It seems like the perfect word for 2020. Never before have we witnessed a pandemic, widespread civil unrest, and a judicial redefinition of sex and gender all in the space of a few months. And dont even get me started on the murder hornets.
It hasnt all been bad, of course. Our increasing awareness of racial injustice feels both unprecedented and also good. But the word lost its luster once every fast-food chain, online platform, and shop I have ever visited used the phrase in this unprecedented time to introduce a series of emails.
While initially descriptive, that phrase has now become defeating. It serves as a constant reminder that none of us fully knows the way forward. Political pundits, physicians, protestors, and pastors are all in the same uncharted territory. Teachers have no precedent for online learning. Nursing homes didn’t have policies in place before their elderly constituents were severely at-risk.
None of us has ever been here before. We’re all scrambling to find a way forward. We dont need constant reminders that we’re in new waters; our bodies and souls daily affirm that we’re in over our heads.
As news stations, businesses, and even schools continue to remind us that these times are unprecedented, the Word of God reminds us that Christ is bothprevenient and also preeminent.
Christ Before Us
Prevenience means the act or condition of occurring earlier or being antecedent. While it’s unlikely that the word will appear in any subject line from a fast-food chain, believers need to keep its truth at the forefront of our minds.
As news stations, businesses, and even schools continue to remind us that these times are unprecedented, the Word of God reminds us that Christ is both prevenient and also preeminent.
In response to Jobs honest and understandable questioning of God during a season of unthinkable (and, yes, unprecedented) suffering, God comforted him with his prevenience. Beginning a list of questions of his own, God rhetorically asked Job, Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurementssurely you know! Or who has stretched the line upon it? (Job 38:4).
While the chapters of questioning () are challenging, they’re also meant to comfort the suffering Job by reminding him that God is antecedent to creation and sovereign over all of it.
Likewise, when writing to the Colossians in their own strange, shaking times, the apostle Paul spends time establishing Christ’s prevenience. Unlike the troubling heresies promising something novel, Paul reminded the believers that Christ existed before all things, created all things, and thereby was prevenient to all that was taking place:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authoritiesall things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things and in him all things hold together. (Col. 1:1517)
As we begin to understand how invisible-to-the-naked-eye viruses threaten our planet and how racism was threaded into our nascent nation, Christ has gone before us. While we wait for a vaccine and engage in uncomfortable conversations regarding our nation and our neighboring, Christ has gone before us. When we finally enter the place where death is no more and every tribe, tongue, and nation dwells in unity, Christ will have gone before us.
Christ Above Us
Preeminence is another word we rarely use. It means superior, or surpassing others. In a season marked by confusion, suffering, and isolation, we would do well to rediscover and remember the preeminence of Christ.
As he continues his letter to the Colossians, Paul connects the prevenience of Christ to the preeminence of Christ: He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent (Col. 1:18).
Being in very nature God, Christ, who pre-existed creation, entered it through the incarnation. Though he had made all things, he suffered in lonely agony in Gethsemane. The following afternoon, he did the unprecedented as the preeminent one became the punished one. Three days later, he shattered all precedence by rising from the dead. His incredible condescension culminated in an ascension to the place of highest glory.
In an unprecedented time, our Savior remains unparalleled.
The reality of Christs preeminence means he is sovereign over all the suffering, sadness, and confusion that this year has brought to us.
In an unprecedented time, our Savior remains unparalleled. There is none like him who knows the end from the beginning (1 Sam. 2:2; Isa. 46:10). While we may not know what next school year will hold or if our small business will be able to stay afloat, we know the One who knows all things and who, through his cross, reconciles all things to himself (Col. 1:20).
As recipients of the unprecedented love of the prevenient and preeminent One, we can walk with hope through these strange times.