COVID-19 has initiated the celebration of some very unique milestones. For me, the most memorable was the day I sat between two of my grandchildren and read them a story for the first time since we began sheltering at home. We celebrated the relaxation of strict quarantine here in rural Maine with our little group of eight. As everyone feasted on pizza and whoopie pies, I prayed that I would never forget the joy of this reunion.
A lot of ink has been spilled over the purposes of God in this season of world-wide pandemic. Deep roots in Scripture affirm God’s sovereignty and goodness, even in this, but what of God’s enemy, Satan? Certainly, the ravages of COVID-19 have been a source of great delight and entertainment to our ancient foe.
Like many evangelicals, I look to C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters for perspective on the motives and machinations of evil. Lewis’s fictional correspondence between a senior devil and his nephew apprentice was set against a backdrop of World War II-era London, but Screwtape’s strategies are clearly unchanged. If anything, the ensuing decades have sharpened all the tools in his kit, and, no doubt, much of the hysterical hoarding and political mudslinging that has characterized the ascent of the corona curve is evidence of his work in the human heart:
“The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.” (118)
With news reports that we’re reaching the other side of the curve and with governors meeting to discuss possible strategies for reviving the paused economy, it’s tempting to start moving blindly forward into whatever’s on the other side of this crisis. In the background, I hear Screwtape himself applauding us as we grope toward normal—or even a new normal—for this is fair game for the tempter’s snare. Listen in to this bit of advice from the expert to the intern:
“Exaggerate the weariness by making him think it will soon be over; for men usually feel that a strain could have been endured no longer at the very moment when it is ending, or when they think it is ending. …Whatever he says, let his inner resolution be not to bear whatever comes to him, but to bear it “for a reasonable period”—and let the reasonable period be shorter than the trial is likely to last. It need not be much shorter; …the fun is to make the man yield just when (had he but known it) relief was almost in sight.” (142)
We’re all feeling that impatience by now. Never have we been so restricted in our movement, so limited in our contact, so isolated and completely removed from our usual routine—and so ready to cut loose! The notion that we just can’t take it any longer, revealed for what it is—an enemy’s strategy—is a cause for alarm. Let’s not allow the goodness of healing and health and increased freedom to become a launch pad for evil.
The insights I gain from Screwtape’s diabolical voice remind me that God the Spirit speaks to me in a real and redemptive voice through the Word. I’m listening carefully in these days when all the progress and the resolve for good that has come through the COVID-19 crisis is at stake, and I’m hearing strong words of promise for rescue, resilience, and resistance as we continue to trust God:
“My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!” (Psalm 31:15 English Standard Version).
Our timeline and ultimately our rescue from this enemy virus are truly in the hands of God, so stay in the moment. Thinking “it will soon be over” can be a hindrance to enduring with fortitude and gratitude whatever today brings.
Pioneer missionary Jim Elliot knew what it was to wait. He and his fiancée, Elisabeth, were serving in mission stations separated by the Andes Mountains in the early days of their courtship, and their longing for one another was poignant and intense. Even so, his words of encouragement to Elisabeth in the 1950’s reveal a strong resolve that I want to borrow in 2020: “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” Since sheltering at home has been the will of God for the majority of U.S. citizens, I want to endure the strain with that kind of gritty determination.
But the Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame” (Isaiah 50:7 ESV).
As tempting as it may be to check daily progress and obsessively watch news updates to track statistics, our time is better spent in continuing with the positive habits we developed during this season of sheltering at home. How can you make time in your schedule to read daily truth even when soccer practice and piano lessons resume for the kids? If you’ve managed to survive somehow with only weekly or even bi-weekly grocery shopping trips, why not continue the kind of meal planning and list making that allows for simple living and less consumerism? The time your family has spent together over games, puzzles, and family entertainment; the intentional ways we have used social media and internet technology to connect; the culture of “checking in” with those who live alone or are needy in some way—these are all habits that deserve to live beyond the crisis.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:3-4 ESV).
Resolve to finish well. Foiling Satan’s attack on our human tendency to “yield just when … relief was almost in sight,” let us rather lean in to the struggle against impatience or petulance. Of course, it’s possible that you’re eager for the quarantine and the crisis to be over because you know you haven’t handled it well, and are eager to put it behind you. Even in this, there is plenty of room for grace and a commitment to change. You can always start over, taking God’s new mercy for a new beginning. What story would you like to be able to tell going forward? Start living it today so that it can be your very own COVID-19 testimony to God’s faithfulness in your life.
We’re all weary, and we’re all ready to be done with isolation and hand sanitizer. It’s high time for a big dinner with family and friends around my dining-room table, a practice session with the worship team, and a round of Sunday morning muffins with my rascally 4’s and 5’s class! When the time comes to gather once again, let’s bring with us the sturdy fortitude of those who have weathered a hardship and come out on the other side rescued, resilient, and still resisting!
Image from Ben White on Unsplash
I really enjoyed your piece for so many reasons. While you articulated what so many have been going through with this crisis, you gave us truths that we could hold in our hands as well. You mentioned two of my favorite books, The Screwtape Letters, and the story of Elizabeth and Jim Elliot which I have read about it The Shadow of the Almighty. And if that wasn’t enough you mentioned a verse my Bible teacher gave me one Christmas when she gave each of us a verse. Mine was Isaiah 50:7. All of us have stories to tell of our struggles and how we were rescued, how we’ve been learning to be resilient and God helped us to resistant to the enemy of our souls. Thank you for sharing your story. I too, felt such a sweetness when I reunited with my grandchildren after a LONG absence. Watching each other on a screen was better than nothing, but nothing was better than the face to face when you can feel their arms around you.
That grandmotherly role is so much better when it involves stories and hugs and face to face time together. It’s amazing that your teacher gave you Isaiah 50:7! I hardly ever hear anyone quoting that particular verse, but it’s a favorite of mine.
I “happened” to be re-reading Screwtape when the world fell apart last March, and just couldn’t miss all the parallels between his diabolical scheming in the book and what I was hearing in real life.
I’m so grateful that the piece resonated with you on so many levels!
You’re making me want to re-read The Screwtape Letters once again. C.S. Lewis had a way of being relevant regardless of the times.
“Thinking “it will soon be over” can be a hindrance to enduring with fortitude and gratitude whatever today brings.” Yes, indeed. I’ve been seeing that again this week. May I counter it by resting in whatever THIS day brings and find grace in it. Thanks, Michele!
Rushing to the finish line is the exact opposite of persevering — and unfortunately, it is also my default…
I try to read something by Lewis every year. The timing on Screwtape was perfect!
A simple, heartfelt amen, Michele.
Amazing, isn’t it, the complexity of all the ways we sabotage ourselves without even knowing it? And to think there are those who don’t believe we need a savior…!
Thank you for this, Michele. I have many, many thoughts about all of this, thoughts that are heavily influenced by my own life’s journey in recent years. I haven’t figured out how to express all that yet, but you’ve inspired me to at least give it a try. The thing about anxiously waiting for it all to be over is that there’s no guarantee that what comes next will be any easier. Better to heed Jim Elliot’s advice and let tomorrow worry about itself, I think.
Absolutely! It’s pointless to take comfort in an anticipated return to “normal,” when “normal ” is never guaranteed. I look forward to reading your thoughts when you have had time to process.
So very well said, Michele, and so very true indeed!
Thanks so much for your always encouraging input!
I love this, Michele. The most important thing in anything God allows is walking faithfully with Him through it. Sometimes we lose sight of that in the nitty-gritty annoying or painful details. May God give us grace to keep our eyes on Him and persevere for His glory.
Yes, the long view, the marathon in which he goes alongside us is such a helpful position to take these days. I have a tendency to think destination when I should be thinking journey!
I love your call for resilience, Michele. I especially appreciated this: “I’m arguing today for a posture of resilience and resistance to the negative messages that keep us in petulant, “Are We There Yet” mode.” Yes, by all means. Let us be adults and let’s finish well. As they say at the races “You’re almost there!”
There are so many parallels between this pandemic and the perseverance required in your running life. Finishing well is the goal!
My personal “suffering” through this pandemic has been minimal. Yes, we’ve had to stay quite isolated because of my husband’s compromised immune system. But Zoom, FaceTime, blogging, texts, etc. have kept us in touch with loved ones and friends. We’ve had everything we needed. When I think of what Londoners endured during WW II as C. S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters, this trial for us has been nothing. I cannot complain! But I pray that whatever resiliency and ability to resist the enemy I may have gained, will help prepare me for any future challenges.
I love your resiliency, Nancy, and it sounds as if you are resolved not to waste a single one of the lessons of this season!
Yes & amen, my friend. It reminds me so much of the James Bryan Smith quote I keep posted by my desk: “I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights. I live in the strong and unshakeable kingdom of God. his kingdom is not in trouble and neither an I.”
We are not in trouble right now. We can be present in this hard space knowing God is here too.
I have that quote written in my planner, and it’s so important to my understanding of the world! Thank you for bringing it to the conversation.
I appreciate you sharing Michele. I really want to continue, “The culture of “checking in” with those who live alone or are needy in some way—these are all habits that deserve to live beyond the crisis.”
It was really to good idea about the rescued resilient and resisting even in a pandemic thanks sharing this article