A few nights ago at 9:30pm, I sat in the emergency vet and cried. Our dog had eaten seven pieces of gum and my initial internet search told me it could be lethal. So I found myself driving over, trying to contain my tears, and then waiting, trying to contain my tears. Until finally they told me he would be fine since he didn’t ingest a large quantity.
And then I sobbed.
Because if you are like me, you are feeling a bit out of control these days. A year and a half ago, in that very ER, I said goodbye to my sweet dog Isabella. As the memories swelled back into my mind, so too did the burdens of the week. For the past week many of my hours have been focused on current details of the spread of COVID-19. I scan my Facebook and it’s filled with fear. I scan the news and it’s filled with doomsday tales.
So by 9:30pm, my sadness spilled over.
“Faith,” Hebrews 11:1 says, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” On a global scale, many of us have likely never felt this out of control. But many of us have. Because some of us live in systemic poverty or areas where opportunities are limited. And some of us live daily with the gross effects of cancer ravaging us or our loved ones. And some of us have histories we fight to overcome daily as we seek a semblance of control.
The masses of people are beginning to feel what many of us experience on a daily, personal basis—like the world is spinning out of control, and although we can do a little, it is, by and large, out of our control.
Perhaps this stripping of control, though, is exactly what we all need. Is control, after all, just an illusion? It’s an important question to ask, with an even more important answer.
Last night, I left with my dog who would make a full recovery. But even as I did, another family heard those horrifying words about their dog: “We are losing him.” A year and a half ago, I was in that place. Neither them nor I could control the end result.
But Someone does—the very same Someone who holds the world in place.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for. It is the firm belief that when we have no control, Someone does, and that Someone is good. In my mind, it’s the image of a fearful child huddled under a parent’s arms as she finally falls asleep. In Christian circles, this message of hope is pouring slowly through the noise of anxiety, seeking to bring comfort even as many churches are meeting via livestream for the foreseeable future.
But in both Christian and non-Christian circles, the message of hope in this generation has never been so needed. Feelings of loneliness, depression, and isolation are spiraling out of control. And last week I began to notice other things beginning to rear their ugly heads—fear, anxiety, and panic. Which lead to behavior that perpetuates those emotions—behavior like criticism and judgmentalism.
Faith has never been more needed on a global scale in our generation. But faith in a God who is in control leads to something else that is equally important and what I believe many of us have in deep measure: fortitude. James 1:2-3 tells us what the next step of faith is: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
There are lots of synonyms for the idea of perseverance: tenacity, consistency, and dedication to name a few. Faith is trusting in God for the long term. And as we do so, our very character and person are changed.
For those of us who have sought to ask the hard questions in life, I see both faith and perseverance as going hand in hand. We fight to believe in God even when we don’t see him. We keep going because we know there is nowhere else to turn. We put one foot in front of the other, believing that our faith is not in vain.
And this is what our world needs—this is what we need—right now: a message that faith isn’t powerless, but in fact is the very foundation upon which we keep going and keep getting stronger. In Hebrews 11, we have examples of what all of us need more of today: “By faith….” “By faith Abraham…” “By faith Isaac…” “By faith Moses…” “By faith Rahab…” “…Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets…”
And this is what our world needs—this is what we need—right now: a faith that stems the tide of increasing fear, anxiety, criticism, and judgmentalism.
The church has the most important message to offer our world right now—that although we feel out of control, Someone is in control, and that Someone will show up like he has time and time again.
“There is a river who streams make glad the city of God” is more than just a beautiful word picture from Psalm 46. It is the image of all of us pouring our faith into a God who is in control and who desires that all our trembling, fearful, uncertain world would put their faith now and forever in him.
It’s an amazing opportunity for all of us who have wrestled with fear on a personal scale to rise up and bring hope.
In their book Reconciling All Things, Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice share an example from the movie Hotel Rwanda, which depicted the horrors of the 1994 genocide that left over 800,000 people dead in just 100 days. Paul, a hotel manager who had been providing refuge for those being targeted by militia, had run out of water and food and believed the end was drawing near.
In the midst of that great suffering, Paul takes one moment to just be with his wife. He lights a candle, and opens a bottle of wine, and simply enjoys being with her. The authors write of this moment:
We submit that sabbath in a broken world is something like this—knowing in the midst of action when it is time to be still on a rooftop, even as the whole world is falling apart, spending time with the God we love. When the One we love whispers to us, “All will be well,” it is more than wishful thinking. It is the fundamental truth of the universe. (Reconciling All Things, 61).
COVID-19 will likely inflict much more damage. And we will press into every measure to control what we can to fight it. But our message—your message—is one that no amount of science or government law can offer. (Although those are critically important, just as the cessation of the 1994 genocide efforts.)
It’s long-term faith that we have.
Sure, it seems as though the world is falling apart, but all will be well. Because Someone is in control. And you—nay, us—know much of this. The church has a critical voice in these days. We must use it to gently speak those words of hope to a fearful world: “Be still, my soul. Someone has this in the palm of his hand.”
Laurie Nichols is Director of Communications and Marketing for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, creator of the Our Gospel Story curriculum, co-host of the podcast Living in the Land of Oz, and she blogs at Not All Those Who Wander.