Reflections on Covid-19

I don’t know what I’m going to write. This post is for my “Christian Journey” blog, but I don’t know how comfortably it will fit. Covid-19 is part of all our journeys today, and I feel that I need to write about what I see, in others and in myself. I still don’t know what I’m going to write. I’ll just start, and see where I go.

I’ve been affected personally by the pandemic. Not as hard as many millions, but I’ve lost a friend of over 20 years who made me smile countless times. I don’t know if it’s that, or the loneliness of lockdown, but I’ve started getting quite upset, and angry, about some of the things I’m reading.

There’s the ridiculous conspiracy theories. As if this situation was deliberately engineered, or at least manipulated to subjugate or decimate the population. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen a huge number of bad decisions made in my own and other countries. Some people may have even made cynical attempts to gain from human misery. But whatever the genesis of this strain of coronavirus, its spread from the beginning has been the result of natural behaviours, viral and human. There is no evidence to the contrary, just theories concocted to satisfy particular world views. When I read the imaginations of conspiracists I don’t know how to feel. There’s anger that they and those who believe them are diverting precious time and energy from more helpful pursuits. There’s sadness that some hurting people will be fooled into believing fairy tales at a time when their emotions are most fragile and malleable. And there’s frustration that no amount of reasoned argument can change their mind, because if I don’t accept their narrative I’m either part of the problem or one of the gullible masses.

There’s the claims that the virus isn’t as contagious or as deadly as we’re told, and that the restrictions to our civil liberties are out of proportion to the threat. I’ve heard people suggest that the fact that the NHS hasn’t been completely overwhelmed shows that the UK government overreacted. I work in IT, and I have done for nearly 25 years, which means I was there at the heart of the Y2K panic. When we didn’t suffer blackouts and ATM failures and planes falling out of sky there was a large number of the population that ridiculed the effort and expense of fixing the “millennium bug.” I can tell you that there was a huge amount of code that had been written without any expectation of still running in the year 2000, or what the consequences might be. If the remedial work hadn’t taken place then it probably wouldn’t have caused an apocalypse but many companies and authorities would have suffered massive system failures and this would have led to all kinds of stresses for members of the public. Similarly, without social distancing and other precautions the already dreadful number of Covid-19 fatalities would definitely have been many times higher. Here’s an interesting article explaining how this can be demonstrated in responses to the 1918 influenza pandemic.

There’s the small number of religious leaders who don’t understand that God is omnipresent, who don’t understand that a church building is just a building, not the church, and who hold on to either a paranoid idea that government is trying to destroy religion by treating them the same as other groups, or a messianic belief that their congregations will be lost to the darkness if kept away from their physical presence for too long. I’m grateful to be part of a faith community that understands and works with the realities of this world while seeking practical ways to improve that reality for those who are truly oppressed.

And of course there are the political leaders who have failed to lead effectively. As I said to my friends on Facebook, I don’t expect perfection from members of the government any more than I would from any other human being. But I do expect a few things. I expect them to forego secrecy and spin in the face of a national and global crisis. I expect them to learn from their mistakes and from the successes of leaders elsewhere – not when this is all over, but now, while learning from mistakes could save lives. I told my friends there were three qualities I was looking for in our leaders: honesty, humility and compassion. Sadly in many countries, including my own, it’s hard to find leaders with all three of those qualities.

I don’t like the way the pandemic has highlighted the flaws in my own character. I’ve always known I have some hypocritical tendencies. I will look out of my window and make judgemental assessments of people walking or driving past, while trying so hard to control my own urge to go out for frivolous journeys and visits.

I like to think of myself as witty. It’s probably closer to the truth to say I have quite a dry, dark and bitter sense of humour. Part of me feels that this is the time for such humour to shine, but in fact as the death toll has risen things have got ever more serious, and I know that many of my humorous remarks would be inappropriate and hurtful, so I’m learning to rein them in.

And of course the situation we’re in is nurturing my negative emotions. There’s the anger and frustration I’ve already described. There are times of deep loneliness, sadness, bitterness and jealousy. My days have their bright moments as well, to be sure, but I feel that as lockdown continues the dark feelings get stronger.

What can I do? Trust God, of course, because through all our trials He is faithful. Remember that this will pass, and that those of us who survive will be stronger for what we’ve learned through it. And if all else fails, I’ll probably indulge in some chocolate. 🙂

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Psalm 23 (ESVUK)

Responding to the Pandemic

I’ve been wanting to say something here about Novel Coronavirus / Covid-19 / SARS-CoV-2 for a few weeks, but I struggled to find the right approach, and the right words. Fortunately Frank Viola today wrote a post that came very close to what I would have chosen, so I can direct you to his words:

It’s Not the Time to Binge on Netflix

He does a little self-promotion in his post, but that’s ok because the material he produces is generally excellent. I found the Martin Luther quote at the end of the post stunning.

All I will add to this is that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). This situation feels extraordinary to us because it is extraordinary to us, but similar events have happened throughout human history, and human beings have no doubt responded in all the same ways we are doing now.

I don’t want to discount the real pain and suffering of all kinds that the current situation is inflicting on people everywhere. The phrase “mourn with those who mourn” came to mind. Here is the passage that contains those words. This is for all times:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Romans 12:9-19

The Light In The Darkness

Lord Jesus,

When a shadow is cast over my life,

When my energy drains,

When my joy fades,

When nothing in this world satisfies me,

I look to you,

My soul cries out to you,

I long for you,

I speak to you,

In my weariness,

In my sadness,

In my frustration,

In my anger,

I call to you,

I reach for you,

I kneel before you,

I worship you,

Too many burdens weigh me down,

Too many voices fill my ears,

Too much pain distracts my mind,

Too many dreams disturb my sleep,

I lay it all before you,

I confess it all to you,

I open my heart to you,

I trust you,

Lord Jesus,

You are my strength,

You are my truth,

You are my companion,

My friend,

You take the strain,

You point the way,

You understand,

You make sense of the world,

You walk with me,

You cry with me,

You lift my head,

You calm my heart,

You are my shield,

You are my rock,

You are my saviour,

You are my life,

You are,

You are,

You are.


Hebrews 12:1-2, Psalm 23, Matthew 11:28-30, Isaiah 50:10, John 8:12

Much Dreaming and Many Words

I can’t say that I have a favourite Bible verse. There are many that I return to time and again, according to my mood and the season of my life. One of those is Psalm 23:4, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” It means a lot to me, particularly in my current season. But I didn’t want to talk about that today because it’s too well known and too obvious – I like to not be obvious! But the word “fear” struck me. I know the Bible has a lot to say about fear, so I looked for more examples and this verse leapt out:

Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.
(Ecclesiastes 5:7)

This is a verse I want to keep in my heart, for several reasons.

It comes at the end of a passage in which the writer is warning about making hasty vows to God. It’s very easy to make promises in the heat of the moment, at a time of desperation. But God knows whether you are able to keep that promise, and He won’t be impressed if you make one that you can’t follow through with. Why would you try to impress God anyway? Maybe you say something unwise in a public situation not to impress God, but (consciously or not) to impress other people. That’s just as foolish, or maybe more so.

Out of context there are other subtle variations of the message that appeal to me: why keep dreaming impossible, and meaningless, dreams? Make your aspirations realistic, so you can achieve them and actually do some good instead of just talking about doing something great.

I like to play with the phrase “many words are meaningless” as a warning not to babble on about things, just to keep to the point, and keep it short and simple. I’ve certainly sat through some sermons where this would apply! And I know I’m sometimes guilty of using six words where one will do!

But I can’t help smiling most at the blunt conclusion “Therefore fear God.” At the end of the day, whatever we think, whatever we say, and indeed whatever we do, it’s not about us, it’s about God, and that’s where our focus should be throughout the good, the bad and the ugly days.

So in very simple terms, the verse is telling us: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, keep your feet on the ground, and put God first.” That’s wisdom to hold on to every day.

A Reflection on Psalm 23

I originally wrote this on 14 July 2009…

Yesterday I was troubled by some of life’s challenges, and on my way into work I was trying to think of scripture that could help me through. Without my Bible to hand, and with a limited memory of specific verses, my mind gravitated towards ‘old faithful’ Psalm 23. Maybe it was the Israel Houghton CD (The Power Of One) playing in my car, that led me to focus on the first part of verse 6:

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”

This has always been such a comforting line in such a comforting Psalm, but now I felt that there was something wrong. It was the phrase “follow me.” Goodness and mercy weren’t “with me” they were following. It was like walking in a rain storm, with the sun’s warmth following some way behind. That’s no good to me! And even worse, they weren’t going to catch up. No, they would follow me all the days of my life. I know that there are better things to come. I know I shouldn’t care too much for the pleasures of this world. But still it didn’t seem right that I should be asked to walk in the rain for the rest of my life.

I wondered whether this was a reference to David’s position as King of Israel. Whether his subjects would be blessed with the Lord’s goodness and mercy as a reward for faithfully following him. But I am not a king, I am just a man needing some words of solace.

So then I asked myself if the translators of the King James Bible had picked that word “follow” for some poetic reason. I wondered what the original text said. I had never delved so deeply before in my quest for understanding, but at http://net.bible.org/ I found the passage in many translations, including the original Hebrew. There the word is “radaf” (or “radaph”), which actually means “to chase, to pursue.” It is usually used in the context of being chased by your enemy. The notes in NETBible suggest that there is a pleasant irony about it being used here to show God, in the form of His goodness and faithfulness, chasing the one He loves.

I still wasn’t satisfied though. The idea of being chased all my days, even by such a wonderful pursuer, didn’t give my heart the peace it needed.

Then I thought about the very first words of the Psalm:

“The Lord is my shepherd”

And suddenly I saw verse 6 very differently. My mind went back to the 1980s, watching “One Man and His Dog” on BBC television. I thought about how the sheepdog would use its instinctive behaviour of stalking, chasing, pursuing the sheep, in order to direct them where they needed to go, and to round up any that went astray. This made so much sense to me, I would have happily just accepted my own interpretation of the scripture without further questioning. But I also wanted to share my insight with others, so I felt it was best that I did some more research.

I wanted to know how long sheepdogs have been used by man. A quick check in Wikipedia suggested that it has been the case for thousands of years. I searched the Bible directly but couldn’t find specific references to sheepdogs. But then through broader enquiries I found a book called “David and the Psalms” by Fr. Joseph Ponessa and Laurie Watson Manhardt. Chapter 5, “David the Shepherd Boy” contains this paragraph:

“The shepherd boy has to keep the sheep together. For this purpose, there may be one or two sheep dogs to assist him. The shepherd boy and the sheep dog are a team, and the boy directs the dog. When a sheep begins to stray, the dog will anticipate the boy’s wishes, pursue the sheep, and proudly deliver it back to the safety of the flock.”

I don’t think I could imagine a more beautiful interpretation of verse 6. Not only is the Lord my shepherd, but His goodness, His mercy, His faithfulness, are his herding dogs. They don’t merely follow me, but they are actively guiding me toward my Father’s house. And when I go astray it is they who pursue me and proudly deliver me back to the safety of the flock.