The world as we know it is displaced. Spring break, St. Patrick’s Day, and school testing have been glossed over as a triviality in the sweep of the CoronaVirus. There are real dangers, and palpable vulnerabilities reminding us that we are fragile—even mortal. Yet we would be naive to think that this was a unique moment in history.
As a plane flew particularly low over my roof last night, I lay in bed thinking how the imminent closing of grocery stores and restaurants pale in comparison to how it must have felt as German planes bombed entire cities without warning in the calm of the night. This isn’t meant to make light of our circumstances in 2020, but history mocks the weight we put on our delicate constructs of safety and security.
We build fortresses, not houses, with cards. Social distancing, supplements and super-foods, sanitizer, up-to-date knowledge from the most credible sources, and yes, even our stockpiles of toilet paper— they are all illusions of control. These precautions are not evil, many are even wise, but do we recognize their limits?
Would our peace and faith in God remain unmoved if the feeling of security these things give us collapsed as quickly as a city block in World War II?
We live in the modernity of on-demand customization. In the midst of a worldwide pandemic and quarantine we have luxuries like delivery, takeout, streaming services, and store shelves that are restocked daily. We have options and those options give us a sense of control. But what would happen if the path before us was singular, and devastating? No exit ramp. No loophole. Like Corrie Ten Boom, who was corralled in a boxcar without sanitation, food, or even sufficient oxygen for days. She labored under the cruel and insensible oppression of the Nazis and watched her sister die without access to proper medical care. What happens when our expectations of what is reasonable and fair are shattered?
If we are stripped of everything like Job, will we refuse to curse God?
The funny thing about control is that it’s a moving target. In Exodus, God delivers Israel out of slavery in Egypt (slavery being the epitome of zero control), and the expectation is that their troubles are behind them. But God wants to test their willingness to trust Him (Ex 15:25). He provides safe passage, drinkable water and food from heaven all in the most hopeless circumstances, and yet before (and after) each instance the people complain about their lack of choices! They tire of manna and water from rocks, and ultimately they tire of God having all the control—of wanting their full trust. They finally arrive on the brink of Canaan (the Promised Land). Faced with the obstacle of intimidating inhabitants, they actually vote to trade freedom for slavery and the illusion of control:
All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”Numbers 14:2-4
It’s an ironic trade isn’t it? Israel felt like they would be more in control of their lives if they disobeyed God and returned to what was familiar (slavery in Egypt), rather than obey God, relinquish control and trust His plan for their freedom and future.
I don’t think we need a pandemic to show us our idolization of control—God mercifully gave us his “alive and active” Word, and “it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb 4:12). The warnings are abundant and plain. But the CoronaVirus is a kind reminder that the god of control will only lead us back to slavery.
When you are tempted to say with the Israelites “Wouldn’t it be better for us…?”, recognize the god of control.
We cannot claim citizenship in the kingdom of an all-knowing, all-powerful God, and cherry pick which parts of His rule we submit to.
As Job puts it, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10)
Will we strive and strategize till we are weary to the bone, in an effort to evade the reality of our powerlessness? Or will we fully rest in the One who goes before us and brings us out “by the strength of His hand” (Ex 13:3)?
“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.”Corrie Ten Boom