Earlier this week my husband, Casey, texted me from Texas. He travels frequently, which means when he flies he often gets upgraded to first class. That evening, he had been upgraded and was sitting right up near the door. The plane was half empty—a rarity in this day and age. First class was only a third full, even after they had passed out the upgrades to frequent fliers. People are getting concerned. They’re staying home. But when Casey doesn’t travel, we don’t get a paycheck. So for now, he’s still traveling.
The less crowded flight was probably to be expected, but it didn’t end there. After the door closed, a gentleman wearing latex gloves came up front demanding to get off the plane. He was terrified of catching the coronavirus. My husband had a front row seat to the drama.
Every now and then I get a little anxious with all my husband’s travel, sometimes waking up with nightmares about it. I’ve gotten used to taking those fears to God over the years. I’m getting a little extra practice these days, especially since Casey has been going to the west coast quite a bit.
The morning after the episode on the airplane I was reading through Psalm 23 as part of a study I’m doing with an amazing group of ladies at church. The focus this week was on verse 4:
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
I couldn’t help but think about this verse in today’s environment. All kinds of organizations are discussing how to handle meetings and conferences. I’m guessing our church isn’t the only one that has been tackling this and being up front with their congregation with the steps they’re taking. These steps are wise and the communication is important. We all need to be careful. But what the Lord kept bringing to mind was that in the midst of prudent choices, He is our source of protection.
Being a bit of a Bible geek, I of course wound up going to the Hebrew text and found two interesting things that I thought I’d share with you today instead of reflecting on tomorrow’s Lenten Psalm.
First, the phrase translated “I will fear no evil” might also be translated as “I will not fear evil.” The two phrases are similar and at the end of the day there may well not be a huge difference in the implications. It’s just a slight difference of emphasis. But what struck me was that the verb is negated: I will not fear. Why does that matter? Well, for me it suggests that the psalmist isn’t denying the reality of evil or danger in the dark valleys. He is denying the need to fear. Today, that’s the reminder that I needed. Yes, planes crash. Yes, sickness and diseases can run rampant. But I don’t need to fear. My God is with me no matter what I’m facing.
The second thing I noticed was the emphatic use of the pronoun “they” in the third line of the verse: “your rod and you staff, they comfort me.” The English does a good job of highlighting it, but I didn’t really notice it until I looked at the Hebrew where using the pronoun would be considered an emphatic grammatical construction. Why doesn’t David fear? Because God is able to protect him no matter the danger he faces. That protection comforts and reassures him. David is focused not only on God, but on God’s power, strength, and ability to protect him.
I love Rolf Jacobson’s comment here, where he observes that verse 4
is an element that critiques and subverts the dominant cultural theology of glory, which can only understand God’s presence in the good moments. The psalm asserts that, yes, the Lord is present in the green pastures, peaceful waters, and along the paths of righteousness. But the Lord is also present “under the sign of the opposite”—in the darkest valley. The metaphor of the rod and staff is an image of the shepherd’s effective power to save the sheep from threat.
God is bigger than not only the coronavirus, but also than its ability to impact our world. If I truly believe that in the depth of my being, that should affect how I live. And as I asked myself what kind of impact that belief would have, what God brought to mind was simple:
Love your neighbor as yourself.Matthew 19:19 NIV
How do we love our neighbor well when fear seems to be ruling the day? It probably looks a little different depending on where you live. Where I live, things are pretty normal, but several things come to mind that apply now or (possibly) down the road:
- Take reasonable health precautions.
- Don’t judge the way that others are responding, whether you think they are overreacting or not being suitably vigilant.
- Be prepared to share what you have with those in need. We’ve probably all heard stories about no toilet paper or water at the grocery store. (Remember my comment in number 2?) Am I prepared to share what I do have with others who may need it? Do I trust that God will meet my needs if I run out of hand sanitizer because I help my neighbor?
- Be prepared to step in and lend a helping hand. This may be helping out with a deep cleaning at church or it may be watching a neighbor’s kids because school is out while work isn’t. Historically, Christians have also made a difference by putting themselves at risk of getting sick. (See this post if you’re interested.) I’m not going to advocate doing that—that’s something between you and God alone. But I would say that if social distancing becomes more prevalent, we need to trust God in the midst of social interactions.
- Finally, focus on who God is so that we can stay calm. Demonstrating our trust in Him can help us not contribute to panic.
None of these are novel or groundbreaking ideas. If you have some other ways of loving our neighbors in these unusual times, I’d love to hear them! Today, I’m praying for your health. I’m praying that you will rest in our loving Father. And I’m praying that He will work through you to love your neighbors, showing them the great love of the God that we serve.
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