Let all the earth be still
What is the meaning of this virus that has contaminated the earth?
One thing that comes to mind is that famous text in Psalm 46: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
COVID-19 has stopped us in our tracks. It has forced us to keep still, so we may hear God and hopefully know him better.
Bible scholars tell us that the original Hebrew word for “be still” is literally to “relax one’s grip,” to let go of whatever it is that we are hanging on to or is occupying us. In Latin, we are told, “be still” is translated as “vacare,” where we get the word “vacation.”
To those of us who carry great responsibility, this means that we learn to “vacate,” to empty our seats of responsibility. In vacating that seat, we are likely to see more of who he is and what he can do without us.
Many of us want to know God. But we do not take time to be still. We pray for his presence, when really he is always there. It is us who are not present, not attentive to whatever it is he is saying.
So what is it that he may be saying through this colossal pandemic?
The Psalmist invites us to “Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth.” (Psalm 46.8)
Part of the work God may be doing is to make us see our utter helplessness, the uselessness of the things we have devised to make our lives livable without God. Our technologies can only do so much; medical science, no matter how sophisticated, could not in the end save those brought low by this disease.
We are being asked to discover more deeply the God who, in a very strange way, is at work through the desolation.
It is testing our resilience, our ability to weather hardship, hunger, and inactivity. For the first time, we are locked down in our houses, with nothing to do but to watch the news, engage our friends and enemies in social media, or watch Netflix after cleaning up and clearing all the cobwebs and the junk. Some are now losing their spiritual and mental health.
This space — this sudden vacuum in our lives — may in fact be a gift.
We can view this enforced lockdown as isolation — or as solitude, a time when we can rest, sleep, pray, reflect, and gather strength. As we shut out the noise, we gather up inner resources to face the suffering and grief and wrong, all the disgusting shamelessness of it.
Officials who take advantage of their power to be the first in line for testing, when so many are dying undiagnosed and untreated for lack of access to testing kits. Congressmen who do a mere day’s work, then pose like the medical frontliners who risk their lives day in and day out. A senator callously rides roughshod over hospital protocols, endangering a whole unit and further decimating the thinning ranks of hospital staff. Another senator stamps his name on PPEs and other hospital supplies donated by others, as early as now politicking for a rumored presidential bid.
As always, the powers unthinkingly issue decrees that hit the poor the hardest, while their minions target those competently taking initiative, like the Vice President and a young mayor in Pasig who has shown imagination in facing this crisis.
All these make us feel hopeless. This feeling is not new; it is a theme that runs through many of the Psalms.
In Psalm 62, David tells us: “Trust God, my friends, and always tell him each one of your concerns. God is our place of safety.” Because we can be sure of two things: that he is strong, and loves us because he is good.
We may not know the why and wherefore of all that is happening to us. But then in Jesus, we are told, “all things hold together.” The center holds, because there sits a good God who loves us even through this crisis.
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Melba Padilla Maggay, Ph.D., is president of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture.
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