Gifts from the Coronavirus
MAY 6, 2020
Morituri Te Salutant!
That’s the title of a Jazz album by Colosseum. It’s what gladiators shouted before going to fight in The Colosseum and means, “Those who are about to die salute you!” I’m writing you in March during the quarantine over the coronavirus and, depending on who you’re listening to, we’re all going to die. So morituri te salutant!
If you’re reading this, at least some of us didn’t die…but I suspect all of us went a bit crazy. I have a friend in North Carolina who decided that God called her to make me laugh during this crazy time. She sent me something her friend sent her: “The quarantine has me realizing why my dog gets so excited about something moving outside while going for walks or car rides. I think I just barked at a squirrel.” With our new German shepherd, Annie, there’s some truth in that.
And there is only one set of footprints in the Florida sand, as someone said, not because God carried us or left us, but because he is practicing social distancing.
Sorry. I have way too much time on my hands.
You’ve probably heard your pastor quote this verse and it’s something to remember all the time. We live in a scary world even without the coronavirus. Paul wrote, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). That’s true, but at times we all wonder if we really experience it and believe it. Do you know how to know? Yeah, go through a crisis like this one.
I always wondered how I would do with God and my belief system if I went through a major loss. I did that with Hurricane Andrew and discovered that it is all true. I didn’t become a spiritual giant or anything; but when it was over, I was still standing and God was faithful in every bit of it. As a result, now during the coronavirus, I have memories/memorials helping me get through this thing.
Besides, at least some of this is a gift. One of Key Life’s board members emailed me this morning with, “Do you know how you often say that you could be a monk if they would let you bring Anna? Well, now you have your wish.”
But there is more than that. I pray almost every day that God will pour out his Spirit on our dry and thirsty land, and bring an awakening.
Kristin Clark Taylor is a wonderful writer and a believer. In a recent Miami Herald article (March 27) she wrote: “What I am saying…is that this sinister, snaggled-tooth, chicken-hearted disease also happens to carry within its microscopic makeup a miracle of untold magnitude. This weak-willed, lily-livered, so-ugly-you-can’t-even-see-it virus is actually giving us direct and renewed access to the power of the infinite and the bottomless beauty of the divine. Put simply: Fear, death and forced isolation can make you want to pray.”
She’s right. Fear, death, and forced isolation clear one’s head. Just as it’s hard for an unbeliever to go to a funeral, it’s hard for an unbeliever (or even a shallow and silly believer like me sometimes) to face a pandemic with no place to run. Never hurts for people to think about something other than whether or not the battery on their smartphone is depleted.
Sometimes reality isn’t pleasant, but it’s a good medicine to take. One of my favorite books of the Bible is Ecclesiastes. Over and over again the writer cuts through the sham and pretense, the religious nonsense, and the clichés. He writes, “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them” (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12).
Don’t you hate it?
I don’t know about you, but something like this pandemic makes me feel so out of control. The fact is, though, I wasn’t in control before. It’s a good thing when my “delusions of grandeur” are shattered and I feel helpless. Like the Psalmist, a crisis causes me to “Lift up my eyes to the hills (or science, politics, experts, doctors, leaders)” hoping that someone somewhere will help me in my helplessness. Then, with the Psalmist, the pandemic reminds me that, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:2-4).
All a crisis, tragedy or dark place does in our lives is remind us of who we are. Most mornings when I pray, I confess the silliness and sin of a finite and flawed human being, bringing a to-do list to the King of kings, and the sovereign Creator, Ruler and Sustainer of everything. Such presumption! And yet God told us to bring our requests to him anyway and to remember that he’s our Father.
I remember a Christian speaker who fought in the Vietnam War. I can’t remember his name, but he was horribly disfigured. Upon his return, his wife met him at the airport. As she embraced him, he started crying. When she asked him about his tears, he said, “I wanted to look good for you.” “Honey,” she said, laughing, “you never looked that good anyway.”
We weren’t ever in control. If this coronavirus does nothing else but remind us of that, it will be a good thing. A crisis of helplessness reminds us that there must be help somewhere. It’s like hunger and thirst reminding us that there must be food and drink. In that reminder to both Christians and unbelievers, there are the seeds of awakening.
Just one more thing before I go and wash my hands…again.
The danger of a crisis like this pandemic is the danger of promises (not his, ours). There is a degree of panic in the realization of how little we deserve safety, peace, and health. We know our secrets, don’t we? We want to bargain with God. “I’ll be good if you keep me safe.” “I’ll go to church, stop smoking (or drinking, or doing drugs) and be nice if you protect my family.” “If you get me out of this, I’ll always say ‘no’ to temptation and I’ll be the most obedient child you’ve got.”
Actually, no, we won’t.
And not only that, in not fulfilling those promises, we will only feel more guilty than we did before we made them. (Someone has said that they often pray to the “God of second chances.” “It’s me…again.”) And therein is another gift to Christians from the coronavirus. It’s the realization that God’s grace has nothing to do with us, and what we do or don’t do. That’s why it’s called grace. The Psalmist realized that when he thought of his sins and prayed, “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!” (Psalm 25:7).
For the sake of his goodness…
That’s it. It’s all we’ve got.
And it’s enough.
He told me to remind you.
For more of Steve’s Letter’s, click here