I am done with 2020. I am done with the annoyance of virtual meetings and Zoom calls. I am drained by the disconnect I experience through screens. I am over presidential politics, but even more exhausted by the ever-increasing tensions and disdain in our country. I am over masks and distancing, but even more wearied by rising infection rates, death and grief. I look to 2021, worn thin, weighed down and weakened, all the while knowing more suffering is on the horizon.
There is no question that this has been a year of unthinkable illness. COVID has laid bare our humanity and our inhumanity. It has exposed the weaknesses in our health care systems and exacerbated political power grabs. It has brought to light classism, racism, ageism and other systemic biases, all the while increasing fear of neighbor and stranger alike. It has required each of us to bring our best selves forward, but in our exhaustion, we have retreated into our worst tendencies. In the vulnerability of uncontrolled pandemic, we see more clearly the infections of our society and our souls. There is no vaccine that can inoculate us from such sin.
The biblical prophet Jeremiah wrote during a time of institutional illness and political instability. He grieved the suffering of his people. He believed God grieved too. “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt. I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” Jeremiah recognized the difficult, paradoxical reality: the people must act to save themselves, and yet only God could lead them to restoration and wholeness.
The “Reformed tradition” of Christianity—the lineage with which Carroll is theologically and historically tied—trades in the currency of such paradoxes. Humanity is both totally depraved and made in the image of God, fallen but also the very embodiment of God’s goodness, mortally ill but simultaneously saved, healed and precious in God’s sight. These paradoxes have often led to misunderstandings about this religious tradition, and yet in 2020, I find they illustrate perfectly the reality I see around me. Humanity is desperately, irreconcilably broken, and yet the magnificent generosity of the human spirit is spellbinding. Our capacities to both harm and heal are beyond what any of us can fully comprehend.
We are all sick and tired as we bid 2020 farewell, and I cannot imagine what 2021 will look like. I don’t have the wisdom to see what a path toward peace, reconciliation and justice might hold. Nevertheless, I am confident about two things. First, each of us must be a physician. We must choose to mend rather than malign, to work for others’ well-being and commit unyieldingly to the wholeness of humankind. Second, we will not find the path forward on our own. We are dependent on the grace of the Great Physician, the only one who can lead us to the spring of hope and balm of healing we so hungrily seek.
In 2021, may we find the courage we need to be healers. May we find the humility we need to seek help. May we find rest and restoration for ourselves and for our people, for God’s people and for the world God loves. Amen.