and Like It, it was written by Don W. Hillis in 1972 and was one of the first booklets given to me when I became a Christian in 1973.
When I reread it, I was drawn again to the story of Kandura San, a narrative that deeply impressed me those many years ago. Kandura was born in Japan with a face and body so deformed that his parents kept him in seclusion. However, the radio brought him the message that God loved him and sent Jesus to be his Savior. When a Japanese Christian visited him, Kandura was ready to place his faith in Christ.
Later, he laboriously scrawled these words: “Day by day as I walk this road of blessing, I receive the fruits of faith in my hands. These blessings come from my Lord, who is my strength and my hope. Praise the Lord, for he gives me this wonderful salvation.”
His triumphant joy moved the Christian workers who met him and told of him in their letters. Christian periodicals then published his story. And now Kandura’s influence has reached you.
How can you find hope in your faith today?