No doubt, 2020 has been a particularly rough year to experience. A worldwide lockdown to try to stem the raging coronavirus pandemic quickly followed by an outcry for justice and reform in the Black Lives Matter movement meant that natural disasters, civil unrest, and economic strife were not events happening elsewhere. Everyone’s life has been touched in some way by the virus. Internet memes declare 2020 as the Worst.Year.Ever.
For my own family, 2020 was indelibly etched on our lives in April when my mother died at home on hospice care early on Easter Sunday morning. Though she was not a victim of the insidious virus plaguing the planet, the unprecedented events that envelope the world will forever give context to our grief journey.
Still, one truth my family and I have discovered is that, though 2020 has been a hard year, at the same time, it has also been a good one. Not in some Dickensian sense “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” dichotomy. But in the very real sense that despite our loss, compounded by worldwide uncertainty about nearly everything, God’s goodness and the beauty of the created order were never lost to us. Amid our grief and physical isolation from others, we also experienced an outpouring of love, kindness, and compassion we could not have imagined.
Let me be clear, the fact that it is possible to recognize goodness and beauty neither minimizes grief nor justifies pain that comes with loss. However, a bedrock truth of the Christian life is that beauty and goodness intermingle with the hardships and pain that come in life, offering meaning and purpose to those who follow Christ.
In fact, a Christian worldview understands that we cannot be complacent with the disappointments, pain, and horror in this world. We must look for the good or, failing to find it, seek to create it with God’s help. The story of Le Chambon, a village in the southern plateaus of France, offers a particularly compelling account of how Christian commitment defied the bleakness of their circumstances during World War II. There, an estimated 5,000 persons found refuge and safe passage through Nazi-controlled Europe. Nearly 3,500 of the refugees were Jews fleeing the Holocaust.
Under the pastoral leadership of André Trocmé and Eduard Theis, this rural farming community was a place of hospitality in spite of the fact the village was occupied by Nazi soldiers. A sermon Trocmé preached in June 1940, following the invasion of enemy forces, resonated with the listeners whose Huguenot ancestors had been persecuted four centuries earlier. Declaring, “The duty of Christians is to use the weapons of the Spirit to resist the violence that will be brought to bear on the conscience,” Trocmé charged his community and congregation with what became their ministry. Over the next four years, they discreetly received and safely sheltered all refugees who arrived in the town, providing them food, clothing, and housing, as well as forged documents so they could blend into the village and the surrounding countryside.
And, consistent with the Christian virtue of humility, when the war was over, the farming community slipped into obscurity, not receiving recognition for embodying the command to love their neighbor. More than three decades later, Pierre Sauvage learned of the circumstances surrounding his birth as a Jewish baby in Le Chambon during the war and the astounding story began to be uncovered. It has become his life’s work to share the account of those committed Christians who are responsible for harboring him as well as to explore the necessity of hope and its role to be intertwined with despair as a way to give meaning to life. For him, the “conspiracy of goodness” that happened under Nazi rule is not the result of an overexercised sense of secular tolerance or humanitarian commitment, but born of religious conviction willing and ready to resist the forces that seek to harm and destroy.
To claim that we must be subjected to malignant forces in order to recognize the good is false. It is a lie and, even worse, perpetuates abuse. However, it is a powerful thing to find beauty and goodness amid pain and sorrow. Both can be true at once. In many ways, recognizing the truth of both allows us to unflinchingly acknowledge, accept, and address what has caused pain, whether it be the death of a loved one or an appalling injustice.
The truth is that 2020 has been a hard year. But it is equally true that, despite the hardship of disease, death, and injustice, God’s goodness is present. To be myopic about one to the exclusion of the other is to lose sight of the Christian command to love God and each other. The good news we take hope in as Christians is that God’s truth, goodness, and beauty will finally persevere until insidious germs and prejudices no longer plague us.
[More information on Le Chambon and Pierre Sauvage’s documentary Weapons of the Spirit can be found here. Other resources also include Philip Hallie’s Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed (Harper, 1994) and Jim Belcher’s In Search of Deep Faith (InterVarsity Press, 2013).]