The New Year jokes write themselves, as cartoonist A F. “Tony” Branco suggested with his viral panel this week.
2020: “Can’t touch this.”
2021: “Hold my beer.”
A lot of people would love to have reassurance about the coming year. But the truth is, no human knows for sure what it will bring.
It has never been more important to deal in the truth. This is not, in fact, a time like any other. Astonishingly, we are in a time when we can confidently say that.
It’s ridiculous to say other things we’ve been saying; e.g., that there has never been so much carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. We have the means of satisfying ourselves that (a) our ability to directly measure that is of such short duration that we should laugh ourselves silly to make such a claim; and (b) that what indirect estimates tell us is the opposite. There have been a number of occasions in the past when there was more CO2 in the atmosphere – and the civilizational development and arrangements of mankind were nothing like what they are today. Our measurement of atmospheric CO2 right now is risibly uninformative about the effects we may have had, in the extremely short span of time we’ve been able to take comparable direct measurements.
But we can know with meaningful certainty that man has never been where he is as 2021 dawns: with China attacking other nations, including ours, in a strange, “asymmetric” form of warfare, as a global “pax” of nearly 70 years duration, which crumpled beneath us in the first term of the previous American president, recedes in the rearview mirror, and patterns the world hasn’t seen for centuries are reawakened.
Here, we’ve never been. Pedants might insist that we must have been somewhere near here before. But the pedants are wrong. Man hasn’t changed, to be sure. But the circumstances have never been all of these together: a world of highly manipulable information, instantaneous communication, and institutions that don’t know how to defend themselves. Plus masses of people alongside them who can’t agree on how to protect our rights, or what our rights mean in these unprecedented circumstances – not because any one view is systematically morally corrupt, but because we don’t know everything, and we are faced with a whole lot that we don’t know.
Yet the premise of our culture is that, precisely because we are faced with all these derivative ideas and decisions we never had to make before, that means we do know everything.
That certainly suffuses the attitude of our prevailing cultural assumptions. We can measure CO2 – who knew? – and therefore, we must be capable of seeing everything that’s important about CO2, and running our fellow men off the earth on a rail in the process of “making decisions” about it. Cancel culture is about acting on an information base that stretches across the galaxy but goes no deeper, morally or analytically, than a rat’s eyelash.
We don’t know what we think we do.
So the deal with 2021 is this: the “truthy” way is to approach it with humility. Not one of us knows what it holds. The old touchstones aren’t there. There are chimeras like “going back” to political “safety,” or going under lockdowns and masks to personal “safety,” but they don’t lead where we think they will. This is in large part because the picture of what politics and personal safety look like is highly manipulated by the media.
Indeed, it’s manipulated to the point that the media can’t keep their story straight, and it doesn’t even make sense. The least reflective among men are waking up to the fact that, when they think of “truth,” they definitely don’t associate it with “what the media just told me.”
If I had to predict what will be at the forefront of every 24-hour day of 2021, it would be this: Who do you say God is? Not whether you think He’s a bronze idol, but what you think His moral qualities are. Is He good, and if you say yes, does that mean His main project is to punish us?
For my part, I believe He is good, and His main project is to give us a way out of punishment, even when we deserve it. We can’t negotiate the terms. It’s His provision and His architecture. But He wants us to be in a condition to relate to Him, and to be endowed with hope and a future. He wants us to choose life, understanding that in His economy, life isn’t a reward for works but a gift to receive by faith. It is He who approves His workmen, not a censorious world.
Each of us must decide that question. Who do we say God is? 2021 will not let us evade it.
I perceive that people increasingly realize the truth of this proposition. There are some who’d rather hear comforting bromides and not have to think about it. But more and more recognize that this may not be what we want to hear, as a new year dawns – but it is what we need to hear.
Here is what I predict we will find, each as he or she ponders it. It will not frighten or discourage us to find our answer. It will instead be a switch flipping on the sunrise. It will open doors and send cleansing winds we didn’t know were there. It will shake the earth beneath us with thunder, as we stampede away from the darkness of doubt, fear, and resignation, and toward the opportunity of life we were created to have.
This is not a time like any other. This is not 1917, or 1789, or even 1776. It’s not 1453. It’s not the never-ending fall of Rome. Nothing that happened before is fated to happen again.
I do think that to avoid condemning ourselves to the millstone of the past, the question we have to prioritize is, Who do we say God is? Our modern, earthly institutions cannot tell us how to answer that. It’s not their job. It’s not within their competence.
And that opens every door to sunlight.
Happy New Year, LU Nation. Let freedom ring. May the blessings of God chase us down to the last eyeball, big toe, and beating heart.