From the moment the Chinese government woke up to the significance of the corona virus threat, they kicked their efforts into high gear. I have a friend who described to me what it was like for his parents, who live in China. We have all heard reports of the virtual lock down of the country by the government.
That’s what totalitarian governments do. They exert the collective power of man by the force of governmental control en masse. Totalitarian governments rest on a foundation of top down, human power. The philosophies that gird them are largely humanistic, not reliant on divine power, but on the iron fist of self-governance.
Not that democracies, republics and other forms of government don’t rely equally on variations of collective human power, control and ingenuity. They all do. And we do the same on a personal level. In the face of the present corona virus threat, we have all taken personal measures to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our neighbors. As well we should.
Ultimately, though, the corona virus reminds us of things we can’t control, though we try. Underneath the collective and individual determination to take control of this virus Thing that threatens us, and all the things that threaten us, runs an undercurrent of uncertainty and uneasiness, sometimes even dread. It ebbs and flows from conscious to unconscious. Some of us are more aware of it than others.
Its roots are found in the same place: try as we might, we know that we don’t ultimately control the outcomes. We don’t ultimately control our own fate.
Beginning with our own birth and the circumstances, time and geography in the world into which we were born, we are not in control. We didn’t choose any of it. If we strip away the façade, we don’t control our own lives.
We don’t control our nature or nurture. We don’t control the generations of DNA we carry in our genes, and we don’t control the way our parents raised us, the classrooms in which we were educated, the circle of friends that influenced us and the myriad influences that shaped us.
Things happen in our lives that we don’t control. We could be sailing along at a good clip when a rogue wave comes “out of nowhere” and knocks us overboard. The car we didn’t see coming, the cancer growing inside us, the closing of the place we always worked, an unseen virus that shuts down the state and national economy, putting hundreds of thousands out of work for who knows how long.
When we really think about it, there are so many things that we don’t control in our everyday lives that it can be quite overwhelming to spend much time thinking about it. It’s no wonder the undercurrent of alternating uncertainty, uneasiness and dread ebbs and flows in our conscious and unconscious minds. It causes many of us to panic and worry.
What’s the solution?
We need perspective.
It’s a delusion and allusion to think that we control our own destinies. The self-made man is a deluded man who gives himself too much credit. In good times, we can pull off the allusion rather well, but the allusion fades to reveal the painful truth of our vulnerability in the difficult times in which we are utterly at a loss.
When we accomplish much, we are like the fly on the back of the chariot thinking to itself, “What a cloud of dust I do rise!” All the while, the gods look on from their lofty perch smirking at us. We have to go “higher” for the perspective that is ultimately helpful.
Viewing the world from the vantage of the supposed gods gives us perspective, but it’s not ultimately very helpful (other than to dispel the delusions and allusions to which we cling).
God (who is above all other gods), the One who made this universe in which we live Who is responsible for all of it – from the unimaginably precise constants we observe in classic physics to the elusively uncertain properties of quantum physics – is the vantage we need. From that perspective we that there is purpose in the chaos of life.
From that vantage, we see that God who made us in his own image set us into a world that continually reminds us that we are not in control, and this is necessary. It is necessary for a creature such as us, made a little lower than the angels (Ps. 8:5), a little lower than gods, lest we think we are God, being self-sufficient, existing only for selves and in need of nothing.
God put His raw material into us, allowing us to create, as He creates, and to reach for the sky in our endeavors. Like the Tower of Babble, we build our structures to the heavens in an effort to flex all that God has built into us, but we are tempted to exert our efforts in contravention to God. We are ever apt to raise our own flag in opposition to God by virtue of the very raw material that He built into us.
This is why the prophet said, “The heart is deceitful above all things….” (Jer. 17:8) We are easily deceived by our own inclinations to believe that we are our own gods. Like the fly on the back of the chariot, we fail to see how the dust rises from forces wholly beyond us.
The world we live in, the universe God created, is designed to allow us to flex that muscle God gave us even as it constantly and continually reminds us of our own mortality and lack of ultimate control. Viruses, earthquakes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, cancers and even the negligence and intentional wrongdoing of our neighbors that periodically undo our allusion of control are built into the world experience to point us beyond ourselves.
As the Psalmist says, our lives are like flowers that bloom one day and are gone the next. (Ps. 103) That description isn’t just poetic when we think about the days of our lives compared to billions of years the universe has existed. And yet, as ephemeral as we are, we are made in God’s likeness, a little lower than the angels (Ps. 8:5), even if only for a moment in time.
And this is part f God’s plan, too. God reveals his ultimate purpose in the example of Jesus: “But we … see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels [like us] for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death….” (Heb. 2:9)
Jesus said that we human beings are like seeds – seeds that need to fall into the ground and die, or they will remain only seeds. (John 12:24)
Our lives are the seeds for something else. Our ultimate death is the beginning of the realization of the purpose for which God created the universe and put us into it in a position just a little lower than the angels. Our lives are intended to be the running start for a leap into God’s ultimate plan.
“What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed…. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body…. [F]lesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable…. [f]or the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” (1 Cor. 15:36-37, 42-44, 50, 53)
The lack of control that we feel is real, and it’s meant to point us beyond ourselves. It’s meant to cause us to consider our fate beyond this futile life into which God placed us – placed us with a purpose.
This universe is subjected to futility on purpose:
“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:20-21)
We are the instruments by which God seeks to accomplish that purpose, inviting us to participate in that plan:
“[T]he whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom. 8:22-23)
The statement that God works all things together for the good (Rom. 8:28) is spoken by Paul in this context: the futility to which God has subjected the world. It is part of His ultimate plan with the intention that we might find our individual purposes in becoming children of God (more than mere creations) and of playing our parts in the liberation of this world from that futility to which God subjected it (subjected it with a purpose).
“[I]n all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose … to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Rom. 8:28-29)
When we are reminded of our own mortality, when are frustrated, feeling out of control and uneasy, we should recall that God subjected the world to futility on purpose.
“The symbols under which Heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert. It would be grotesque to suppose that the guests or citizens or members of the choir didn’t know one another. And how can love of one another be commanded in this life if it is to be cut short at death?
“Think of yourself just as a seed patiently waiting in the earth: waiting to come up a flower in the Gardener’s good time, up into the real world, the real waking. I suppose that our whole present life, looked back on from there, will seem only a drowsy half- waking. We are here in the land of dreams.”
From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III
Compiled in Words to Live By
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