When The Language of God podcast asked N.T. Wright and Francis Collins recently about how they maintain hopefulness during these trying pandemic times, they did not hesitate to share nuggets of wisdom.
At the heart of their message was finding hope in the signs and promise of God’s new creation. Their message was partly conveyed through word and partly through song. “A New World Has Been Born,” sung to the tune of “Shelter from the Storm” by Bob Dylan, told the story of humankind’s longing for the new creation, tracing its origin in Adam and Eve to its fulfillment in Christ’s birth and resurrection.
But what is the new creation, and where can we look to find signs of it to build our hope? I offer a personal reflection in conversation with the words of Wright and Collins.
The Hope of a Child’s Birth
At the end of 2020, a friend of mine shared a post on social media reflecting back on highlights from the past year. I distinctly remember her describing it as having been an amazing year for her.
How could she call such a difficult year of loss, disease, political unrest and injustice “Amazing?” COVID had spread across the globe, the pandemic had uprooted almost every element of routine life. I knew of people who lost their jobs and many of us who were lucky to keep our jobs had to navigate the challenges of working from home. I had to learn how to teach remotely and use new technology and applications that I had never heard of before like Zoom. Children had to transition to remote learning, parents had to navigate the challenge of working with kids at home, and women disproportionately left the workforce to become primary caregivers for their children. Not to mention the strain on mental health, the loss of loved ones to illness and police brutality. It had seemingly been anything but an amazing year.
Yet as I sat at home reading her post, I knew the story behind it. I knew her reason why. She and her husband had welcomed their first child, a beautiful, healthy, baby girl. While that alone would be enough to find beauty in a devastating year, that wasn’t the whole of it.
Years prior, she and her husband were told by doctors that it was very unlikely, if not impossible for them to have children. A small glimmer of hope stirred within them when they unexpectedly got pregnant a little while later, but those hopes were soon shattered when the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.
This devastating loss coupled with the biological odds of getting pregnant again being against them, was enough to make them lose all hope or at least make it hard to hope again.
Yet, miraculously, they got pregnant again, and their miracle was born in 2020. What an amazing year indeed. The year they welcomed a new life into this world, became parents and grew in their capacity for love. In the most literal sense, for them, their daughter’s birth was a sign of the new creation being born. Moments like this N.T. Wright says “don’t hit the headlines…don’t get in the newspapers,” but they are nonetheless noteworthy and hope inspiring.
It’s easy to miss personal and sometimes private moments of new creation in our lives, when the darkness of this world casts such a big shadow. But as Wright says, “New creation is happening, it’s bubbling up all over the place.” We just need to look for it.
Wright admits that it can be hard to see especially right now during these trying times, and “quite easy to forget that there are really good things going on, God is at work, and lives are being changed.”
New creation is happening, it’s bubbling up all over the place.
Francis Collins shared a recent example that challenged him not to lose sight of the good things happening around him, even if they were not directly happening to him. He met a young 13 year old boy named Caesar who started playing the violin at the age of 4. Unfortunately, he suffered strokes from his sickle cell disease, and each time he had to relearn how to play the violin. Recently, he received treatment at the NIH, and Collins expressed hope about his prognosis, anticipating him to go home pretty much cured.
Collins, who enjoys singing and playing the guitar, played with Caesar in front of a small audience at the hospital where he was receiving treatment, and everyone who watched was moved to tears. “God is good through all of this, it is God that has given me hope,” said Caesar. Collins’ realized in that moment, “How can I possibly lose hope in the face of (my) daily frustrations when (Caesar) has this kind of determination and prayerful resilience.” Truly, there are good things still going on despite all the bad. God is indeed at work through the advancement of science and medicine, to heal, treat and cure people from disease and so much more.
Eternal Hope & Signs of Reconciliation
I lost a close Uncle and my Grandpa in the past couple of years, and recently a childhood friend. Where are the signs of new creation in the midst of losses like these where birth of new creation seems like the wrong metaphor of hope?
The words of Collins’ and Wright’s song ring triumphant over such losses saying, “With the death of death and the Spirit’s breath, the new world has been born.”
I find comfort knowing that death has been conquered already. Leaving doesn’t just mean loss, it means eternal gain and the promise to be reunited with those who have gone on before and will go on after.
But we don’t have to wait till we’ve gone on to experience the new creation. Wright references Paul’s ecumenical passion and vision, “to see Christians from every possible background, like in Revelation, every nation and kingdom and tribe and tongue, getting together to worship. That’s the context in which he says, ‘may the God of hope, fill you with all joy and peace of believing so that by the power of the Spirit, you may abound in hope.’”
As we can see, justice and reconciliation are at the heart of the new creation too; it is where hope abounds. Wright says it is “the great sign that a new world has been born.” May we find peace in the moments of new creation around us, and do the necessary work to bring more of it about.
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At BioLogos, “gracious dialogue” means demonstrating the grace of Christ as we dialogue together about the tough issues of science and faith.