I am reading Erik Larson’s new book, The Splendid and the Vile. Each chapter grows more ominous. It is June 1940, and a German invasion of England seems imminent. Defeating France, Hitler is now able to position his Luftwaffe to strike England with massive force. There is every expectation he will soon launch an invasion with thousands of troops. The atmosphere is more than anxiety. It is one of actual terror.
My frightening times have not been so stark, but I do remember a week in October 1962. It was the Cuban missile crisis, and I was 12. With each passing day, we began to believe the world was going to end. One night, my dad speculated that we might not wake up. One neighbor made provisions for a bomb shelter up in the mountains, certain the Soviets would launch their missiles. Years later, there was Vietnam, and I lived with the very real dread my number would come up. In six weeks, I would be out on patrol, soon another statistic. Or who can forget Y2K, when everything was sure to come apart? There was the economic crisis of 2008 (and we had just begun building a new sanctuary). Would I be remembered as the pastor who bankrupted the church? There have been the occasional water shortages, and who can forget the fear St. Helens would spew her ash for years to come? And now it is 2020.
Live long enough, and there will be some crisis. Some panic. People will stock up, sure that the end is at hand—like the current pandemic. There is a level of alarm and angst, but it doesn’t feel as ominous as other crises. It is serious for sure, and more wide-reaching than anything I have ever witnessed. But more than anything, it is a total disruption of life. Doesn’t it seem as if the world suddenly flipped?
I am supposed to go to Africa in ten days (but now Uganda has ordered a 14-day self-quarantine), see my wife off to Australia next month (oh, the same place Tom Hanks is recovering from the coronavirus), and lead a study tour to Turkey in May (who knows?). So much for flight plans, immunizations, and tedious visa applications. So much for Blazer games and plans to go to the movies. Will seminary graduation take place? Dare I go to church this weekend? (Just found out—no). Will Costco still have toilet paper? Is my visiting mom, now in her upper eighties, safe? Will a comparable sickness—cabin fever—set in?
This morning, the world is waking up to other questions—
-will stock futures recover?
-will people be able to be tested
-who will get hit with the virus next?
But here are other—even more pressing questions—that we need to be asking ourselves—
-How is our faith informing us in these days? How should my convictions be navigating my life?
-Are my fears and emotions and actions any different than those with a different world view?
-Am I using sound judgment as God would have me do, or am I joining others and exhibiting irrational fear and anxiety?
-Am I acting out of self-preservation, or thinking of others? Am I attentive to how this is affecting others, and how I might help?
-Am I investing significant time on my knees praying for our leaders and our scientists—more than time listening to the opinions and criticisms of commentators?
-Am I intentionally creating a healthy space between myself and others, while narrowing the space between my soul and God?
More importantly, am I seeking God’s face daily, attentive to what he might be saying through all of this? There are these passages written to guide in such moments—like Matthew 6:25-34. These words put worry in its place. Without these, worry becomes this small trickle of fear that meanders through the mind until it cuts a channel into which all my other thoughts drain. Or Luke 8:40-56, which tells me God rules over everything, including viruses and illness. He has absolute jurisdiction over this earth—over every law of nature, every powerful ruler, every difficult circumstance—over Wall Street and Washington.
Wake up and spend time alone with God, and one realizes we are not at the mercy of events—but at the mercy of his rule!
-when He commands the fever to disperse-it must run
-with a word-the demons must find a home elsewhere
-with a word sins are forgiven
All of which reminds me in these days—we must first think of God more nearly as He is. Isaiah 40 underscores this in the most compelling way. While we look at the world stage and wonder if God helplessly watches, the reality is that he is neither helpless nor small—nor unaware. It is just the opposite. Any assumption that God is irrelevant, immaterial, insubstantial, oblivious, unable, and uncaring is thoroughly and systematically dismissed at every turn in Scripture. Would I turn to anyone else?