I have a confession to make. I’m naïve. The day etched into the memories of anyone over the age of twenty-five or thirty, is likewise implanted in mine. I remember September 11, 2001, better than any other single day of high school. It began quite normally; because I lived in the Mountain Time Zone, I heard the news of the first plane crashing into the North Tower on the radio as I was getting ready for school. Completely oblivious to the concept of terrorism on American soil, I naively dismissed the report as pilot error and tried to file the story away so that when I saw it in the newspaper the next day, I would feel “in the know.” Then I went to the kitchen and toasted some Pop Tarts for breakfast. Later, I drove to school and watched that same tower fall on live television during first hour and heard the name Osama Bin Laden for the first time. I told you—naïve. Perhaps that’s forgivable for a sixteen-year-old living in pre-9/11 Wyoming, but my global-crisis naivete reared its head again as our current nemesis COVID-19 took center-stage. Like you, I never would have predicted a shutdown of the entire world, and once it happened, I naively believed it would last only a couple of weeks. We’d hunker down, the curve would flatten, and—bibbidy-bobbidy-boo!—normal life would resume. Now, six weeks in (or is it 8? 15? I’ve lost all concept of time here in the corona time vortex.), naivete is gone and cynicism has set in. It seems that churches will never open up, that gray roots and split ends will be in vogue forever, and that sports are a fond but distant memory of a bygone era. I realize I’m being a bit maudlin, but maybe you identify with my despondency.
John Piper has famously said that God is always doing a thousand things, while we are aware of maybe three of them. Well, in the case of COVID-19, I think we’d agree that God is doing a billion things (probably more), and we’re aware of maybe five of them. We each have our stories of how God is using quarantine to sanctify us. Perhaps He’s been teaching you to depend on Him as your retirement portfolio has shriveled or you’ve been asked to go on furlough from work; maybe you suffer from an underlying health condition that makes the prospect of contracting the virus extra terrifying and have had to surrender your anxiety about your health to God; or maybe you’ve been learning patience and kindness in the midst of figuring out how to work from home and homeschool your kids and tell them over and over that they can’t go anywhere or do anything extra; or perhaps you’ve just been fighting for joy in the midst of prolonged loneliness. Yes, God is at work in you just as He has been in me. And that’s great, but you know what? I just really want things to go back to normal, don’t you?
I want to get up on a Sunday morning, set my oven to bake lunch while I’m gone, and go to church to worship with my church family. I want to teach a Bible study and talk to people in the same room as me, not just to my computer screen. I want to never ever EVER hear the term “social distancing” again. I want to get my hair cut (which is saying something because it doesn’t happen often!). I want to go out to dinner and have a waiter come to my table, take my order, and bring me my food in the restaurant. I want to go to Starbucks and enjoy a latte and a long chat with a friend. I want to enjoy fellowship in my home with people who don’t live here. You get the idea. You have your list as well. Simply put, I want pre-corona life.
Jesus teaches us a little bit about this type of deep craving for something, but it’s not normalcy. Right in the middle of what we know today as the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us that the blessed, flourishing, good-life-living person will hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6). The words used for hunger and thirst in this verse are the most extreme Greek has for desiring food and drink. To give you an idea, the same word for hunger is used of Jesus just a chapter earlier after He had fasted for forty days (Matt 4:2). I’ve never fasted for forty days, but I can imagine that at the end you’d have some pretty intense hunger pangs. It’s that desperation for food that we are to bring to our longing for righteousness. However, if you go back and reread the previous paragraph, it’s clear that what I’m craving isn’t righteousness at all.
Yes, I want God to work in my circumstances (and He has), but the question I find myself asking right now is, “Would I trade the righteousness God has been working in me for my old “normal” life? I know that the right answer is a resounding “of course not!” But my laundry list of desires reveals the true longing of my heart.
To be clear, I don’t think it’s wrong to hope that your country or state opens up soon or that this pandemic finally comes to an end. Beyond mere inconveniences, this crisis has devastated many lives and taken many more; and it’s right that we pray for an end of these difficult, even tragic, times. And I hope if you’ve been affected in one of these ways, you’ll forgive me for what seems like trivializing a grave situation. I’m writing today not so much exhortationally but confessionally. The burden on my heart is that I crave more than just a worship service, dinner with friends, or a vaccine. If I think that’s what “good” will look like, I will be disappointed. If I think that I will never again be dissatisfied with things at my church when we finally get to meet together again, I’m a fool. If I think a burger and freckled lemonade at Red Robin will satisfy, I am disillusioned. And if I naively believe that a vaccine will bring about the good life, I will come up empty again. As good as those things will be, Matthew 5:6 warns that to look for satisfaction in anything other than righteousness—shorthand for God Himself and His character—is to search in the wrong place. No church service, family get-together, birthday party, vacation, dinner out, flat curve, or inoculation will satisfy. Those things are good gifts from a loving God, but they will not satisfy me. And, if I may be so bold, even a much-needed paycheck or soaring economy–as wonderful as those things will be–will not ultimately satisfy.
There will be life after COVID. I’m (pretty much) convinced of it. It will probably look different, but it will be recognizable. However, I don’t want to just “hang on” long enough to get there. Yes, I look forward to it, but may God forgive me for yearning for normalcy more fervently than for His righteousness. We need not prolong our stay in quarantine in order to try to find righteousness; we must seek it regardless of our circumstances. And that’s the point. I need to seek it now, today, in these circumstances. By God’s lavish and forbearing grace, may I crave His righteousness, not a “normal” life.