The onslaught of news about COVID-19 is accelerating. FOMO (fear-of-missing-out) challenges any attempts to create social distancing between me and the news. I turn off the news and a few minutes later talk to someone who has more recent information. I say, “There are X cases in Virginia.” The other person says, “Now, there are Y cases.” In this scenario, Y > X. Yet, blessings abound, and I am determined to find them.
How do we respond to COVID-19? We all need to wash our hands, use hand sanitizer, and practice social distancing. This last preventative measure means canceling events like professional sports. It might even mean limiting worship services to a live stream. Does it also mean canceling parties? Do we avoid going anywhere? If we all stay home, the economy will screech to a halt. No one will spend money. No one will go to work. Everything will stop. If we don’t, then COVID-19 will continue to spread. What do we do?
I often hear, “Most of us will likely get COVID-19, and most of us will be okay.” Psalm 46.10-11 provides some guidance for times like this. The psalmist might not have been thinking about a pandemic, but the wisdom applies to days like this. “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations. I am exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.”
Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations. I am exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.Psalm 46.10-11
Invocating Jacob’s name highlights the complexity of living in this world right now. Jacob is an antihero. He lacks conventional heroic traits. His name means “to supplant” or “grab by the heel.” He manages to live up to his name by gripping Esau’s heel at birth in Genesis 25.26. In Genesis 25.34, he supplanted Esau’s birthright over some bread and lentil stew. In Genesis 27.18-29, he tricked his father into blessing him instead of his brother. In Genesis 29.10-11, Jacob saw Rachel, was struck by her beauty, and kissed her. The Bible does not say whether she was receptive or not. We only read the story from the male (Jacob’s) perspective. He ends up marrying his cousins Rachel and Leah and siring 13 children. Yet, none of the women have a voice in the story. Mentioning the God of Jacob reminds us that God can work through anyone in any situation.
Right now, panic, binge-buying toilet paper, and finding someone to blame are popular moves. Some news outlets will only name this new virus alongside its country of origin. Why? Will blaming a country help the response? Will buying all the toilet paper help? Will wringing your hands do anything? No. Instead of hand wringing or blaming someone, we can follow the wisdom of health officials. We can wash our hands. We can create social distance. We can elbow bump instead of shaking hands or hugging. We can call, text, or message people instead of hanging out. And, we can “be sill.”
Does creating social distance mean being alone? Paul Tillich writes about the difference between “loneliness” and “solitude.” Loneliness points to the pain of being alone. When the psalmist writes, “Be still,” it is not an invitation to a painful loneliness. “Be still” means create the space to recognize who God is and who will still be God when this pandemic is over. It is a message of hope. Tillich points to this aspect of isolation as solitude. He describes it as the glory of being alone.
What blessings surround us?
- The birds singing in the trees.
- Walks outside.
- Wisdom to respond to COVID-19 in tangible ways, like washing our hands and maintaining social distance.
- Scientists who work on finding better ways to detect and treat this virus.
- Medical professionals who treat people who are sick.
If we look for blessings, we can carry a spirit of thankfulness into our solitude. We can remain still, give thanks to God, recognize God’s presence, and acknowledge the God of Jacob is our God.