It was late February, and my sister, whose a John Hopkins graduate student studying Immunology, sent me an article in Facebook messenger about the CDC confirming the first possible case of community transmission of COVID-19 in the United States, and her exact words were: “It’s definitely coming for us.”
I remember feeling sort of taken aback by her words, in disbelief, at even attempting to contemplate the idea of this mysterious new virus that’s wreaking havoc halfway around the world, from ever becoming a serious threat to life and livelihood here in the United States.
I mean, Contagion was just a movie right? And yet, here we are, several weeks into living in a reality that feels like a movie on Netflix, and for most of us, it felt like all the excitement and enthusiasm we had for 2020, and a new decade, evaporated along with millions of jobs and trillions of dollars, all within three short weeks. Our nation is now in the midst of a crisis truly unprecedented that few of us saw coming that rivals the direct impact 9/11 had, and is really akin to the kind of national involvement Pearl Harbor and World War II had on us.
Within three weeks trillions of dollars, 401K plans, Retirement Investments, Savings, and nearly 10 million jobs vanished in thin air, with small businesses collapsing around the country. There have been over 350,000 cases of Coronavirus confirmed (God only knows how many are unconfirmed) over 13,000 lives have been lost, and all of our lives have in some way been affected by a virus that is so small we cannot even see it with the naked eye, and the health experts have stressed that this isn’t over yet, in fact the worst may still be ahead.
We often go through our lives with the illusion that we have some sense of control, after all, we have electronic gadgets we use at our fingertips, plans and routines that we regularly make, and distractions that abound that help us feel like our hands are on the wheel with where our lives are going, but the reality is that ultimately, we have no control over what happens, only God does. What we do have control over, is how we individually, and as a nation, respond to this crisis and whether we choose to listen to what our Creator and Maker may be trying to tell us through all this.
“The World is quieter now. We just have to listen. If we listen, we can hear God’s plan.” Timely words in light of the times we are living in, spoken ironically from the 2007 Will Smith film, I Am Legend. I don’t pretend to give a theological pronouncement on why God has allowed the coronavirus. The Bible is clear that the breaking of our perfect relationship with our Creator in Paradise resulted in a curse that turned the world more upside down than in Stranger Things.
Something is wrong with the world, believers and skeptics agree on that point, but do we respond to these things looking upward with fists in the air or down on our knees? God has a habit throughout History of conforming chaos, crisis and confusion to His ultimate ends, and that involves interrupting our lives to get our attention, and to beckon our hearts to give Him room. And, while we don’t know Why God has specifically allowed this, I do believe we can know What He is saying to us in this: Be Still and Know I Am God (Psalm 46:10).
Our lives, our plans, and our favorite distractions have effectively been paused, giving you and I a real moment of self-reflection that is a once in a generation, perhaps even once in a century opportunity to really listen for the still small voice that we often drown out. His hands are outstretched towards ours, not demanding that we take hold of them, but offering them to us.
Because many of us have been existing but not really living, chasing after any mirage of love, wholeness, purpose and satisfaction that offers even a glimmer of fulfilling the inward quest we are all on in this life. I am proud to be an American, and grateful to live in a land as blessed as ours, but I also see a profound sense of irony in how empty so many of us that have so much truly are inside, because while we live in the wealthiest nation on Earth, we are poor emotionally and spiritually. While we have the mightiest military on Earth which no foreign country could challenge, our greatest threat comes not from without but from within, from our bitter political and ideological divisions to our decaying morals and imploding families.
What if God is reminding us through this pandemic that if our nation and our lives are built on Him, our foundation will be firm and secure, enabling us to weather any storm that we face while any other foundation we attempt to trust in and rely on will turn out to be sinking sand? What if God is using this crisis to force our political leaders to effectively work together to serve as a reminder that united we stand, but divided we fall? What if God is reminding us during this time of economic stress that He is our source of provision and that everything we have or ever will have is ultimately from Him?
Maybe God is having us reclassify what jobs are truly essential for our society to function, because the truth is we were able to get by without March madness, without the NBA, sports, concerts and movie theaters but we can’t get by without the health care professionals, scientist, truckers, trash men, groceries workers, postal workers, police, military and the like. What if, as we are overwhelmed with fear and panic over the coronavirus, God is reminding us to face fear with faith?
“Family comes first!” cried an emotional Adam Sandler in the film, Click, and perhaps God is crying out the same thing to us by having us spend more time together at home with our families, because our homes are the true pillars of our society, and loving, intact homes in America are on the endangered species list.
The Greatest Generation embodied true national selfless sacrifice and perhaps our generation is having an “Ask Not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” moment by being inconvenienced and giving up some freedoms for the sake of saving lives. We’ve been told to practice social distancing, but the truth is, worse than that, we’ve been socially disconnected for some time now, ironically the rise of social media helped exacerbate this, and maybe now, it will help end it. Jesus said for us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but we’ve been better at loving ourselves than loving our neighbor.
What if God allowed church doors to close to remind believers and non-believers alike that the church has never been about a building, that true biblical Christianity has never been about religion, and that true spiritual revival comes from a renewed hunger for a real relationship with God through Jesus Christ?
Perhaps God is asking you and I to stop doing life without Him, and instead to try living life for Him. To stop going through the motions of life, and to truly live life to the fullest. To stop worrying about tomorrow, but instead to live in today. Maybe God is saying to us through this that instead of carrying the weight of the burdens and cares we carry, we can let Him carry us and cast all our cares on Him, because He cares, a lot, for you and for me.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son. That whoever believes in Him shall not perish, have eternal life” (John 3:16).
If you don’t know any verse in the Bible, remember that one. Why? Because that verse is the essence of what God is trying to tell us, and indeed what He is telling all mankind. God loves this world, and even now is pursuing us. Oh really? You may say with some snarkiness, ‘Sure He does, have you seen what’s going on in the world’? Understandable point, but have you looked at the hill known as the hill of the skull?
There were three crosses there about 2,000 years ago, and the Son of God was killed on one of them, for you, and for me, making the ultimate sacrifice that we might be redeemed and forgiven. Have you seen the tomb where his body was? It’s empty today, and do you know what that means? It means there’s hope. Not wishful thinking hope, but sure hope. Hope for today and hope for tomorrow. Hope for America, because the only real hope for all our social ills, all our political dysfunction, and all of our hatred and division is Jesus Christ and relationship with Him.
As the weeks pile on in this “lockdown or quarantine” along with all the funny memes on social media capturing this experience, the big question on everyone’s minds are, when will life go back to normal? When will restaurants and bars be open again, schools resume, sports kick back in gear, when will we be able to return to a sense of normalcy?
Eventually, this outbreak will recede, and we will be able to leave the house, businesses will recover. But will we ever really be normal again?
My wife and I were just recently talking about how this experience may stay with us, and change us, and while a sense of normalcy may and probably will eventually return to our society, in some ways, I pray we are never “normal” again. While this has been an inconvenience for most of us, and worse for others, I do believe in the midst of it all, someone is using this to get our attention, and if we don’t take advantage of this opportunity to do spiritual course correction individually and nationally, we may not get another chance, until it’s too late and we’ve reverted back to tuning out His voice again.
“That they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way towards Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us”- Acts 17:27
Pastor Stephen Mitchell is the senior pastor at Trinity Bible Church in Severna Park, Maryland. He is also the author of Taking A Stand In Our Dying Land and has spoken in various churches and retreats.