After Two Whole Years

Have We Humbled Ourselves Yet?

Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you. (1 Peter 5:6)

Two years ago today, the dominoes were falling. We all can tell our own stories of realizing, one announcement after another, that our world seemed to be changing overnight.

As cancelations and lockdowns were sweeping the globe, God was humbling us — and no doubt, a thousand other good purposes besides. But he was humbling us, and no less than that. You and me, Christian — starting with the world’s most developed nations — God was humbling us. A truly global pandemic was, and continues to be, a stunning display of the global reach of his mighty hand (1 Peter 5:6), and his gentle, lovingly permissive fingers (Luke 22:31).

The question isn’t whether his humbling hand descended (and is still descending), but have we acknowledged it? Have we filled our heads with natural explanations? Have we run to news, and reports about science, to explain it in full and calm our anxieties? Have you traced the compounding disruptions, inconveniences, tragedies, divisions, to the sovereign permission and saving providence of God?

He has humbled us. That much is clear. Yet the question remains, Have we humbled ourselves? Have we acknowledged his mighty and merciful hand, and received his humbling in faith, and even welcomed his uncomfortable work?

Touchy Terrain

Perhaps many of us would say that in the last two years, we’ve come to learn more scientific and epidemiological concepts and terms, but what, if anything, have we newly learned about our God, ourselves, and his world? In particular, have we realized the fragility of our knowledge, and our bodies, and our relationships, and our societies? How much of our securities and comforts have been exposed as built on sand?

For starters, count with me just a few of the ways a global pandemic has humbled us. First, the threat of death humbled us and fed the initial fear and hysteria. And with it, disruption of normal life humbled us. Even many who may not have feared death lamented the loss of the Final Four, the NBA, and Major League Baseball. And school and office closings changed households overnight.

The lockdowns, and their effects, humbled us. And masks humbled us. Oh did they, and do they still. Put this on your face, or go home. And of course, the vaccine has humbled us, with its attendant risks and uncertainties (one way or the other!) and its personal, practical implications — and then, making decisions for our children. But we have not only been humbled as individuals and families.

Governments have been humbled. Political parties humbled. Schools and businesses humbled. And yes, churches humbled. Overnight, our corporate worship gatherings faced new uncertainties, ushering us into touchy terrain to navigate among our own people (not to mention external hoops and pressures).

Two-Year Mark

In and through a global pandemic God has unleashed, at many times and in many ways, strong admonitions and gentle reminders, shouts and whispers, sharp exposures and gracious exhortations to the righteous and the wicked, to the believing and unbelieving alike.

“Objectively, God has humbled our world through COVID-19, but has our world humbled itself before him?”

And what do we say of its duration, to date? Joseph waited “two whole years” (Genesis 41:1) in further lockdown when the cupbearer forgot him. We too now stand at the mark of two whole years of this slow-moving calamity, wave after wave, variant after variant, month after month, for two trips around the sun — and how much longer? Years? How will COVID cast its long shadow on the rest of our lives? We don’t know. That’s humbling.

But being humbled is one thing; admitting it, and even welcoming it, is another. Objectively, God has humbled our world through COVID-19, but has our world, in general, subjectively humbled itself before him?

Divine Purpose and Help

Without making undue pronouncements about what God is doing, or not, we might be wise to ask ourselves, Is the duration of this pandemic some dim reflection of our collective pride and hardness of heart, and how few have received God’s humbling hand through humbled hearts and self-humbling prayers?

Have we occupied ourselves with expert and armchair epidemiology and economics and politics, according to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2), rather than faced the fact head-on that our God is in the heavens and does as he pleases (Psalm 115:3)? As Nebuchadnezzar learned about the Most High, after a long humbling of “seven periods of time” (Daniel 4:32), “None can stay his hand” (Daniel 4:35). As the prophet asked rhetorically, Does disaster come to a city — or to the whole world — unless God has done it (Amos 3:6)?

How much have we who are in Christ let the world’s conversation about causes and correlations and effects and metrics keep us from seeing through the fog and going to our knees? And there, prostrate before our God, have we asked not how God is humbling our newly perceived ideological foes, but what is his application to me? God, help me. Please take the log out of my eye first. I humble myself before you.

How Has God Humbled Me?

I confess that I have been slower than I would have wished to make a practice of owning COVID’s humblings. It wasn’t until sometime last year, that I started keeping a piece of paper in my Bible for making a running tally of how COVID had humbled me — in hopes of seeking to humble myself daily before God. I share just a few items from the list to let you know the kind of humblings I have in mind.

First, the pandemic has humbled me to own the limits of my knowledge, all around. Why pretend to know more than I do? Why not acknowledge my limits? Why not remember, and embrace, my finitude? That I, as a creature, do not make my own reality, and in the grand scheme know very little about so much that makes the world turn. My body and health are human, and fragile, and the creation is cursed, because of human sin, and subject to futility (Romans 8:20).

“Pandemics, wars, hurricanes, wildfires remind us that this place is not our final home.”

Not only do I not know as much as I often pretend, but I am in far less control than I assume. That a virus invisible to the naked eye would affect just about every aspect of life reminds me that this is my Father’s world, not mine. So much in modern life conditions us to pretend it’s ours. Pandemics, wars, hurricanes, wildfires remind us that this place is not our final home. In our worlds of sand, God’s word is the only sure rock on which to stand.

COVID has humbled me to see the fragility of society and relationships. First we felt it with uncomfortable barriers to gathering in person: lockdowns, masks, now vax cards. In some of our longest standing and more precious communities, new fault lines have emerged, new priorities have energy. In the disruption, dear friends have changed cities and churches. The separation hurts. In places, divisions have seemed to grow along ethnic lines. My own city has been shown to be far more fragile than I would have guessed. Even dear sister churches have endured painful pressures and fracturing.

I have been brought low to consider afresh how I spend my time. Public discourse in big-tech apps has exposed how vacuous most of it has been for ten years. Jurassic Park seemed amazing, until the dinosaurs started eating people. It’s humbling to think how much better I could have invested what little time I gave to social media over the last decade.

The last humbling to note here pertains to economic fragility. I spent almost forty years of my life assuming I could acquire basic goods whenever I wanted. The Internet seemed to make that even easier. It’s humbling for an urbanite like me to be reminded that without nearby stores, an automobile and gas, and a working supply line, I could have nothing to eat in a matter of days.

Have You Paused?

What about you? How have these last two years humbled you? Not just circumstantially, but in your own soul before God? And have you paused to humble yourself under his mighty, globally sovereign hand?

Let me encourage you to pause with me and acknowledge the God of COVID-19. He is sovereign, and he is good. Jesus Christ, who lived as one of us in this diseased world, and died for sins not his own, rose again in triumph, and sits on heaven’s throne, wielding his scepter with the care, intensions, and skill of a life-saving surgeon with his scalpel. Jesus is accomplishing, and will accomplish, all his wise and good purposes in and through a global pandemic. He is humbling the world. And his people will humble themselves under his mighty hand, repent as needed (Luke 13:3, 5), and give him glory (Revelation 11:13; 16:9).

And one day soon, without minimizing any of the pain, disruption, loss, and difficulty, we will praise and thank him for the severe mercy of COVID-19.