“What has happened to create this doubt is that a problem (such as a deep conflict or a bad experience) has been allowed to usurp God’s place and become the controlling principle of life. Instead of viewing the problem from the vantage point of faith, the doubter views faith from the vantage point of the problem. Instead of faith sizing up the problem, the situation ends with the problem scaling down faith. The world of faith is upside down, and in the topsy-turvy reality of doubt, a problem has become god and God has become a problem.“
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous. Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice.
“Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.” (Acts 2:43 NIV)
Today’s word for Creative Meditations for Lent has taken me in a different direction than I expected. I started thinking about awe in the above verse.
I’ve decided my definition of awe (like most other people’s, I suspect) has been entirely inadequate. We use it so casually as in, “You did an awesome job, kid.”
Other translations of the Bible use the word fear instead of awe. I looked it up. The word in Greek is phobos, the root of ‘phobia’ –a fear so strong it makes us want to run away (like the Children of Israel wanted to run away when God showed up on Mt. Sinai.)
Phobos appears in this passage as well:
People will faint from terror [phobos], apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. (Luke 21:26)
If we use the word awe instead of fear it gives a sense of how much the word awe has been devalued.
People will faint from awe.
For years I have sung “Our God is an awesome God” with the same fervour as if the lyrics had been, “Our God is a pretty impressive God.” Some of us have hit the other ditch in reaction to the sermons about a wrathful, vengeful God that neglected emphasis on his overwhelming love, mercy, and grace. Have we gone too far the other way? We can’t ignore the scripture about awe/fear of a God more powerful than we can imagine. Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
We have no idea what awe really means. But I think we are about to find out.
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,bless those who curse you, pray for those who are abusive to you.”
Jesus Christ (Luke 6:27, 28)
What if what is missing in the lives of people who hate you, who want to see you silenced, cancelled, dismissed is an experience of grace? What if people who don’t deserve it (like all of us) experience the goodness of God through the blessings of those they shun?
What if we prayed for and not against all the people Jesus loved so much that he gave his life to reconcile them to their creator?
What if those of us who know what it means to have been loved by the Lover of our souls while we were still far from him come out and demonstrate? What if we come alongside our haters in radical demonstrations of the love he has poured out for us?
Feels counterintuitive, doesn’t it? It would take a radical shift in our first-reaction mindsets.
But what if Christians believed Jesus? How would culture shift?
Not everyone is there yet, but many health officials around the world are starting to talk about life post-pandemic. I don’t think we are prepared for this any more than we were prepared for the unlabelled corona virus when it first spread across our continent. It may take a while to let go of the sense of being on high alert that has ruled our decisions for the past how many? … too many months.
I’m choosing to write about what I think we may see shortly because I feel qualified. I’m a triple vaxxed, law-abiding, “extremely vulnerable” senior who is ready to move on. I’m in the category of people all these measures were supposedly taken to save and I say thank you and I say enough now. It’s time to start thinking about approaching this differently. In my life I’ve seen financial reversals, tornados, floods, wildfires, near-death experiences, and the post-crisis crises with PTSD symptoms that inevitably played out later.
We have been focussed on survival because we needed to be. We are now accustomed to seeing signs on doors and walls reminding us to mask, distance, and isolate. We’ve heard public service announcements on every speaker reminding us that danger lurks everywhere. As images of hundreds dying in the hallways of hospitals popped up on our screens, we needed to be aware of how our choices affect other people – and how other people’s choices affect us.
Some people were better than others at adapting and not letting the fear get to them, but we all face another big adjustment soon. Even countries that enforced extremely controlling regulations are beginning to admit that the current highly contagious, but less lethal variant means the virus cannot be by eliminated like smallpox was. The health minister in my province, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has said, “We have to change our way of thinking.”
The reality is we are now dealing with a virus that is still very serious to some but merely disrupting and unpleasant for most. The time is approaching to come out of our caves and learn to live with it in our midst like we live with the flu and the common cold.
When the day is finally here I expect there will be a time of celebration for those of us who survived. But there will also be shock and mourning as we start seeing the devastation both the disease and measures taken to stop it have caused around us.
Every day we have seen statistics on case numbers and deaths. What we haven’t seen are daily statistics on businesses lost, case numbers on anxiety and depression, suicides and accidental overdose, bankruptcies and homelessness, and numbers on massive increases in personal and national debt.
We have not yet reckoned with the number of people in mourning for those who died, marriages that have crumbled under the stress, school-aged children who have missed quality education or opportunities for training in extracurricular sports and arts programs, and university students who failed to make important social connections on campus as they instead watched zoom lectures alone in the basement.
For many struggling people, savings for retirement or higher education or down payments on first homes have slipped away and left only a vague memory. Trust in institutions and authorities has similarly faded as questions arise about whose best interest motivated decisions. Some of the mess we will see when our eyes adjust to sunlight ain’t gonna be pretty.
Recently, I have become aware of so many people who have mourned the loss of loved ones during lockdowns without hospital visits to say goodbye, funerals to honour, or the person-to-person comfort we once knew how to give. Some have told me they still need closure. As well as a time of celebration I think we are going to need a time of mourning for those lost not only to the pandemic, but those lost to the consequences of lockdowns, travel restrictions, and quarantines.
We haven’t begun to count the cost of delayed medical diagnosis and treatment. My own scans and appointments with my oncologist and other specialists were delayed by up to nine months –and this was at a time when our local hospital had few, if any, covid cases. I’m good enough for now, thanks for asking, but I know whereof I speak. The wait wasn’t easy. Others have suffered much more than I have. My daughter grieves for a friend who died of cancer that was diagnosed far too late due to postponements.
I believe that our whole country, as well as most others, will soon face a time of mourning if they haven’t already. Not everyone will experience the stages of shock, denial, anger, depression, and acceptance at the same time, nor to the same degree, but we might see a lot of people experiencing feelings of anger or depression at the same time. Tread gently.
My own anger was triggered the other day by the sight of dirty discarded masks in a parking lot. It took me a while to realize it wasn’t about the stupid masks. It was about what they represented – all the inconvenience, fear, feeling unheard, and feeling pushed into choosing sides when I could see more than one side. It was about living in unnatural isolation and loneliness without seeing my sons and daughters-in-law or some of my grandchildren for over two years. It was about not being able to say goodbye to friends. It was about the pain of trying to communicate in a cyberworld with people who could be nastier than I ever realized. It was about too much and too little.
It was about grief. I cried and eventually found peace again. Who knew the sight of a muddy mask in the gutter could evoke so much emotion?
Some people are experiencing the first exciting glimpses of hope that this war may soon be over. Many others are already experiencing the anger stage of grief and are standing up and shouting “Enough!” I am one.
Someone told me that anger is a secondary emotion. It’s like a fix engine light on the dashboard of vehicle. It doesn’t tell us what exactly is wrong, just that something is wrong. Something is not working. Ignoring anger, stifling it, or legislating it away will not work. We are going to have to work through this emotion stuff or we risk even greater division, distrust, and more demonstrations of deep pain than we have thus seen.
Historically, the years after pandemics have involved great upheaval. Anger after tragic loss seeks someone to blame. People will start looking for those responsible for “poisoning the well” like they did after previous plagues. Those who could be in the line of fire may try to redirect blame or even become persecutors of scapegoats themselves. It could turn nasty.
OR people can make one more big voluntary sacrifice of personal rights. After the reckoning and counting the cost, we can choose to extend forgiveness. We can move toward reconciliation. Reconciliation goes beyond forgiveness. Reconciliation requires transparent honesty and the willingness to seriously listen to folks from on all sides, but I believe it is possible.
So, what am I saying? Love.
Love is what I am saying. Love is the way out of this mess.
We have got to get our love on. Without love we aren’t going to make it through this next phase intact.
Whether you believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, a prophet, or just a good teacher, his teaching of love instead of hate, forgiveness instead of revenge, kindness instead of greed, and hopefulness instead of hopelessness is the only thing that will revive our souls and allow us to live in the light again.
When I was in Jr. High I sang a duet with a classmate for the opening of Confederation Park in Calgary. (He later became a “Crazy Canuck” skier and won the World Cup Ski Championship – how Canadian!) Some of the songs we sang came back to me today, especially the concluding line of the Canada Centennial song by Bobby Gimby. My prayer is that soon we will grieve the loss, heal the rifts, and sing,
Merrily we roll along, together all the way! Ensemble!
You’re kind and tenderhearted to those who don’t deserve it
and very patient with people who fail you.
Your love is like a flooding river overflowing its banks with kindness.
God, everyone sees your goodness,
for your tender love is blended into everything you do.
(Psalm 145:8,9 TPT)
When Martha complained to Jesus that her sister was not helping with the serving and doing what women were expected to do, he confronted her with this: “Martha! Your anxieties are distracting you from what is really important!”
Sometimes we are so anxious about what might happen we forget that when we invite him in, the Saviour is right here in our hearts. Even though we are anxious about tomorrow his goodness surrounds us today. When we set down our worries we can see beauty again.