Many people have been asking me what I make of the coronavirus, what I think the purpose of it is, and what God will do through it. My humble answer is that I have absolutely no idea! There is a reason that God is God and I am not!
While I do not have any answers, I do believe that we can be asking ourselves how God wants us to live through these days. I think there is a faithful way to live, one that puts our trust and hope in the Lord, and I think there is a fear-based way to live, one that looks around us and sees panic, doom, and gloom. No matter what your response is, God still sits on his throne. He is sovereign over this virus. Despite the pain, suffering, and loss, I know that God is good. I believe that he will work for his glory and our good through this.
As a Lenten discipline, I am meditating on a Psalm each week. This week, I am focusing on Psalm 95. There is a phrase that keeps calling me, speaking to me, and challenging me: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work” (verses 7-9). I keep wondering how my reaction to this coronavirus will either harden my heart or soften my heart to the Lord.
In Psalm 95:7-9, the Lord speaks to when he led the Israelites out of Egypt. He worked powerfully on behalf of his people and accomplished many miracles so that the people could not only escape Egypt but leave with plunder. The Israelites saw the mighty hand of God as he parted the Red Sea for them to walk through. That sea then crashed upon the Egyptian army that pursued them. God changed bitter water to sweet water in the wilderness of Shur (Exodus 15:25); the Lord provided manna for food in the morning and quail for food at night.
As the Israelites moved on to camp at Rephidim, they couldn’t find water and became indignant. They grumbled against God and against Moses: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst” (Exodus 17:3)? Pause here a moment to think about all the miracles the Israelites had witnessed with their very own eyes, to remember how God had provided everything they needed just when they needed it. Instead of asking God to once again provide water, they whined and complained. Can you imagine how frustrating that must have been for Moses, for God? In his mercy, the Lord does provide water. Moses struck the rock at Horeb and water came out to quench their thirst.
The Israelites were slow to understand and slow to believe. They say it took 40 days to get the Israelites out of Egypt but 40 years to get Egypt out of the Israelites. All those years of bondage certainly took their toll. Likely, the Israelites felt forgotten by the Lord. God never forgets his covenants! God never forgets his people. During the years of slavery, the Lord had a plan for their escape. He knew their course through the wilderness, and he knew the glories of the promised land.
In Numbers 13, Moses sends the men to spy out the promised land. They go into the land and find it is even more glorious than they could have imagined. The only problem was the people in the land. The report from 10 of the spies was that the people were like giants and there was no way to overcome them. Only Caleb and Joshua brought back the report that the land was glorious, and although the land was occupied, they knew that God would give them the land. Caleb and Joshua remembered God’s faithfulness through their Egyptian escape and their journeys. They believed that the same God who provided water, food, protection, and guidance would allow them to supernaturally defeat the giants.
Sadly, the Israelites succumbed to the dour report of the 10 spies instead of choosing the faith and hope of Caleb and Joshua. They cried and groaned all night and once again asked why they couldn’t have just died in the land of Egypt or in the wilderness. After all God’s faithfulness, they still did not believe. Their hearts were hard to the Lord.
The Israelites serve as a warning to us. Though we are quick to criticize them, they represent us. In Psalm 95, we are warned not to harden our hearts. How do hearts become hard to the Lord? The Psalmist says that hearts harden when we hear the voice of God and choose unbelief instead of belief, when we put God to the test, and when we go astray in our hearts. The Lord was certainly worthy of the Israelite’s full-hearted faith. Nevertheless, they chose fear over faith; they chose to complain instead of pray; they chose despair over hope.
As Christians living in the year 2020, have we seen God’s faithfulness? Have we experienced his gracious provision, his mercy, and his love? If so, how do these experiences shape our response to the coronavirus? As we see the people of the world around us panicking, retreating, and lamenting, do we join them or do we take a posture of trust in the sovereign Lord? Do we move into complete dependence on him and into continual prayer? I am not saying we won’t have a range of emotions. We are human, and those emotions are normal and even healthy. It is what we do with those emotions that makes all the difference. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). We can choose to dwell in the perfect love of the Father or we can choose to camp out in fear. Love will keep our hearts tender, soft, and dependent on the Lord, while fear will harden our hearts and cause us to seek comfort in idols and the things of this world.
So, what does faith look like? Solitude, contemplative prayer and meditative Scripture reading are Christian disciplines that have been lost in our day and age. We are constantly busy with our agendas. If it is not work, school, family, or friends then we find ourselves lost in social media. What if we used this extra time in our schedules to get truly still and quiet before the Lord? What if we turned off all our technology for certain hours of the day so that we did not have the constant distractions? What if we read a passage of Scripture, then re-read that passage asking the Lord how he wants to speak to our hearts and lives through his words? What if we sat before the Lord without a major list or agenda and just invited him to speak? What if we spent some time journaling, allowing our thoughts and feelings to be released, knowing that God sees, knows, and cares about each and every one of those thoughts and feelings?
What does fear look like during this time? Fear can take many shapes and forms. It can look like the person obsessed with the next announcement by the CDC, absorbed by the media, and consumed with all the unknown. It can look like choosing to put our trust in busyness to keep our minds occupied and to keep our hearts hard and unknown, even to us; it is looking to our ways of comforting ourselves – food, alcohol, internet, online shopping, exercise, etc. You know your go-to. We all have them.
What if God wants to take this time to expose our idols so that we can turn aside from these lesser things, these things that never truly bring comfort and healing, so we can fix our eyes firmly upon him? What if God wants to use this time to search us and know us, to reveal the things in our lives that rob us of true intimacy with him, of living his abundant life so that we can choose life, so that we can choose faith, so that we can choose him?
Today, let’s make the choice to not harden our hearts. Let’s ask God to soften our hearts. Let’s allow him to work through the trials of this coronavirus to draw us to the only true hope in him. Let’s trust him to provide what we need, to comfort us in our sorrow and fear, and to lead us through these uncertain times knowing that he is good, that he sees all of it, knows all of it, and will love us in the midst of it.
“Oh come, let us sing the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:1-3).