Several weeks ago my family and I were eagerly discussing plans for Spring Break 2020. Like most families we were anticipating some warm weather and exciting outdoor activities. Hikes, kayaking, picnics in the park, and watching a movie at the local theatre were all on the agenda. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) was certainly on our radar, but it seemed like an epidemic from which we were fairly far removed.
Our eager anticipation came to a screeching halt last week as new cases of COVID-19 were being reported in the United States, major sports organizations were cancelling their seasons, and universities and schools began to heed to caution by extending Spring Break.
Today, many of the citizens of the US as well as the world are bracing for what is coming next. Will the curve in the United States be flattened or will the government’s most noble efforts prove to be futile in such a time as this?
At this point, the current answer to this dilemma is that we simply do not know. So, then, how are Christians to respond with confidence when unpredictability seems to be the only predictable variable in the equation?
In attempt to speak into this quandary, let’s draw from a small, often overlooked book towards the end the Old Testament—the book of Habakkuk. This book is all of three chapters long, and provides an intriguing look into a faithful follower’s confusion about the ways of His God. While Habakkuk’s actual predicament was different than our own, there are helpful parallels within this narrative from which we may draw nuggets of wisdom for our current location.
Habakkuk Honestly Cried Out to God
Unlike the global population of today that is dealing with the onslaught of a viral infection, Habakkuk and the people of Israel were dealing with the onslaught of an invading, mighty army against which they had no chance to acquire victory. The story opens with, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear” (Habakkuk 1:2).
Faced with this eerie global pandemic many of us today may strongly resonate with Habakkuk’s inquiry. Some may do so having a loved-one who has succumbed to COVID-19. This prayer points us to the reality that even the most ardent followers of God experience doubt and confusion when mediating life in a fractured universe. It also illustrates to us the freedom to vulnerably and honestly talk to our heavenly Father out of our human frailty and finitude.
God Graciously Answered
As only a loving, compassionate Father will do, God responds. “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” (Habakkuk 1:5). Again, Habakkuk’s situation was different, but quite parallel to our own. Habakkuk was experiencing the unseen plans of God, but because those experiences were limited by the confinement of his own here and now space-time reality, a cognitive dissonance, a mental confusion of sorts, was beginning to emerge for him. Yet, the comforting reality for Habakkuk was that God was present, God was listening, and God was working mightily in what otherwise may have been experienced as sheer confusion and chaos.
Like Habakkuk, we are experiencing the ravaging forces of an outside enemy (COVID-19) among the nations, and we too are doing so while confined within our own here and now space-time realities. If we’re not careful we can become susceptible to a wayward dissonance that in the end will only promote unbridled anxiety and doubt within our hearts. While we should never exercise conjecture on God’s eternal intentions when experiencing challenges in life, what we can do is bring to mind the revelations of His character that He has chosen to reveal in Scripture—God is present (Psalm 46:1), God is listening (I Peter 3:12), and God is working mightily in all life’s circumstances (Romans 8:28-29).
Exercise Faith in What God has Revealed About Himself
James gives very helpful direction when it comes to pursuing wisdom in difficult times. He instructs, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8). James encourages us to seek God for wisdom, but also warns that when we consider such wisdom we must do so from a posture of faith. As we apply this to our understanding of God at a time of worldwide crisis, what has God spoken in which we may confidently place faith? What has he told us about himself that will help us navigate the next several weeks and months so that we are not like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind? Here are a few things we know:
- God daily bears us up (Psalm 68:19-20)
- God is gracious, righteous, and compassionate (Psalm 116:5)
- God is a thoughtful provider and caretaker (Matthew 6:26).
- God is love (1 John 4:8)
- God is sovereign (Ephesians 1:11-12)
- God is faithful in his promises, and exercises patience with his children (2 Peter 3:9).
- God does not shift and change in fluctuating realities of life (James 1:17).
When Habakkuk heard from God, and believed what God had revealed—His own might, power, love, and faithfulness—he was able to anticipate uncertainty and difficulty ahead with the steadiest of hearts. It is from this place of faith and trust in God’s revelation that he penned one of the most beautiful prayers found in Scripture:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor the fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of deer’s; he makes me tread on high places” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
It is obvious, but worth noting that placing faith in unpredictability is not going to bring the solace that permeates Habakkuk’s prayer. While a flattened curve and a cessation of COVID-19 on humanity should be among the prayers we are all praying, these fluctuating uncertainties are not safe objects in which to place our hope. Instead, we should find ourselves entering into a seeming paradox wherein our confidence will emerge as we grow in the fear of something or Someone much more potent than COVID-19. It will emerge as we faithfully walk in the fear of the Lord—a life and mindset enamored by his majesty, centered on his glory, and based on what he has revealed to us about himself in the Bible. Such disposition will shape our hearts in such a way that the divine ethic of Jesus—to love God and to love others—may become the driving virtues of our lives. It is an opportunity to thrive in that for which we were designed in order that we would be a light to others (as we reflect the light of Jesus) during a very dark and disturbing time:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In this same way let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
So, as we face the invasion of a relentless virus and the implications it has on our lives and livelihoods, may God’s grace grant us the same faith he gave Habakkuk when all seemed potentially lost. May the peace of our Lord sustain us as we persevere for His glory and His Kingdom.