Today is August 31. It feels like the last day of summer. In my mind, autumn begins September 1. I know that is not what really happens. Our seasons are defined by our relative position to the sun, the equinox and all that. But for me there has always been a “summer-to-autumn” switch on September 1.
And it is a change I welcome! Autumn is my favourite time of year. It is great camping weather with fewer bugs and great smells (after the ragweed pollen disappears). A campfire of maple wood just has an extra special smell in September and October that isn’t there in July and August. No more heat and humidity. Beautiful colours. Fresh air. The anticipation of the coziness of winter. Yup, autumn is the best time of year.
I can hear the chorus of protest now, especially over that last comment about the “coziness of winter.” Don’t misunderstand - it is hard to ride a motorcycle in November, December, January, and February (and usually March, but we always hope for March). Summer is awesome. But autumn is awesome-er.
This may be due, in part, to the fact that my entire life has been connected to the school calendar. After I finished my own years of school I married a teacher. The school calendar reigns.
Now we have 2020.
This autumn there is anxiety - above and beyond the normal part of the back-to-school equation. We all know why. I don’t need to explain the stresses that parents, educators, and children are feeling. There are a lot of unknowns. Teaching styles have changed. There are on-site or online learning options. What if there is an outbreak. “What if . . .?” The great unknown.
God is not more or less engaged in 2020 than in any other time in history. He doesn’t come and go. Times of the “unknowns” are moments to strengthen our faith in Him. That is easier said than done. We need a point of reference, an understanding of God and the nature of His creation. We need to sharpen our minds with this truth: God, the Creator of heaven and earth and all they contain, is enthroned, engaged, and present.
Strengthening our faith in God is not a means to escape this or any other crisis unscathed. There does not exist a barrier around God’s people that protects them from the realities of living in God’s creation now broken because of sin. Faithful people will get sick. Faithful people will suffer. Faithful people will die. This was Solomon’s confusion (Eccl. 7:15); how can it possibly be that “good” people experience pain while “bad” people seem to enjoy life without a care in world? It doesn’t seem fair!
And it isn’t . . . unless we view life from Solomon’s “above the sun” perspective. If we are honest, we really can’t figure out what God is doing (Eccl. 11:5), but we can be assured that we will all give account of how we responded to our life experiences (Eccl. 12:13-14). A confessional response, a faith response, is not mere optimism. It is confidence that God is working a plan, the full extent of which is known only to Him. And within that plan is the promise to sustain us even though our experiences are unpleasant.
On any given day, whether it is 2020 or not, we can find plenty of brokenness. It isn’t just the pandemic or murder hornets that are making 2020 seem like the most messed-up year in recent memory. Perhaps what is different about 2020 is that we are all experiencing the same thing at the same time. But the brokenness of God’s creation is well documented long before this year came along. And it will continue well after, until Jesus returns.
We are not the first to be exposed to this kind of stress, and to feel threatened by external forces we can’t fully understand let alone control. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if the virus wore little bells we could hear so we knew when it was around?
Faith is not intimidated by the unknown, the vacuum of information, the reality of brokenness. Confessional faith displaces fear by making the focus of our attention the One who, from even before the world was created, determined how all things would be. Confessional faith acknowledges our dependence on the Creator and willingly submits to Him. Confessional faith knows that God is good, and all that He does is goodness. And confessional faith is loyal to this Creator God in spite of the overwhelming and intimidating brokenness of His creation. After all, it is still our Father’s world!
I love September 1. It is a new day, a new beginning of a new season - at least in my mind. It is the start of another cycle of learning, growing, following, and sharing the things God is doing. It will be an autumn like no other, and thus the perfect incubator to grow our faith like never before.