It’s been sixteen months and counting since the Covid pandemic turned our lives upside down. And we are an exhausted people.
We’re exhausted of the tragedy of sickness and death. We’re exhausted of mask and vaccine debates. We’re exhausted of trying to figure out the “right thing to do,” especially when someone we love disagrees with us. We’re exhausted of hearing new stats and changing guidelines every week. We’re exhausted of the fear and uncertainty.
The circumstances are real. And the emotions are real. But how does one manage one’s emotions and outlook on those circumstances in a way that is empathetic and also points back to trust in a sovereign God?
As our country has turned more and more away from a biblical worldview, the reactions to the pandemic have reflected this picture of life without God more clearly. I am prone to these reactions myself, and as I think through them, I have to ask myself, “Does this reaction reveal a heart that trusts in God or a heart that trusts in myself and other human beings?”
Reaction 1: Anxiety
Any time there’s a crisis, anxiety is an inevitable reaction. The uncertainty of what the future holds brings about worry and fear. But our current age of “information overload” takes the anxiety around this pandemic to a whole new level.
We are constantly being bombarded with statistics about cases and deaths. Every hour of the day, there are news updates immediately available at our fingertips. Not to mention that the media intentionally uses fearmongering language like “cases are skyrocketing” to feed that anxiety. I read a post on Facebook just the other day that listed all of the things the person was anxious about in relation to the pandemic. The fear is real.
But crippling constant anxiety is the natural result of a worldview without God. If someone doesn’t believe in a God who is in control of all things, of course he will fear the worst. If a person doesn’t have hope in an eternal life that’s far better than the current one, her current situation will look terribly bleak. If happiness is dependent on external circumstances, depression and suicide rates will be on the rise.
This should not be the outlook of the believer. Job 37:5, 13 assures us that God is completely control of every event: “God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. […] Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen.”
And Psalm 118:6 says, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
Over and over again the Bible assures us of God’s sovereignty and care for his children. Nothing that happens in this world is outside his control, nothing can separate us from his love, and nothing will keep us from entering his presence when we die.
When we put our hope in these truths, the anxiety will lessen, and we will know that the headlines don’t dictate our future. God does.
Reaction 2: Control
The natural human response to anxiety is control. If there are things in our lives outside our control, we look to what we can control – whether that’s the schedule, the house, or the kids.
Same with the pandemic. It seems we’ve done everything humanly possible to control this disease – lockdowns, masks, social distancing, hand sanitizing, limited group sizes, not singing, not exercising, Zoom meetings galore – and somehow, it just can’t be controlled.
Does this mean that people accept that some things are simply out of their control, even when they’ve done everything they responsibly can to slow the spread? No, unfortunately, it means that those in power have decided they need to exert MORE control.
But every mandate and mask in the world can’t eradicate death from the world. It’s a natural part of our fallen world, and one which people refuse to accept.
I’m not saying we should be irresponsible and do whatever we can to catch and spread diseases. What I am saying is that a biblical worldview knows that ultimately we are not in control.
James 4:13-16 states this clearly – “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
I think we’ve seen this folly over the past year in statements like, “If everyone just wears a mask, this pandemic will be over in a few weeks or months.” By winter of last year, governments had successfully gotten pretty much everyone to wear masks in public places, and yet the cases were at their highest count.
Or, “If everyone gets the vaccine, the pandemic will be over.” Until a new variant comes along that’s more resistant to that particular vaccine.
We can do as much as we can to be responsible stewards of health. But in the end, we must cede that we are not ultimately in control and trust the One who is.
Reaction 3: Blame
When people are anxious and their efforts to control situations aren’t working, they then try to find someone to blame. If all efforts to control the pandemic aren’t working, then it must be someone’s fault. And the self-righteous response of those who have “followed all the rules” is, “It’s the fault of those who didn’t wear masks and still got together in people’s homes.” Or “It’s the fault of those who refuse to get the vaccine.”
When plagues happened throughout the centuries, most people just reacted with, “This is really sad,” and mourned the great tragedy that was taking place. Kind of like when a hurricane or tsunami hits – we don’t blame the people who chose to live on the coast. We mourn with them that this happened and then do all we can to help them recover from the tragedy.
The problem is that in this case, there seemed to be things people could do to help mitigate the spread of the disease. So we tried those things out, and hopefully they helped to some extent. But the reality is that we still can’t completely prevent Covid (or any disease for that matter) from happening.
And this is where the blaming starts in. Nobody likes to be blamed, however, so those who get blamed generally react negatively, especially when the control starts clamping down as a “punishment.”
This again leaves God out of the picture (although some might then turn to blaming him). If we truly trust God as our source of strength and sovereignty, then there’s no point in turning the blame onto other humans. Instead, we have to recognize that natural disasters and plagues are a result of the curse of sin. We simply have to weep over the brokenness of this world, support each other through the darkness, and keep this promise in mind:
“You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.” (Psalm 71:20)
Shaming and blaming won’t make Covid go away. Massive amounts of control won’t make it go away. Worrying ourselves to death won’t make it go away.
The circumstances might not change. But our hearts and our reactions can change if we daily turn to Christ as our refuge rather than the world. The world might spiral out of control because they have nowhere outside of themselves to look. But “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). And to this, believers must tether their hope.
Let our worldview be shaped by Christ himself and thus point others to him as well.