This is what living within a big historical event looks like
At the time I’m writing this, COVID-19 is officially a pandemic, folks are going cancel-crazy, and nobody knows how bad it will be.
What will be the score a few weeks from now? I wish I could ask my future self if it’s safe to fly, or if the kids are back in school, or if the shelves are stocked with toilet paper and chicken soup again. Or if I’m struggling to breathe and someone I know is dead.
Don’t panic, they say. I don’t see panic, just a higher-than-average number of shoppers stocking up, with an attitude of cheerful resignation. Many of them had decisions to make—about spring break, or meetings, or travel, or church activities. Or the decision had been made for them by some harried individual who had to weigh costs against benefits and make the call.
I know one such person, the coordinator of a book festival that since March of 1969 has grown to over 5,000 participants. The decision to cancel, for the first time ever, mere days before opening, was agony. Her future self, two or three weeks from now, may be consoled that she chose wisely. Or she may be kicking herself over all that expense and preparation, up in smoke for no good reason. Given the way things turned out, should I have gone ahead with a scaled-down event? Will we ever know the true cost? Will it be so great we won’t recover?
My 2020 Bible-reading plan started me on Luke this morning. Talk about disruption! There they were, Zechariah going about his sacred duties and Mary tending her mundane ones, when a visit from the angel Gabriel upended their lives completely. Zechariah trembled with fear and Mary was “greatly troubled.” Both struggled to grasp the implications of the message. Both would later rejoice with spontaneous songs of inspired praise, even though the magnificence of the Magnificat and the all-encompassing benefits of the Benedictus were yet unknown.
If Mary could have seen her future self, sobbing at the foot of a cross, would she have sung so confidently of bringing down the mighty, exalting the humble, and scattering the proud? Disruptions can lead to happy results, or evil ones, or some of both, but on that Friday she could see nothing but evil. Doesn’t everything, after all, end in the grave? The only difference is how we get there. And if that’s the case, Mary might have preferred to skip the angelic visit and the career of her remarkable Son. Better to forgo all that wonder, joy, and consternation, if heartbreak was the guaranteed end.
Unless you hold stock in Pfizer (distributor of Purell hand sanitizer) or Campbell Soup Company, you’d rather skip global pandemics too. Who wouldn’t say “No thanks” to a plunging Dow and a nationwide quarantine? Hey, people: I have plans!
Try saying that to God.
While we don’t know His purpose in the current disruption, there are certainly millions of them. For our purposes, good might come of everyone slowing down and taking account of family and neighbors. Good would come if the federal government were to evaluate its sluggish response to an emergency and cut some red tape. Good would come if nations developed better strategies, broke up some hegemonies, and positioned themselves for next time. Because, with increasing global connections and ease of travel, there will be a next time. Think of COVID-19 as a dress rehearsal, with the typical technical glitches and missed cues, and it might help us prepare for something worse.
But even more, think of the ground trembling under a tomb, a mighty hand breaking the seal and pushing aside a thousand-pound stone. The greatest disruption the world ever saw has already happened, and we’re living it. As I write this, I can’t predict the next two weeks, but Christ has predicted me. The near future is obscure; the ultimate one secure.