Something is going on in us.
We are less in control of our lives than most of us have ever been. Covid-19 has become the pry-bar, and every person and situation seems to know how to get under us and move us somewhere. We are tugged on, and our roots are loosened.
“They”—whoever they are—know what is best for us. Do this. We listen, and feel like we need to respond to physicians, politicians, prognisticators, pastors, and protesters from a million different vantage points. In normal humans, this situation creates anxiety, frustration, confusion, doubt and impatience. Somebody, anybody, just figure this out!
This is what sociologists and psychologists call this pressurized process, a fancy name to toss at your friends over coffee. It happens when you feel pulled like taffy in too many directions, with little certainty over the outcomes. Like you are losing your way. Losing yourself.
A pilot flying in a storm feels this when his gut, his brain, and his instruments don’t agree with where he (and the plane) is spatially. Climb or dive? Turn right or left? Some people with extreme cases of egocentric disorientation have to learn their way to the kitchen each morning.
God, it seems from Scripture, allows us to feel egocentric disorientation. He even uses it. Adam, David, Job, Noah, Peter, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, the prophets, and many others — all have times of God-ordained confusion. Job 5:9-14 reminds us that God is famous for his unexpected acts and surprises, which throw us all into disorientation, uncertainty, and darkness. Even Jesus, perhaps, feels this for a moment in the Garden of Gethsemane?
When we feel disorientation, often the Father God is trying expose our hearts to us. Or he is working to reorient us toward his way of thinking, and his manner of responding. Like exposing a compass to a magnet, the needle spins. And we wait for it to settle to true north.
To do this, often he uses the storms, the difficulties, and the disasters of life. In his perfect time, God uses these pressures to push us out of our normal shape, softening our hardened clay like hot water. And then, in his kneading hands, we can be formed again, into something more Christ-like. Struggles become the new chance on the Potter’s wheel.
Eugene Peterson writes about this understanding disasters in our world from the perspective of the Prophet Joel. It applies to the Corona virus season, I think:
When disaster strikes, understanding of God is at risk. Unexpected illness or death, national catastrophe, social disruption, personal loss, plague or epidemic, devastation by flood or drought, turn men and women who haven’t given God a thought in years into instant theologians. Rumors fly…..
It is the task of the prophet to stand up at such moments of catastrophe and clarify who God is and how he acts. If the prophet is good- that is, accurate and true- the disaster becomes a lever for prying people’s lives loose from their sins and setting them free for God. Joel is one of the good ones: He used a current event in Israel as a text to call his people to an immediate awareness that there wasn’t a day that went by that they weren’t dealing with God.
We are always dealing with God.
The event that Joel used as a text was a terrible locust plague that was devastating the crops of Israel. But any catastrophe would have served him as well. He projected it onto a big screen and used it to focus the reality of God in the lives of his people…
There is a sense in which catastrophe doesn’t introduce anything new into our lives. It simply exposes the moral or spiritual reality that already exists but was hidden beneath an overlay of routine, self-preoccupation, and business as usual. Then suddenly, there it is before us: a moral universe in which our accumulated decisions- on what we say and do, on how we treat others, on whether or not we will obey God’s commands- are set in the stark light of God’s judgment.
In our everyday experience, right and wrong and the decisions we make about them seldom come to us neatly packaged and precisely defined. Joel’s prophetic words continue to reverberate down through the generations, making the ultimate connection between anything, small or large, that disrupts our daily routine, and God, giving us fresh opportunity to reorient our lives in faithful obedience…while there is still time and space for a lot of good living to the glory of God.
(Peterson, Introduction to Joel in the Conversations Bible)
This virus season is confusing. Good. Even the good pilot feels egocentric disorientation sometimes. But they have learned a lesson: ignore your gut and choose to trust you instruments. It is a hard lesson, but it keeps them from crashing. So, too with us. Look at the instruments of God’s Word and Voice. No matter what you are feeling. Reorient yourself.
“Our God, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
(2 Chronicles 20:12)