Wow! What a year! The year 2020 has truly been a radically, life-altering year in many ways—the debilitating COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying global, social, economic, mental, physical, and spiritual realities; the national and international social unrest along with the ensuing cultural reckoning that targeted perceived symbols and institutions of oppression; political upheavals and uncertainties; and devastating natural disasters, just to name a few. If nothing else, this year has challenged us to take stock of the meaning of life and our purpose in the world.
Like other watershed periods in the past century, 2020 marks a significant disjuncture in history—pre-2020 and post-2020. As we brace ourselves for the “new normal” of the post-2020 world, I pause to contemplate the assurance of the greatest Gift that God has given to humanity, the gift of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Though this precious Gift has remained constant through the ages, its relevance and meaning are experienced anew with each new generation.
As I reflect on the meaning of the gift of Jesus Christ to the world in the context of this year that is now almost history, looking ahead to the uncertainties and possibilities of the new year and the beginning of a new decade, I am filled with unspeakable hope and unwavering confidence. For Christians, perils and perplexities are experienced within the pavilion of God’s absolute sovereignty and infinite wisdom. Further, believers boldly step into the unknown future, gazing steadfastly upward, while walking in the light of the footsteps of our Savior.
The literary motif of Yahweh riding the clouds, specifically storm clouds, in the Old Testament, is a powerful framework for thinking about the greatest Gift during this period of human history. Deuteronomy 33:26 states: “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides the heavens to help you, and in His excellency on the clouds.” (Emphasis supplied)
Similarly, the psalmist in Psalm 68:4 exclaims, “Sing to God, sing praises to His name; extol Him who rides on the clouds, by His name Yah, and rejoice before Him.” (see also Psalm 68:33, 34; Psalm 104:3) (Emphasis supplied)
The focus of the imagery of YHWH riding the clouds is not simply on His mastery of natural elements; rather, the thrust of this motif is His sovereignty and providential intervention in the lives of His people. Said differently, He sits above the storm, rides crises, uses uncomfortable situations, even pandemics, to accomplish His sovereign will in the world. Yahweh rides the clouds as His chariot to get closer to His people, and manifest His dominion. His throne is not stationary; it is movable! (see Ezekiel 1:17-28). He rides the clouds to come to our rescue and reveal His majestic splendor. He sometimes uses storm clouds to reveal His passionate love for His people, the apple of His eyes.
Through Christ, the greatest Gift, God assures us of His inviolable reign and His infinite love.
God’s Inviolable Reign
God’s gift of Christ to the world undeniably affirms the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth (Matthew 12:28; Mark 1:14, 15; Luke 11:20). To preach Christ is to preach the kingdom of God. To bring hope and healing is to manifest God’s reign. God’s sovereignty is uncontestable as His kingdom is inviolable; it is indestructible. The prophet Isaiah writes concerning God’s Gift, “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this”—Isaiah 9:7.
Concerning Christ, the angel Gabriel declares, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32, 33).
Despite the tremendous losses we have experienced in 2020, and in spite of the uncertainties of the new year, the greatest Gift assures us that God is still in control. He still rides the storm clouds to get closer to us. Perhaps through the challenges and opportunities of this year, your relationship with Jesus Christ has grown stronger than it has ever been. Or perhaps you got closer to your family and loved ones during this year.
When we examine God’s reign through the COVID-19 pandemic and the other realities of this year, we recognize that we are not without a Succorer. Christ, our abettor, has come closer to us through life’s most difficult moments. He is moving human history to its grand climax, when the kingdoms of this world will forever become the kingdom of God (Revelation 11:15). Ellen G. White reminds us, “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history”—Christian Experience and Teachings, p. 204. The greatest Gift reminds us that God is still, and will forever be, in control.
God’s Infinite Love
By far, the most poignant description of the greatest Gift in scripture is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God did not just lend us His Son; He delivered up His Son as a sacrifice and a substitute for us, so that through Him we might have life eternal. God’s unconditional love for sinners undergirds His pervasive passion to save humankind. This amazing pursuit of God’s intractable love and inimitable grace shines brightly through the darkness of our losses, grief, and pain. God’s love is infinite; it is beyond human comprehension.
The pathos of this truth is evident in the Apostle Paul’s rhetorical questions in Romans 8:35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” The implied answer to the initial question is a resounding “No one.” Similarly, the answer to the second question is, “No.” Paul’s excitement and unshakable conviction are palpable in the text. Really? Who (or what) shall (or can) separate us from Christ’s love? Shall pandemics, or natural disasters, or social and political unrest, or uncertainties, or financial hardship? The God who rides the clouds to help us will use tribulations, distress, persecutions, famine, peril, sword, and even pandemics, if necessary, to reveal His heart to us. Through the vagaries and vicissitudes of human existence, we see the definitive signature of divine sovereignty: God is love.
Take a second look at 2020. Count your losses. Celebrate your successes. Allow God to dry your tears. Look again! You will see God’s love bursting forth like rays of sunlight after the rain, declaring, “God is still in control, and He loves you!” What you do with that light of love is entirely up to you—“whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
The Apostle Paul is resolute: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”—Romans 8:38, 39. In the same way that God’s inviolable reign guarantees a hopeful future for those who dare to embrace the kingdom of God, God’s infinite love guarantees a joyous future with our loving Savior for those who dare to surrender to His love. Christ’s love is unstoppable. It is love that propels Him to ride the storm clouds to come to our rescue.
The year 2020 has been eventful, to say the least. Perhaps, our lives have been permanently altered. Social distancing, wearing facial coverings, worshiping on virtual or online platforms, and working from home are just some of the changes that we must get used to. However, through major adjustments that we’ve had to make this year, God’s greatest Gift to us reminds us that God is never taken by surprise. He can use the circumstances, situations, and events that make us uncomfortable to get closer to us. He still makes storm clouds the chariot for His throne. Take a moment to acknowledge that God is still in control. This assurance is the hope that our world needs in these unprecedented and uncertain times.
Bible texts used in this article are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.