Why didn’t we see this coming?

7th August 2020

Why didn’t we see this coming? That’s the question that Olga Khazan asks, writing in April in The Atlantic magazine. Her article bears the title, Humans are too Optimistic to Comprehend the Coronavirus: Why Americans didn’t see the pandemic coming. So, she explains, instead of stocking up on PPE and testing equipment, building field hospitals, and limiting travel and mass gatherings, “an epidemic of wishful thinking spread among both the American public and policy makers.” No doubt she would say much the same of the United Kingdom and other countries.

What’s her explanation? It’s that there’s something about us as human beings: “the human brain’s basic tendency towards optimism, even when the facts suggest we should be worried.” She says, “humans are remarkably bad at imagining everything that could go wrong in a given situation,” and “people have trouble envisioning themselves as the kind of person something bad might happen to.” Instead, we assure ourselves that “the bad thing we don’t want to happen probably won’t.”

I wonder what she would say about judgment day? If ever there’s a global catastrophe waiting to happen, which people don’t think will happen, or don’t think will happen to them, or won’t be that serious if it does happen, or that they’ll somehow escape while others don’t, it’s judgment day – the day when Jesus returns and judges the world, and every single human being goes away, either to eternal punishment or to eternal life. The Bible even warns us that people won’t believe it’s coming. “They will say, ‘Where is this coming he promised?’” Presumably they’ll still be asking that question when he comes.

We get some idea of how serious it will be to be on the wrong side of that judgment, when we’re told that such people will call “to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’” They would rather be buried alive than have to face an angry Jesus!

And yet it’s this same Jesus who is our hope, and our only hope, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”, in whose blood we may wash our sin-stained robes and make them white.

When the day comes, it will be too late to ask, “Why didn’t we see this coming?” God has sent prophet after prophet, and preacher after preacher, to tell us it’s coming. He sent his Son to die for our sins, so that if we trust in him we won’t have to. He’s given proof of that day to everyone by raising Jesus from the dead. It’s coming, all right. The question is whether we’ll be ready.

Chris Hobbs