“The summer of 2021 is shaping up to be historic.” This is the first sentence of an Atlantic article titled, “A Quite Possibly Wonderful Summer.”
The writer points to rising numbers of vaccinations and plummeting rates of coronavirus illness and death. He suggests that “pre-pandemic norms could return to schools, churches, and restaurants. Sports, theater, and cultural events could resume. People could travel and dance indoors and hug grandparents, their own or others’. In most of the US, the summer could feel . . . ‘normal.'”
We all look forward to that day.
However, as I noted yesterday, millions will forever grieve those we lost during the pandemic. Some survivors are still experiencing “long-haul” COVID-19 symptoms. The economy, schools, and much of our world have been altered in ways that will long persist into the future.
At the same time, we should mark what good we can find from a terrible year. Not only so that we do not “waste the hurt,” but so we can prepare for a better future today.
Preparing now for the next pandemic
Scientists tell us that genetic vaccines developed in response to COVID-19 “surpassed health officials’ highest expectations.” Going forward, once scientists determine the genetic sequence of a new pathogen, they can design such vaccines in days and manufacture millions of doses within months.
This is essentially what happened with the coronavirus pandemic. Such vaccines are also better able to respond to mutations. Now researchers hope that gene-based vaccines could provide a vaccine for malaria or HIV, cure cancer, and be ready to stop the next pandemic.
A second scientific response to the pandemic is the acceleration of wearable technology that can aid in early illness detection. Such devices can be predictive of a number of potential illnesses or other health changes.
A third response is the development of “protein networks” to develop new pharmaceutical responses to disease. One drug discovered in this way, currently being used to treat cancer, turns out to be 27.5 times more potent than remdesivir in treating COVID-19 and is now in phase three clinical trials for this application.
Experts warn that the current pandemic won’t be the last. Deforestation, our growing interactions with wildlife, and industrialized food production make more zoonotic (animals to humans) transmissions likely. Oral language broadcasts viruses that replicate in the upper respiratory tissues. Our propensity for social interaction and rising population densities make it easier than ever to spread contagious diseases.
As a result, strategies are being developed now to mark what we have learned from this pandemic in preparation for the next one. Yuval Noah Harari’s article in the Financial Times surveys cultural developments that led to the present pandemic and urges us to safeguard our digital infrastructure, invest more in our public health systems, and establish “a powerful global system to monitor and prevent pandemics.” In these ways, “the shock of COVID-19 might actually result in pandemics becoming less common.”
“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord“
Our lives have changed in dramatic ways over the last year. Work, exercise, shopping, schooling, childcare, and even our interactions with nature have been affected, sometimes for the better. But the most important lesson I believe we should learn from the pandemic is spiritual rather than medical, eternal rather than temporal.
In short: we need faith in God on a level most of us do not experience each day.
I recently heard Pastor Jack Graham wisely define faith as trusting God regardless of our circumstances or our consequences. The latter part of his definition especially struck me as countercultural. You and I live in a world built on actions and consequences: we work to receive payment and other rewards; we engage in entertainment to be entertained; we develop relationships for the benefits such relationships seem to offer.
Nearly every dimension of our lives is measured by its outcome. If reading my articles does not benefit you, you’ll stop reading them. If enough people stop reading them, I’ll stop writing them.
By contrast, biblical faith trusts in God even when the consequences of such faith do not seem to merit our continued trust. For example, remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego standing before the king of Babylon. When he threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace if they would not worship a golden image he had constructed, they responded: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17–18, my emphasis).
Another example comes from one of my favorite texts: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17–18, my emphasis).
Choosing the faith that sustains us
International evangelist Luis Palau died yesterday. As I wrote recently, he was one of the most joyful, vibrant, courageous Christians I have ever known. He once encouraged us: “Don’t pray for an easier life. Pray instead to be a stronger man or woman of God.”
Luis knew that it is not the strength of our faith but the object of our faith that counts. We can have faith in spoiled food and become sick after eating it. We can have faith in wrong directions and get lost as a result.
Here’s a fact: Whether another pandemic strikes or not, God is still God. Whether he answers our prayers for healing in this world or the next, he is still Lord. The faith that sustains us in the hardest places is faith in a sovereign King (Psalm 22:28) who is love (1 John 4:8). Circumstances and consequences cannot change his character (Malachi 3:6).
And all of our sovereign Lord there is, is in this moment.
How fully would he say you are depending on him today?