This week we “celebrated” (?) a year of pandemic in Canada. I remember when school was extended after March Break last year. Naively I thought it would be an extra two weeks and then back to normal. Since then it has been anything but normal.
I doubt any of us anticipated the full reach of the pandemic. Businesses were first limited in their public access, then the doors were locked and, if possible, people worked from home. Lots of people lost their jobs. We stayed home. We watched Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus.
So what has changed? On one level it seems like everything has changed - how we shop, where we travel, how we interact with one another. Our wardrobe choices in the morning now include choosing an appropriate mask that will complement our outfit. We not only grab our keys, phone, wallet/purse, but we also have to remember a backup mask, hand sanitizer, and hand lotion for the dry skin the sanitizer creates. We go into banks with our identities better hidden than any thief just a few years ago. It used to be that we were offended if someone crossed the street to avoid us; now we are offended if they don’t.
I hope these changes are superficial, and once this virus is “under control” (whatever that means), we will be able to return to socializing, eating out, playing sports, and just being together.
But what else has changed? How has our inner world been affected? Have we struggled with fear or panic? Has the isolation created depression? Has our sense of security been shaken? Have our priorities changed? How has our understanding of God - His presence, His engagement, His provision - changed? Have we questioned His faithfulness? Perhaps we have wondered if He REALLY does have control of this thing?
Global events like the pandemic spark all kinds of spiritual speculation. In the ‘70s there was an oil crisis and all kinds of books about end times became popular. In the 90’s there were the Gulf wars and all kinds of books about end times became popular. Now it is the pandemic and all kinds of books and videos and podcasts and websites about end times are popular. Do you see a trend?
I’m all for this heightened sensitivity to spiritual issues. I’m not so crazy about the speculation - most of it not based in Scripture - that passes for knowledge of God. These moments in human history are important and (because they happen) are part of God’s sovereign plan. This is a plan, though, to which we are not privy. Trying to reverse engineer historical events so we can speculate about the future is missing the point. God is not dropping breadcrumbs so we can guess the future.
The very nature of faith means we strengthen our loyalties to God even when, especially when, things don’t make sense. God has not given us the task of “fixing” the world. The effects of sin will permeate all of creation including the natural world. That doesn’t mean we don’t practice good stewardship. We do need to care for God’s resources be it the natural world or other people. But caring for the creation and all it contains is not going to fix the system. Pandemics are going to happen. Economic crisis are going to happen. As much as we want to experience prosperity and growth, part of life is to experience loss and suffering.
Our expectations and responses are a direct reflection of what we honestly believe about God. When faced with challenges of pandemic scale, we begin to better perceive our faith in God. Have we nurtured a trusting relationship that understands He is the source of our confidence? We will all struggle with this. The stories of Elijah and David and Esther help us understand that even with a maturing faith, doubt is real. Asaph wondered if keeping a pure heart and clean hands was worth it (Psa. 73). Even Jesus prayed, “If You are willing, remove this cup from me” and later, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” So this isn’t an issue of high-octane Christian performance. It is a question of choosing to trust God in spite of the circumstances.
I wish this was easy. My faith has been challenged in the past year. I’ve wondered what God is doing. I’ve been confused (How can God expect us to plant a church during a pandemic?). I’ve also remembered and learned that (a) His ways are not my ways (Isaiah 55:8), (b) He always has a purpose to every detail (Eph. 1:11), and (c) I’m normal to struggle with these questions (reference Elijah, David and Esther above).
How has our view of God changed in the last year? Hopefully we have seen His faithfulness in fresh ways. He has provided unexpectedly. He has allowed us to form new relationships and nurture the existing ones. We have been able to evaluate and bring clarity to our priorities and passions. And more than ever before, we have realized how dependent we are on God. At least I hope these things have become part of my understanding of God. I’d hate to go through all this and be exactly the same person I was before.
A recurrent theme in my own thinking is the nature of faith. I have learned (again!!) that it is not just dogma. It is relational. Yes, I need to know who God is as the object of my faith. But I am also learning that my limitations in knowledge and resources are opportunities to exercise faith. I can’t fix the pandemic. I can’t even protect the people around me from it. In truth, despite all the precautions I may take, I really can’t control my own exposure to the virus. I may do everything right and still get sick. If that happens I can only assume that God is working a hidden purpose. I hope my response, in faith, would represent Christ well to those around me.
I’m really, really looking forward to having all this behind us. Back to curling, back to singing in our worship gatherings, back to coffee shops. And even back to shopping if I have to. But I hope I do it with a greater sensitivity to the engagement of God in every detail. I hope I better understand that all of life is lived in His presence - He doesn’t come and go based on my need. And I hope that I can share that hope with others so together we can enjoy walking with God