What COVID taught me about Christianity

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Back in early 2020, when it became apparent that this “novel” Coronavirus thing would come to disproportionately dominate the social landscape for the foreseeable future, I remember thinking rather simplistically,

In retrospect, in some ways that sentiment wasn’t that far off, although probably more carelessly construed than it might have been. The past couple years have been a remarkable display of human ingenuity, resourcefulness, and altruism. It has also, however, been a time of extraordinary hatred, polarity, and tribalism.

It is often the case, when disaster rears its fearsome head on such a global scale, that we recycle difficult questions like, “Where is God in all this?” and “Why do such terrible things happen to good people?”, among countless others. There seems to be a sense of justice within each of us that is injured by the idea that something so sinister might be able to so quickly rob us of so many precious lives, and continue to do so unabated and unavenged. We are further angered because there doesn’t seem to be an easy scapegoat at hand to blame for such a disaster, although certainly not for lack of fingers pointed, as if derision and divisiveness had ever truly healed hearts in the past.

At our best, we want to enlist, join the cause, and do our part, but most of us were told by the experts that our part is to stay home and wash our hands… Of course there were and still are very good reasons to do so, but selfishly I couldn’t help but feel like it’s a little anticlimactic. I often struggled against a quiet desperation and frustrated helplessness. There’s something deeply discouraging about being stuck on the sidelines, witnessing a remote war in which even victory does not boast winners, but simply fewer losers.

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I also discovered that it’s relatively easy, in isolation, to recall yourself in the presence of various others in a previous age wondering why any one of you could bear to conduct yourself as if each passing minute was not of infinite importance. This thought, however, would then inevitably be followed up by your wondering what it would look like if you all, in fact, had behaved as if it was, and, having not the slightest idea what that would look like, you quickly return to the more familiar mode of being at hand. And when conscience calls, you’ll probably let it slip to voicemail staring at the phone with foggy eyes as if to cry out at once “I’m sorry” and “help me”. Maybe you’ll call back tomorrow… or maybe next week, but most likely, when you do, you’ll get voicemail too, like once best friends who moved away and grew apart, having forgotten what caused you to befriend each other in the first place. The chasm is too wide between who you are and who you could be on any given day. Our duplicity offends reality and, as a result, it becomes both possible and probable to encounter a certain death of the will — death by unmet expectations and unrealistic standards — as if you had so unceremoniously exhumed a previous incarnation of yourself to conduct your cross-examination and spread a posthumous contagion of immortal dissatisfaction in a mortal world. The first of its kind to leave is the last of its kin to go.

Interestingly enough, even though we might question His presence, in such fragile circumstances everyone begins to believe in a God of one form or another. Either He is the only anchor to cling to in this storm, or he is the very storm itself, vengefully tearing up the foundations of ordered society that we’ve built for ourselves to stave off the eternally unsettling feeling that we have been cast adrift on a sea of indeterminate cosmic chaos. But as every purebred politician knows, a good crisis should never be allowed to go to waste. And I have been prompted lately, as I imagine also have many of you, to grapple with an increasingly dimorphic sense of self that is in some ways no longer patched over by the normalcy that comes with more familiar schedules of conduct. We might become unusually irritable, indiscrete, impatient, and unforgiving. The malformed and dejected sections of the subconscious are desolated by the scorching wildfires of insecurity. It’s an emaciated and resentful golem that emerges from our psychological shadows during such times to articulate things of terrifying urgency. It paces back and forth, muttering inaudibly, before turning to stare straight through me and scream,

The disciplines of faith and hope can become distant and superfluous when we are thrown into primal survival mode, or they can constitute the bedrock upon which to rebuild a lasting home when all else is stripped away. When we allow the former, the name of God may seem to us to have been invoked only in far-off times or faraway places for lesser things, but this may be only because we ourselves are living, like the prodigal son, in a far country, trying to forget all about the Father’s house. He is our only possible ally, and yet it might seem at times like we have made ourselves His enemy. If we should choose, however, to walk the latter path and believe that this struggle is part of the very fabric of God’s redemptive tapestry for humanity, the path through the fire becomes just a little clearer. Sometimes there is far more to be done integrating the shadow within than banishing the darkness without.

I have come to believe that the fundamental role of trial is that of a teacher. It is that of a poker instructor who calls your bluffs and raises your bets, an athletic trainer who fears untested potential and missed opportunity far more than broken pride and broken bones, a public speaking coach who would rather confront your embarrassment now than for the world to suffer another inarticulate soul, and a music tutor who sees through another uninspired composition to the masterpiece fifteen years of practice down the road. Because there is a bottomlessness to everyone, and it takes the crucible of struggle to continually call forth a new creature from the unknown, unmediated recesses of the deep self, capable of dealing with challenge, responsibility, and novel input. Often enough you may not like the beast it reveals, but its being is not unrelated to your own.

It is the routine predictability of day-to-day patterns that threatens to mire us in apathy more so than the unforeseen catastrophe that catches us off guard. This seems to be the case because the extemporaneous subconscious tends to be more altruistically motivated than the carefully considered rationale. The gravity of tragedy tends to jar us into remembrance of the necessity for joy and love, particularly in their absence. We long unsurprisingly for pattern, routine, and order until we have found them, and then we spend our nights reading books, playing games, and watching movies that offer a coveted escape from such oppressive monotony. So we put a page, a board, or a screen in between us and the psychopath, the war, and the monster, only to realize that, in having done so, we have cut ourselves off from the sacrifice, the victory, and the treasure.

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Few things indeed are as satisfying in their fulfillment as in their promise, and precious few things throughout the course of a life call into focus the ordinary insanity that occurs in their absence. When we live as if we’re never going to die, then we die never having really lived. Because, paradoxically, a heightened awareness of our mortality is what enables its transcendence. It’s only in the face of extreme adversity, grappling with our physical and mental limits, that we are reminded of our spiritual limitlessness and the urgency of our purpose. For if we expect something, how could it move us, and if we could control it, how could it set us free?

We all know what it’s like to have some part of life pass us by — to choke on the words that we never said, or lie plagued by the endings of stories never read. Most days we’re just alive, and only some days it feels like we are truly living. But, every so often, we are caught up by a feeling. It’s just an instinct and a glimpse, hardly enough to know if it’s real because we’ve been looking for it so desperately. We peer through the fog to witness a greater God, with arms of mercy outstretched, beckoning us to a closer walk alone with Him. For it is in the solace of solitude that the still small voice speaks. And it is in the absence of an audience that we delineate the true substance of our being. That which is most sacred often happens in secret.

These are times of great suffering and pain, but they are also times of renewal and recommitment. At land’s limit waits the ocean, and to those who prepare well will come a challenge far greater than they now know. We often focus on God’s promise that we will not be tested beyond what we can bear (1 Cor. 10:13), but the implicit inverse is also true. As we find in the life of Christ Himself, from those mature enough to bear immense burden, such will be required. But in the ultimate sacrifice lies the ultimate glory that we celebrate in His resurrection. So let us build up a generation who is spiritually disciplined in the face of crisis so that they might go on to even greater things. And let it begin with each one of us in each of our homes. Start with a prayer and end with a promise. Start a new day and follow the Son. Start with scripture and write it on your heart. Make its practice your pleasure and your race has begun.

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I aspire here to nothing more and nothing less than accompanying the human spirit on its journey home — to dwell deeply, challenging and uplifting the soul.

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The Searching Soul

I aspire here to nothing more and nothing less than accompanying the human spirit on its journey home — to dwell deeply, challenging and uplifting the soul.