THERE IS A REFRAIN FROM AN OLD HYMN, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” that rings in my ears these days:
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is shifting sand.
All other ground is shifting sand.
We are in the midst of a massive national — and global — shock. A few weeks ago our worlds had the contours of normalcy. It felt like our lives have been turned upside down overnight. Our normal expectations that we live our lives by have been swept away in a tidal wave of change. Life and death are suddenly front and center of our consciousness. Our carefully balanced finances have been thrown into disarray. The ability to gather with folks you love in times of trouble has been erased. Uncertainty is the only certainty about the future.
One consequence of times like this is that it strips away the facades of our lives — individually and as a nation. It moves us past the particularity of our theologies to the bedrock question: how does God work in times like these?
As one of my pastor’s said years ago when I was facing a disaster that shook my faith structure, “Jan, we are not pets of God’s universe.” The rain falls on the just and the unjust. Pandemics take their toll on folks who trust the Divine and folks who don’t. A faith that is constructed around keeping us safe is built on shaky ground.
Similarly, faith that is grounded in the hope that tomorrow will be better than today leaves us anxious as we await what will be. We are never truly at rest until we experience the outcomes. That leaves needing to reassure ourselves and one another that everything will turn out all right. But, at least for me, that meant I had to push down the reality that some of “us” will live, some will die. Some will come out of this in pretty good shape; some will have their lives devastated. Hope based on outcomes becomes stretched thin.
The sturdy faith that has given me resiliency arrived years ago when I “discovered” what was sitting in front of me in Scripture: the Kingdom of God. Though that phrase is mentioned over 100 times in the New Testament, I had no concept of what it really meant. I supposed that it was a picture of millennium when all would be peace and fulfilment as we lived in the unhindered reign and culture of God. It was part of the hope of heaven.
But with that amazing clarity that openings bring, one day I understood that what Jesus came to do was tell us and model what God was like AND make it possible and practical to become partners in transformation. We can live in the resurrection life of Christ in which everything we encounter has the potential to be breathed upon by the Spirit through us. Situations can be horribly misaligned from God’s good intent, but we can co-create with the Spirit to bring Life from brokenness, suffering and destruction.
As Thomas Kelly would say this vision of the Kingdom of God changed my faith from a difference of degree to a difference in kind. The teachings of Jesus left the realm of aspirational goals or “ought’s” and “should’s” and blossomed into my handbook of how-to free God’s power and presence to do its good work in any situation. The good news became present tense. The realm of God was a here and now possibility. Or to put it another way, this was incredibly good news that I didn’t have to be a victim of life’s circumstances. I could align with God’s purposes in such a way that God’s work was freed wherever I was, whatever circumstance I found myself in. My alignment with Jesus’ character and wisdom unleashed the Divine into the common and the extraordinary. As I lived into this discovery, I found out experientially that when I did a task or faced a situation in the power of the Spirit — with the behavior of the Spirit — things became transformed. It didn’t depend upon my being a success. It didn’t depend on how tough or pleasant the situation was. When I was obedient and acting in alignment with God’s heart, new possibilities emerged. Many times the impossible became the possible. People changed. Situations changed. While I can never predict how they will change I have years of knowing that when Spirit is at work, precious things unfold. It is totally true that all things can work together to be useful if we stay aligned with that which is filled with love, with trust in the goodness of God despite all we see, and are aligned with kindness, mercy and compassion for all. This motion of God remakes our inward life and flows out to God-filled behaviors. This is a sturdy faith foundation to face — even embrace — whatever comes with the adventure of seeing what God will do.
And it is with this vision that we can meet this perilous pandemic that crowds upon every part of our lives. God is still creating; and so can we. I love what Pope Francis wrote this last week in an article titled “A Plan for Resurrection.” This excerpt comes from the Washington Post’s reporting of it:
The biblical story of Jesus Christ’s resurrection serves as a paradigm for how to fight this epidemic, as well as “other epidemics that beset us,” such as poverty, war and global indifference, with the “necessary antibodies of justice, charity and solidarity.”
“Let us not be afraid to live the alternative civilization of love.”