As we are all reeling from the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, we have to acknowledge that we do not have nearly as much control over our lives as we would like to think. As the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it:
“Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them” — Ecclesiastes 9:12
At “evil times” like this we are reminded that all kinds of situations befall us that can make our spiritual lives feel like an empty desert. Lost relationships, lost jobs, lost health, lost hope. Depression can set in, and God can seem very far away. This happens to all of us, at different points in our journeys, but this pandemic has created a situation in which it seems like everyone is wandering in the desert at exactly the same time. We don’t know where we’re going because we’ve never been on this path before, or even one remotely like it.
The Scriptures offer all kinds of examples of people of strong faith, like Abraham, Moses, Martha, Mary, Peter, and Paul, who achieved amazing things for their communities and for God. When we look closely at their stories, we see that what makes the stories so powerful is that those individuals, incredible as they were, were not perfect. They were human. And like all human beings, they were flawed and weak and afraid. At times, they were unsure of what was right, uncertain about what to do, and gravely worried about the future — just as so many of us are right now. Realizing that our spiritual ancestors were genuinely human but still held fast to their faith can encourage us through this time.
The poet Ambrose Redmoon has said that “courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Even when we believe that God is always with us, we still might be frightened. When we see the terrible physical and financial results of the pandemic all around us, though, we can begin to understand that something else is more important than our personal fear: to follow the example of Jesus Christ, becoming as selfless as we can be, taking care of our neighbors, rather than dwelling on our own problems.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” — Hebrews 11:1
Faith is trusting that ultimately good will come about, even though it hasn’t yet. Our faith may then become what German theologian Ernst Kasemann calls “a confident wandering.” We move into new ways and new places and new understandings, and we do so with courage and confidence that God is still our guide. We recognize more and more that even though we are still in the midst of evil times, still wandering, still finding our way through unfamiliar and often unfriendly territory, we continue to gain confidence in what we hope for, and assurance about what we do not see.