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