From the Church Magazine, May 2020 (click this link to see the full version)
It was hard to foresee the lockdown. Although some spoke about it years before. For example, following the Ebola outbreak in 2014 it was suggested by Bill Gates (former head of Microsoft) that it was time to put all our good ideas into practice, from scenario planning to vaccine research to health worker training. For the next global catastrophe would not be a bomb, but a virus. Sketching out a disrupted world is not quite so new, as the English author James Ballard wrote in the sixties about environmental disaster. What do we do now?
The main strategy has been to stay home and stay healthy. What is primarily a global health disaster has seen alarming figures of infection and the proportion of deaths that have resulted is larger than we feared. Public support for our health workers, who have given their all, is heartening. But the ramifications on mental health, unresolved grief and the challenge of future conditions (both economic and social) have yet to be seen.
Apparently the first point in a disaster manual is the reminder that the disaster will eventually pass. Perhaps that will be the case when you read this. But we need a lot more to sustain us than knowing there is a finishing tape to break through.
The writers of the Bible faced huge difficulties and severe trials, but were inspired by God to deliver his word. It is this word which is precious for today. The Apostle Paul spent time in the isolation of prison, where he wrote many letters to sustain others in their own struggles. To the church at Philippi he encouraged them to rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances. We sometimes say, “count your blessings” and might even decide to write on paper things we can thank God for during the day to use later on in a time of prayer.
But Paul also gives an instruction that is like opening the window for fresh air: ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have heard or learned from me or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you’ (Phil 4v8-9). We can fill our minds with good and up-building things, or with things that unhelpfully lead in a downwards spiral. When we fix our eyes on God’s gifts then we will be sustained, but also inspired to continue to pray and serve where we can at this time of national emergency and beyond.