How’s the lockdown going for you? If you’re an extrovert, you’re probably finding it to be the worst kind of torture. Have you resorted to making fruit friends to talk to yet?
Those of us who lean toward the more introverted end of the spectrum might not find the alone-time too much of a problem, but the questions about our friends’ and family’s health, whether there will be enough food to go around, and the instability of our working life can still cause anxiety (unless you work for Zoom, whose business must be absolutely booming!).
It feels like we’ve been plunged into the middle of a disaster movie, but without knowing the script, and with no assurance that the teams of heroes will be able to defeat the threat before it ravages the world.
Part of the problem is that we find ourselves unable to control the events that are affecting our lives. That is unusual for us, and hence causes great anxiety. We are used to being in control – and to having someone to blame if our plans are thwarted. Think about how annoyed we get when the trains are delayed, or Sainsbury’s messes up our online order again, or the printer stops working just when we urgently need that report…
Our veneer of calm can very quickly be shattered. But at least in those cases we’ve got someone to swear about, something to kick. With coronavirus, we really don’t have that option. (Notwithstanding the racist blame-game from some quarters.) This thing is everywhere, and we could easily have been infected by it long before we knew we were even exposed.
So instead we try to control as much as we can – that’s why people panic-bought tinned tomatoes and toilet paper, why they ripped the hand sanitiser dispensers from hospital walls, why they are abusing the very NHS staff who are trying to help. Fear can make us do crazy things.
So how can we find peace in this time of great uncertainty? I truly believe the only thing that can get me, or any of us, through this is to put our faith in both a sovereign and loving God.
My Christian faith teaches me that God created the world and is in control of everything that happens in it. He doesn’t cause disease and suffering, but neither does he always stop it – although he easily could. I don’t know all the reasons why he allows such things, why thousands of people have died and will die of this horrible illness, and why so many more throughout the world live with the threat of disease and disaster every day of their lives.
What I do know is that he is a loving, good and trustworthy God. I have found him to be so through all the ups and downs of my life.
The Bible often likens humans to sheep. It’s not a compliment. Sheep are pretty stupid animals; left to their own devices they wander away from the good pastures, get lost, get caught in brambles, get diseases, and even fall over onto their backs and get stuck, legs flailing helplessly in the air until they die. They need a shepherd, someone who knows the terrain and can lead them to lush pastures and cool streams, someone who cares when they get injured or diseased and tends to them, someone who protects them from predators, someone who leads them down the right paths.
Most of the time we don’t see ourselves anywhere in that picture. We have food to eat, clean water to drink, and a free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare system to tend to our wounds and diseases. It’s only in times of crisis, when the supermarket shelves are empty and the hospital beds full, when our incomes are in jeopardy and our freedoms limited, only then do we realise how helpless we really are. Left to our own devices, few of us would be able to scratch out a living for more than a few weeks.
Just like sheep, we need a shepherd, and one of the most famous passages in the Bible, Psalm 23, says God is that shepherd. I could describe it to you, but I think the words are just too powerful for me to do that. I’d encourage you to meditate on them here:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
As a Christian, I have learned that, just like a sheep, I am not in control. My attempts to take control in one area of my life or another are doomed to disaster. I have learned – or rather, I am constantly learning – to trust God with my life and my path. I’m not in control; he is. And that is a place of perfect peace.