On Tuesday night, Liz and I went to Sams for our typical grocery run. (When you have four young adult sons, you need to buy groceries in bulk supplies.) As we approached the sliding doors, we watched as case after case of water and large packages of toilet paper exited the store.
“Why do people need so much water and toilet paper?” was the first thought that went through my mind.
I know the coronavirus is spreading but I am not sure why I would need hundreds of bottles of water when I have very good tap water at home. I also don’t know why I would need hundreds of rolls of toilet paper. (Of course, after installing a bidet on our toilet after our trip to Argentina, I rarely need much toilet paper any way. It’s looking more and more like a good investment at this point.)
But after rationally assessing the fact that I didn’t need bottles of water or massive amounts of toilet paper, there was a second thought that quickly entered my mind, “But if everyone else is buying water and toilet paper, I guess we should pick up a few cases of them as well.”
In the end, my wife talked me out of it since we had enough else to buy.
But that is the nature of fear. It is often irrational…and highly contagious. Much more than the coronavirus.
Deep down we all struggle with fear…unless we live in a naive, self-imposed ignorance of our real situation.
Fear is a realization that we live in a dangerous world…and that we are not in control.
And both are undeniably true.
Technology has a way of creating an illusion that we are in control. There is a sense of power when you can tell Alexa something and she answers immediately to your request (and secretly sends targeted ads to your email account as well).
Remote controls. Smart phones. Even self-customized pizza and yogurt places all give us a sense of being the center of the universe.
But natural disasters and virus pandemics have a way of breaking our illusion that the universe answers to our beck and call.
We are not in control.
Go outside and push against the biggest tree you can find and you are not going to make an ounce of difference with the rotation of the earth…or the orbit of our planet…or the speed of our universe.
Tell viruses not to come into your city…or your house…or your body…and they are not going to listen. And once they are inside, they are not going to leave when you tell them to either.
We are weak, limited, mortal humans living in an immense universe, incomprehensibly bigger and more powerful than us, and operating totally without our assistance or advice.
When you come to grips with all of this, fear is a natural response.
Some respond to fear with the “flight impulse,” wanting to run, isolate, retreat, hide, escape to endless entertainment, or numb themselves with addictions.
Some respond with the “fight impulse,” getting angry with life, God, politicians, the media or whoever else seems appropriately blameworthy. Behind our anger is fear…we are afraid of losing something. We realize that we are not in control and rage feels like it makes us powerful…even if it doesn’t usually do anything except raise our blood pressure, harm our relationships, and make us unbearable to be around.
There is a third option to fear.
Not the cliche word but the real thing.
Surrender to a greater power…the Greatest Power…the Sovereign King of the universe.
Faith is a simple recognition that I am not in control but Someone else is. I may not understand His ways…or His timing…but I can trust His heart…and His power.
He demonstrated it on the cross…and with an empty tomb.
So what does all that have to do with the coronavirus?
Well, it doesn’t mean that I should ignore warnings…or not take simple precautions…or go around licking countertops to show that I am not worried about getting sick. That is not faith, that is foolishness masquerading as faith.
Faith is wise as well as calm.
Faith means that I can keep things in perspective. Watch the news…and pray for discernment. Take precautions…and realize that ultimately my future is in God’s hands.
Faith is not easy. I am not saying this because I have this faith thing figured out. I still regularly give in to anxious thoughts and irrational panic.
But faith in a sovereign, loving God is the only real pathway to calm in the midst of a storm…serenity in the midst of a difficulty…and peace in the midst of a pandemic.
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah (Psalm 46:1-3)
That same psalm ends with these verses:
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah (Psalm 46:10-11)
So take a deep breath…turn your eyes to your Creator…and rest in Him.
And don’t worry even if Sams runs out of toilet paper.