THE ILLUSION OF SECURITY
“You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr Bond,” proclaimed an antagonist in the film, Spectre. The statement has become one of the best-known quotes from the Bond franchise and describes Bond’s naïve underestimation of the forces aligned against him. It references his imminent and inescapable demise and his illusory sense of security. I think it is a quote that has particular significance for our COVID world.
A sincere Christian recently asked me, “What lesson is God trying to teach us through COVID?” Your own answer to that question depends on your ontological viewpoint. My own view is that God’s sovereignty does not mean that everything that happens in this world is a deliberate, intentional act of God flowing from his divine perfect will. Many things happen CONTRARY to his will (human sin, for example!) but he allows them to happen, he forbears them, as part of his PERMISSIVE will.
If you’re looking for someone to blame for COVID, don’t point your finger at God. The ontological antecedent of COVID, along with every other instance of suffering and misery in our world, is the rejection of God’s sovereign rule by mankind at the beginning of creation. It is a rebellion that has introduced a profound sickness to the natural world, the consequences of which we continue to experience to this present day.
But that is a side issue to the question that was asked. The questioner was not seeking an ontological explanation for the origin of COVID. Her concern was much less esoteric. “What lesson is God trying to teach us through COVID?” Regardless of one’s view of God’s sovereignty, Christians are unanimous in their belief that God uses “all things”, including suffering, to bring about his eternal purposes (Romans 8:28). So, what might God be trying to teach us in this pandemic?
That we are kites dancing in a hurricane.
If the current pandemic has done nothing else, it has confronted us with our own mortality and shone a spotlight on the extremely tenuous nature of life. The current death toll from COVID stands at over five million. That’s five million people who were going about life, many of them thinking that they had years left to live, but who were snuffed out by a tiny microbe that can’t be seen with the naked eye. I know of strong, healthy people who were in the prime of life who are now no longer with us, because of COVID.
Of course, there is nothing unusual about this state of affairs. Millions of people die of the flu every year. Millions die of malaria, pneumonia, cancer, heart disease and stroke. Millions more die from accidents, often involving weird and unlikely alignments of contributing factors. Yes, death is happening all around us, every day. About 60 million people die every year: that’s two people every second. The one thing that the universe is really good at, is killing us!
But the current pandemic has confronted us, afresh, with our own mortality. Even though it is just one more among a plethora of means by which the natural world is removing people from the gene pool, COVID has highlighted afresh the extremely tenuous nature of our existence. Even though we have lived our lives up to this point in “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4), we had somehow become complacent, inured to the myriad of ways in which the universe could suddenly, and without warning, call, “time’s up!”
The arrival of a new means of checking out, however, has shocked us to the core. It has forced us to see that our previous sense of security and indestructability was an illusion. The truth is, we have always been kites dancing in a hurricane. Our ongoing existence has always been a fragile thing: a flimsy kite held aloft by the thinnest of strings, fluttering feebly amidst a maelstrom of forces that will inevitably and irresistibly bring about our demise, one way or another.
Lest you think I am being unduly morbid or pessimistic, I am merely pointing out what the Bible has always said. God’s Word is replete with reminders of our own mortality and exhortations to reflect on the brevity of life.
“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
“People are like a breath; their days are like a passing shadow.” (Psalm 144:4)
“All people are like grass and their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall.” (1 Peter 1:24)
These three verses are just the tip of the iceberg. I could have listed dozens more! So, why is the Bible so preoccupied with telling us that we are all on the verge of dying? Why does it go to such lengths to remind us of the extreme brevity of our lives?
Quite simply, God wants us to wake up from our daydream and face reality. He wants us to cease our infatuation with the insubstantial trinkets of our fading lives and consider things of eternal value. He calls us to stop being so preoccupied with rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship and, instead, give serious attention to the lifeboat he has provided. In short, a healthy awareness of our own mortality should cause any reasonable person to consider what lies beyond the grave and to seek a relationship with their Creator. The wise person is the one who lives for things that are eternal and is not consumed with building flimsy sandcastles that will be swept away by the inevitable tide of death.
“Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12).
“O Lord, help me to consider my end and the limited measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am.” (Psalm 39:4)
“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every person; the living should take this to heart. … The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)
What about you? Has COVID caused you to consider the fleeting nature of your own life? Has it prompted you to turn your attention to questions of ultimate meaning and purpose? Most importantly, has it led you to ponder afresh (or perhaps for the very first time) the possibility that there is more to life than life? That there is a God who made you and calls you back into relationship with himself?
Or has your response to the current pandemic simply been a panicked rush to strengthen the flimsy strings of your kite in a desperate attempt to avoid the onslaught of the hurricane? Has all your attention been on prolonging your flight aloft by a few more meagre months or years? Have you been solely preoccupied with bolting down the deck chairs on a vessel that is inevitably sinking, while ignoring the lifeboat that promises salvation?
“What lesson is God trying to teach us through COVID?” Quite simply, he wants us to remember the incredibly brief nature of our lives and turn back to him while there is still time.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)
It is my hope and prayer that, rather than filling you with panicked dread, the current pandemic might cause you to reach out to the God who made you, and find in him the peace and eternal security that only he can give.
Kevin Simington (B.Th. Dip. Min.) is a theologian, apologist and social commentator. He is the author of 16 books, and his latest non-fiction book, “Reconnecting with God”, is available world-wide. Connect with Kevin on Facebook or his website, SmartFaith.net. You can also check out his highly acclaimed fiction books at kevinsimington.com.