This week has seen an uptick in the mood of the headlines hasn't it? Hope springs, it seems, in a pharmacological behemoth's announcement of an effective vaccine.
It has been fascinating to see the response to this news. The entire mood of the nation has lifted. It's as though we're breathing a cautious, but collective sigh of relief. Top medical scientists have come out boldly predicting a 'return to normal life' as early as the spring.
It is good news, for which we should rightly be thankful. And we can direct that thanks to God. After all, He invented science, including pharmacology. Come to the point, he also invented scientists!
But have you noticed that this good news is coming to us clothed in a particular story?
It has been set up perfectly: For months, we've been hearing that "the science will save us," (Chris Whitty) that "the vaccine will be our salvation" (BBC, July). A salvation story has been spun which tells us that our greatest individual danger is found in a potential untimely death to a novel virus, that our greatest communal danger is the havoc that will cause. We have been called together to join the fight against what Boris Johnson called back in May, "a devilish disease" and the message has been clear: salvation is up to us, it's up to our science, our healthcare, our NHS.
And now the heralded vaccine is coming. Scientists, journalists, and Matt Hancock alike are queuing up like so many John the Baptists, to prepare the way. Yesterday, a picture of Pfizer bottles filled with vaccine came with exaltation: "you are looking at liquid hope!"
Today Matt Hancock made it even less subtle: "I know the NHS will be ready, when the science comes good, to inject hope into millions of arms this winter."
That's a remarkable statement. Hope comes as an injection now?!
This should make us pause. After months of bumping along, feeling frustrated and isolated, longing for life to start up again, it's easy to be swept along by this story, caught up in this great hope.
But where are we being told to look for this salvation?
Within. To our human ingenuity. That's why it's so attractive. Yet again we can convince ourselves that we are in control, that we can make our dreams come true.
But step back for a moment. We should also ask, what are we being told to hope for?
In a word: normality. This is a salvation story of getting from lockdown life to normal life.
When you put it that way, it's not a salvation story to set many hearts ablaze is it? From the perspective of now, parts of it sound utterly wonderful, but from the perspective of just 12 months ago… is that really the utopia we're looking for?
Compare the True Salvation Story we have to tell. The call from abject darkness to true and glorious light. The call from depths of our own making, captive in sin and death, to the heights of life as God created it to be lived, in worship and adoration of our Creator. Up next to that, the story we're being told by the offer of 'liquid hope' is pale and anaemic. It's a laughable parody!
So, yes, let's celebrate the potential that this vaccine, or another, might see progress made in the viral pandemic. But let's turn away from it as a source of hope in ourselves, to the one who offers us hope in himself, and make that the call of our hearts and the cry on our lips.
Onwards, to glory!