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In a Time of Virus and Uncertainty

“The unexpected always happens while we are doing something else, while we are thinking of different things.”

Alexander McCall Smith is a Scottish author whose fiction deals primarily with ethics and Christian values. His brief poem, “In a Time of Distance”, was written quite recently as a commentary on the coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19 — how the worldwide virus touches us all, and changes us, sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better. He continues:

“With the unexpected upon us, we look at one another with a sort of surprise; how could things possibly turn out this way when we are so competent, so pleased with the elaborate systems we have created…for every eventuality, except this one?”

McCall Smith quotes no Bible verses (unless you count “love and friendship” and “brother and sister”). Nevertheless, as I read his poem, I find verses coming to mind, one after another:

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (Jas 4:13,14).

Jesus illustrates this same principle with his story of the rich man who had more riches than he could ever use. So, he set out to build more barns to hold all he possessed, but he died before he could enjoy all his wealth:

“God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (Luke 12:16-21).

All of us, I believe, are prone to just this sort of error. We carefully list everything we plan to achieve tomorrow, or next week, or next month — only to find, when the allotted time has expired, that we are only halfway to our goal, or have been sidetracked altogether. The sheer truth is just as James says: “You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow!” As we make our way down the path of life, it is always one unexpected thing or another which trips us up, or diverts us from our chosen path. As the old saying goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” This reminds me of Prov 16:9: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” In other words, man plans one thing, but God always has the last word. He can bring something entirely different out of our plans.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Prov 19:21).
“A man’s steps are directed by the Lord.” (Prov 20:24).

Even the plans of kings and presidents and prime ministers can be stymied or thwarted, or even redirected in ways they never imagined:

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” (Prov 21:1).

So now, a whole world with its collective plans has been brought to a standstill, for months and months. Music festivals and important conferences have been canceled, disappointing hundreds of thousands. Schools of every variety have been closed down. All kinds of sporting events — basketball, baseball, tennis, golf, the Olympics, and even (horrors!) football — are being postponed, curtailed, or rescheduled. And from our own perspective, we are also forced to cancel…Bible schools, Bible classes, gatherings, and even regular worship services — for how long, nobody knows.

Nobody knows, indeed! And even if we remember to say “God willing” or “Lord willing” as we make plans or announce upcoming events, we may hear the little whisper of a thought, “I know I should say this, but I am pretty sure everything will turn out just as planned.”

…we may hear the little whisper of a thought, “I know I should say this, but I am pretty sure everything will turn out just as planned.”Then one day, out of nowhere, the most unimaginable of events happens — a worldwide epidemic that now threatens the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions. It reminds us of terrible prior pandemics, such as the 1919 “Spanish flu” and the “Black Death” (Bubonic Plague) of 14th century Europe.

And Alexander McCall Smith’s words remind us just how much we have relied on the “All things continue as they were from the beginning” philosophy. We stare at our smartphones, our computers and our televisions to see, unfolding day by day, the most unexpected event of the last one hundred years. McCall Smith writes:

“And so we turn again to face one another and discover those things we had almost forgotten, but that, mercifully, are still there: love and friendship, not just for those to whom we are closest, but also for those whom we do not know…and…the words brother and sister… are brought out, dusted off, and found to be still capable of expressing what we feel for others.”

Perhaps God is trying to break through our selfishness, with our plans which always seem so important until, unexpectedly, they don’t. Perhaps He is trying to shake us out of our comfort zones so that we think less about satisfying ourselves and more about loving others, because — let’s face it — any day now may be our last.

Our Father in heaven, may Your kingdom come. Help us to remember that not our will but Yours shall be done in this earth. Watch over our brothers and sisters, and their little ones, wherever they may be, during this current distress. And thank You, Father, for those who risk their lives to save others, and please bless them as well. We pray in Christ’s name.

George Booker
(Austin Leander, TX)

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