Updated: Jun 24, 2020
Is the coronavirus pandemic an intentional international interruption?
An International Interruption
The world is experiencing a divine disruption. Every sector of our society has been impacted by the coronavirus: Wall Street and Main Street, educated and uneducated, bourgeoisie and proletariat, doctors and patients, pastors and parishioners. People are frustrated, confused, and afraid because we are fighting an invisible enemy which our scientific and medical experts have little knowledge of. Each day they are urgently working to better understand the virus, create a vaccine, and identify a safe course of treatment. In the meantime, our lives remain disrupted.
Oxford defines disruption as a “disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process.” In short, a disruption is an interruption. And this is where we – the global citizens – find ourselves: in the midst of an interruption.
Make no mistake about it, our normal course of life has been upended and is in the process of being restructured. We have been forced to worship virtually, forage for disinfectant spray and toilet paper, and wipe down our purchases after we have removed our clothing. It would almost be comical if it wasn’t so existential.
Faith Seeking Understanding
Whenever an enemy threatens our existence, our divinely imparted instincts of fight or flight kick into gear. Theologically, we could refer to them as faith or fear. Faith fights, fear runs. Some unwisely perceive faith as a defiant denial of the dangers of COVID-19, while others have developed a compulsive phobia that borders on a disorder. Both are ill-advised.
Disruptions will do that: they will lead us into denial or disorder if we are not careful. What we need during times of disruption is a healthy balance of faith and reason. The church has long debated the proper relationship between faith and reason. According to St. Anselm, the proper response for a believer’s relationship to God is “faith seeking understanding.” We believe in God by faith, and we embark on a journey of reason to better understand the God in whom we believe: His character, nature, and attributes.
During this time of disruption, we must believe in God and seek to understand what He is doing and saying through the pandemic. None of us can say for certain if God is the cause of our disruption, but we can safely say that He allowed it. And if God allowed it, then He has a purpose to achieve through it. So we trust Him through it while we seek to better understand Him in it.
Psalm 46:10 encourages us to “Be still, and know that I am God.” The psalmist was exhorting Israel to trust in the Lord’s divine protection because He is their refuge, strength, and help (v.1); He is present among His people (vv. 4-5, 7, 11); and He is more powerful than global turbulence (vv. 2-3) and their enemies (vv. 6, 8-9). Instead of “fear” (v.2) they were to demonstrate faith by being still (faith) and knowing their God (reason). Notice how the psalmist immediately rejects fear, and then spends the rest of his exhortation reasoning why fear is not an option. This reasoning will take place as the children of Israel experience God’s divine protection, presence, and power.
To “know God” is to experience God. While the waters roar, the mountains shake, and the heathens rage, Israel was encouraged to experience God in His character, nature, and attributes. Without these cosmic and existential disruptions, they would never know God experientially. In other words, some things we just have to go through.
Refocusing our Attention
The other side of this pandemic is filled with uncertainty. There are valid concerns over the recovery of our economy, the quality of life we will have, if we will see subsequent waves of the virus, etc. Some states are incrementally opening back up their activity. Each of our fifty civic laboratories are testing how we should live in a post-COVID-19 world. But none of us knows exactly where we are headed.
When I speak of a divine disruption, I am not arguing for God as the cause of the pandemic. What I am arguing is for us to exhibit faith while we seek to better understand the God we serve. Some scholars translate the command to be still as “stop striving.” Faith without works is dead, but works is not the same as faith. Some works are the result of fear and not faith (e.g., King Saul’s offering of an ill-advised sacrifice). The striving the psalmist was calling Israel away from was a striving that sought to take matters into their own hands instead of trusting in the God who chose, called, and redeemed them.
God is making that same appeal to us, today. Instead of striving to get back to “normal,” could God be calling us to be still and know that He is God? Could He have allowed the disruption to take place in order to stop our striving after power, wealth, and fame? At least for a brief moment, more skeptics are seeking to understand God, more people are reassessing what’s most important in life, and more preachers are reminding the church of the glorious return of our soon coming King! A divine disruption? You decide.
Rev. Isaac Hayes is the president of Healing of the Soul Ministries, an Assistant Pastor at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, IL, and a doctoral student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. You can follow Rev. Hayes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram through his handle @RevIsaacHayes.