Then they cried to God in their trouble,
and God saved them from their distress;
God sent out God’s word and healed them,
and delivered them from destruction.
What a year. Do you remember last year at this time? Stores and restaurants were just beginning the shutdown, along with the NBA and NCAA tournaments. Zoom happy hour was a novel idea that we couldn’t wait to try out. You started baking bread along with everyone else on the internet. No one could find toilet paper or disinfectant wipes, unless you were the one hoarding them, which means you probably still have more than you need. Face masks were a new addition to our wardrobe – would these really catch on? And everyone seemed confident that this whole “COVID-19 thing” would evaporate with the warmer weather.
But now, a year later, we have face masks to match our outfits, Zoom happy hour has been replaced by Zoom fatigue, we’ve seen shutdowns and reopenings and a second wave and people gathering in large groups for holidays and parties and even church services, simply because their individual freedom is more important than our communal safety. And often in these group gatherings, especially the church-related ones, I hear them say “faith, not fear,” as if believing the right thing will keep me safe from an airborne pathogen. Or as if these two things were even opposites choosing one negates the other.
This posture comes to mind when I think of Psalm 108: “they cried to God in their trouble and God saved them and healed them and delivered them from destruction.” And while a text like this can be comforting in the midst of a global pandemic, it can too easily lead to the idea that you can just pray the pandemic away, almost daring people to gather in groups without masks as a test of their faith.
I often find myself wanting to respond to the “faith, not fear” crowd with “science, not stupidity.” But I usually hold my tongue. Usually.
What if instead of seeing faith and fear as opposites we saw them working together. Because there are some moments when fear is the appropriate response — not to stoke paranoia or cause a panic, but just to recognize that fear is an emotion that is induced by a perceived danger or threat and can cause physiological and behavioral changes. And often in the Bible we see the word “fear” used in relation to God, not that we should fear God as if God were some perceived danger or threat, but “fear” as in profound reverence or awe.
And in this sense, fear is a natural response to the past twelve months, both responding to the perceived and very real danger of a global pandemic that has taken the lives of too many people and the awe we can feel at the ways humanity has come together during this time, offering empathy and support, cheering outside of open windows, discovering new ways to stay connected even when we must be apart, and seeing a worldwide science community come together to develop multiple vaccines that help us see the end of this chapter and the possibility of a new one just a few pages away.
It’s ok to have faith and fear. Life is rarely an either/or but a perpetual both/and.
And just like the Psalm says, we can cry to God in our trouble, and God will save us from our distress. Because God has hands — they’re attached to our wrists. Our human innovation and ingenuity to heal this world and all of us in it is the work of God.
Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson — Miracles do happen. God will heal us. God will deliver us from destruction.
May it be so.
It is so incredibly hard. In a place where conspiracy theories abound; and I mean literally abound. I was accosted with another one recently, by the daughter of a congregant to whom I was delivering a Sunshine Bag; a bag of yellow delightful goodies to cheer folks and let them know their church loves them. When I remarked on her comment that the virus had been taken out of proportion she told me that a nurse in our county said that COVID death stats had been wrongly inflated in order to get more government COVID transfer dollars. I do not have the energy to counter every one. It’s like swatting flies in a barn.
You have, though, given me some new sermon fodder to speak on fear. Maybe this could help move the needle a titch. Thank you for helping.