A couple of days ago (which is practically ancient history in this constantly evolving, 24/7 news consuming situation), I mentioned that one unique aspect of this extremely strange, difficult time is that it acts like a spotlight. It is illuminating things about our day to day life that are always true, but are now especially clear. If you missed that, it is right here. I want to spend some time talking through each of these ideas on their own for a couple of reasons. 1) Because a little extra project probably won’t hurt in the coming weeks. 2) Because I want to be sure to think carefully about each idea, as well as be sensitive to the fact that the coronavirus is not just a teaching lesson, but is causing real pain and suffering around the globe. Now, without any more of my beloved caveats, the first of a few things that are normally true but are now especially clear due to COVID-19.
We are not in control. This fact has probably hit close to home for you in the last couple of days. Our emails and social media feeds have been inundated with notices of postponements, cancellations, and closings, due to circumstances out of our control. Which is another way of saying, there is nothing we can do about it. Things canceled have included more “trivial” things such as vacations and concerts, but also things that come with great disappointment and heartache – entire sports seasons gone, long awaited weddings having all of their plans change, and some have even lost the opportunity to grieve the loss of a loved one in community. All the while, restaurants and stores are closing, and many are figuring out what in the world to do for work. In one way or another, big or small, we have all come face to face with the uncomfortable reality that there are so many things about this world that are out of our control.
Of course, this is always true. Our best made plans, hopes, and dreams are always subject to the countless variables of life that are out of our control: weather and natural disasters, disease and sickness, relationships and conversations that don’t go how we planned, errant drivers on the road and needless violence in communities. Our lives are always affected by these things that are out of our control. But at the same time, we want so desperately to be in control. On our best days, and in the best circumstances, we can almost trick ourselves into thinking that we in fact are in control. We schedule our days, we choose what we will eat, we choose what we will watch, we choose where we will go and who we will hang out with. We believe the lie that our fate is entirely in our hands. Until of course, some external circumstance that we can’t do anything about comes and wreaks havoc on our plans.
I’ve struggled with how to talk about this always true but especially clear now thing because this reality has been the cause of much pain, anxiety, and fear for so many. There is no getting around the fact that this is a really hard situation, that has already, and will continue to cause really hard outcomes. And so a reminder of the fact that we are not in control can almost feel insensitive, like rubbing our nose in it. What can we make of this difficult reality?
One of the Christian catechisms starts off with the question:
What is our only hope in life and death?
That we are not our own, but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our savior Jesus Christ.
This answer won’t satisfy everyone. It might leave you with more questions than it does answers. If you are not convinced that there can somehow be a good God in a world that seems to be filled with so much bad, this answer is probably especially not helpful. However, if what the catechism above says is true, and I believe it is, then it offers us an incredibly hopeful path forward. Because this answer allows us to be honest about the fact that we are not in control (which is true whether you believe in a God or not). And it tells us that someone who loves us, who has chosen to save us at a great cost, is in control. That gives us enormous freedom to enjoy the good (for we have someone to thank for it), lament the bad (for we have someone who is with us in it), and go through this life with open hands.
Of course, I don’t think this means that we should not ever plan or put in effort towards things. It does not mean that we shouldn’t do everything in our power to stop the spread of this virus. Instead, it means that we have somewhere, and someone to look to when our lives are turned upside down. As much as I would love to be in control, I am so grateful that there is someone who is infinitely wiser, greater, more loving, more perfect, and more powerful than I am who is. Again, it doesn’t fix everything, answer all our questions, or necessarily make things easier. But in a time which might cause us to try to clamp down on things and control as much as we can, let us move forward being honest about our lack of control, and faithful to the one who is in control.