Pestilence, Pandemics, and Patience
It wasn’t on my radar. I didn’t see it coming. I suspect that was true for most of us.
In my annual ritual of reflecting on last year’s progress, anticipating this year’s goals, and looking ahead, I failed to consider a pandemic.
It’s more comfortable to plan for what we desire. But imagining the compounding and lingering effects of a pandemic is not typically part of our planning process.
Not everyone is a “doomsday prophet” or a “Debby Downer.”
I think most humans are inclined to long for the best. A comment like, “We’re in this together,” reveals a spirit of optimism. “We can do this,” are words intended to encourage others—and ourselves.
However, for many, the novelty of social distancing, staying at home, wearing masks in public, and connecting with others remotely, is rapidly fading.
Questions like: “How long will this last,” “When will we be able to return to work,” “Will I have a job?” indicate that—for many—it’s not only toilet paper that’s in short supply.
So is patience.
A growing sense of impatience in our Country became evident this past week. Crowds ignored social distancing as they gathered in front of State offices demanding that the government re-open the market place.
I understand their desire to “do something” and do it “quickly.” Waiting is difficult enough in prosperous times. Maintaining patience is exceptionally challenging during a pandemic.
Someone put it this way: “Patience is letting your motor idle when you feel like stripping the gears.”
We all want a solution to our problem.
But in our growing impatience, are we overlooking—and short-circuiting—God’s purpose?
We’re not the first generation that’s encountered a pandemic. Although Israel didn’t face a virus, they did suffer a horrible plague of locusts.
Just imagine! Hungry insects were swarming over every inch of land, devouring everything in sight—trees, stripped of leaf and bark. Orchards, fields, and vineyards destroyed. In your home, insects are in your bed and cooking utensils. No amount of bug repellent could stop them. Israel’s economy was ruined.
Although it wasn’t a virus that would kill them, the loss of crops and harvest in an agrarian society would undoubtedly be the cause of starvation for many of the Israelites.
Like us, Israel’s patience was also in short supply. They were asking the questions we’re asking: “How long?” “How are we going to survive?” “When will this be over?” And Joel, like a true prophet, calls the priests and people to turn to God.
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.“
It seems counter-intuitive. We want—and need—action now, not later. The last thing we’re inclined to think about in a pandemic (or plague of locusts) is that God’s desire for us is the same. His intention is always for our well-being and relationship, whether times are good or challenging.
Like Israel of old, it’s easy to wander from God. The attractions of other gods become more enticing. We maintain an outward persona that looks good, but inwardly we have distanced ourselves from God.
Sometimes it takes a pandemic (or plague) to get our attention. Joel’s reminder to his friends—and us—is timely.
Our repentance can never control or force God to forgive us. The rending of our heart requires sincere, honest contrition that tears us to the core.
God’s character is gracious and merciful. He’s slow to anger (which demonstrates the ultimate reflection of patience). His steadfast love is abundant. And God’s attributes are beyond manipulation.
For the person whose heart is sincere and willing to repent and return to God, there is hope! God “relents over disaster.” That means God enters our sorrow with compassion and help.
Israel didn’t plan on being overtaken by grasshoppers. We didn’t anticipate our world would be stopped in its tracks by a pandemic.
My prayer is: each of us, in our impatience and temptation to “strip the gears,” will have the patience to endure and a heart to return to God.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Joe 2:12–13.