I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly. Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. (Psalm 85:8-9)
How do we “do life” in an age of COVID-19? One of the tags that has recently become popular on Twitter in response to the virus is #stayhomesavealife (or for those of us who need it spaced out with punctuation, “Stay home! Save a life!”). Other popular tags are #MyPandemicSurvivalPlan and #coronapocalypse. (Disclaimer: I am not responsible for the content of those, if you look them up!) Concerned citizens in Ireland even got all if the country’s bars closed down prior to St. Patrick’s Day (which was no small feat) through a tag #CloseThePubs that went viral.
Some of the tweets are seriously activist and some are simply humorous, but all of these social media trends reflect the ways people are trying to RESPOND to this pandemic, rather than simply KNOWING about it. All the daily information and speculation—all the troubling statistics and projections that blanket our conversations and news reports—are necessary and essential in times like these. But without a clear idea of how to RESPOND to the pandemic, all that information by itself can lead us toward another devastating pandemic…fear.
Of course, HOW to respond, or HOW to “do life” right now is the question. Are we to ignore the problem altogether? Should we obsess on it? Or is there a better response somewhere in between? Should we go about our “business as usual?” Should we lock our doors, turn out the lights and hide under the covers?
In Psalm 85, the songwriter chooses to take a “long view” of history. Scholars differ as to when this song may have been written, and what exactly was going on in Israel’s history at the time, but the pattern of the psalm fits the long, repeated pattern of Israel’s story.
The psalmist begins with a reflection on what God did for them in the PAST: showed favor to the land, restored the fortunes of the nation, forgave the sins of the people, and chose mercy over judgment (vs. 1-3). He then appeals to God to act in the same way in the PRESENT: restore and revive them again, show His love and salvation as He did before (vs. 4-7). And finally, the psalmist suggests a way forward to a better FUTURE: where the people listen, obey, and fear God; and where the Lord restores favor to both His land and His people (vs. 8-13).
The psalm isn’t about KNOWING the details or depth of Israel’s current problem–we can’t even figure out when it was written! Instead, the song offers a hopeful and helpful way to RESPOND to their situation. They need to seek the Lord—listen to what He is saying to them in all of this. They need to humbly receive God’s healing and salvation, and offer back to Him all the glory in return. God promises peace, but the psalmist warns that it is for those who choose to respond with “faithfulness” instead of “folly” (vs. 8).
So how do we choose faithfulness over folly?
In our current crisis, each of us needs to figure out how to “do life,” how to RESPOND to our situation. And the ways we respond will all look as different as we do. For some, we will respond by following the advice to #stayhomesavealife. Others will find themselves on the frontlines in the role of medical professional, first responder, or public safety officer. Most of us will be somewhere in between those worlds—needing to “do life” every day in hundreds of different ways, trying with each step to choose faithfulness over folly. Unfortunately, there isn’t a perfect trail map or hash tag for each of us to follow. None of us really knows where this road is leading, so how can we possibly find our way?
Toward the end of John’s gospel (John 14:1-14), we find an account of Jesus speaking with his disciples in the wake of some truly troubling news. He was about to be betrayed by one of them, taken from them suddenly, and they would then be left to carry on his mission in world full of danger and problems. He reassures them by telling them “You know the way to the place I am going.” But Thomas objects, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus tells him “I am the way…” Thomas knows the way because Thomas knows Jesus.
Choosing faithfulness over folly means seeking God and listening to what He has to say; it means choosing obedience over anxiety…hope over despair…faith over fear. It means that even if we DON’T know exactly where we are going, we DO know the way. The way is still Jesus! That’s as true now in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic as it was in the past. And it will continue to be in the future..forever! Walking in faith means following Jesus wherever he is leading you…listening for his voice…following his instructions. He is here with us. He is our hope. He is Living Water. Always stay thirsty for Him!