Don't put your hope in 2021

by Brennan Westerman

In the week leading up to the new year, I had planned to write an article with this title. As it turns out, I'm glad for my delay, because now I don't have to convince anyone.

In 2021's defense, it's not its fault. For us mere humans, a year, as it is happening, feels like a long time. Give any year enough time and it will bring disappointment, however small (but often great), in some way.

For at least the month of December, and much longer for some, we've all been looking forward to the end of 2020, and hopeful about 2021. But of course, we must remember, our calendar is ultimately arbitrary—the new year might as well begin in the middle of the afternoon on May 9. As long as we're consistent from year to year (the concept of which is at least grounded in basic astronomy), that would fulfill the basic requirements.

Now for things that we can control, an arbitrary event can be twisted and used for our good. The impulse some feel to evaluate the past year and dream about the next, establishing goals and disciplines that we desperately hope will bring improvement to our lives, is a good impulse. There's no reason you couldn't also do that on May 9, or much more regularly than that, in fact, but if "New Year's Day" motivates us, however arbitrarily, to reset and refresh, who's to complain?

But for things out of our control, arbitrariness endures. Already, "2021" has proven that it won't (and can't) fix our political, cultural, medical, or personal problems. Don't put your hope in 2021.

The Bible is quite clear when it comes to hope. Our hope, in the ultimate sense of the word, is to be solely fixated on God, generally, and on Christ, more specifically, who faithfully absorbed God's wrath against sin and gives his righteousness to all who repent and believe in this gospel (good news). Now the numerous times hope is mentioned in Scripture is of course nuanced (remember nuance?); sometimes it is focused on God's grace (1 Peter 1:13), sometimes on salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8), sometimes on eternal life (Titus 1:2), sometimes on righteousness (Galatians 5:5), and sometimes on the glory of God (Romans 5:2). But we know that these are all just single aspects and emphases of the "one hope" (Ephesians 4:4) that is situated in the character, promises, atoning work, and faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

Now let me attempt to be fair. When one says "I can't wait for 2021!" or "Praise God that 2020 is almost over!"—isn't that just something to say? Isn't it just a commentary on the difficult year that we've had? Isn't it just a way to state that we optimistically desire things to improve in the new year? Perhaps it is. They certainly seem like innocent comments. But there are people in the world who wouldn't say them. Someone who has experienced extreme forms of suffering for years on end wouldn't put any stock in an arbitrary new year. Nor should they.

That leads me to believe that these well-intentioned, mindless comments about the new year reveal at least two tendencies in our hearts: they reveal our tendency toward entitlement (we think that difficulty couldn't possibly last into a second year!), and they reveal that our joy can often come from the wrong place. Ironically, Christians around the world who experience intense and regular suffering probably haven't been saying "Can't wait for 2021", but they might still rejoice in a new year's celebration, not because they think the new year will bring relief, but because their joy doesn't come from the prospect of improved circumstances, but rather from their hope in Christ (see Romans 5:2, 12:2, and 15:13), regardless of circumstances.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray earnestly alongside all of you that 2021 will be a year with less strife, in our nation and around the world. But we must also remember that suffering in our world is the result of sin in our world (including our sin). And the remedy for that has already been graciously provided through Christ! Therefore, we can rejoice in hope. So even more earnestly, I pray that, through the grace of Jesus, this would be a year in which we, regardless of our circumstances, "lay aside every weight, and [the] sin which clings so closely, with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2). Let it be so!