“Unprecedented.” “Unknown.” “Uncertain.” “New normal.” These terms were commonplace during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic? How often was said that we were living in “unprecedented” times? We were all told to prepare for the “new normal”? We lived as though nobody in human history has ever experienced what we were experiencing and as if there was no hope of returning to what we once considered “normal.”
I don’t want to downplay the severity of that pandemic. Tens of millions of people were infected with the virus and millions died. It is not entirely unreasonable to suspect that the actual numbers may be higher than what was formally registered.
But how “unprecedented” was this, actually? Solomon wrote, “There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after” (Ecclesiastes 1:11). The reality is, while a worldwide pandemic may be unprecedented in our generation, many generations before us have faced pandemics—many of those far more deadly than the current one. The Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918–1920 killed an estimated 20–50 million people. Bubonic Plague outbreaks in 541–542 and 1346–1353 killed 25 million and 75–200 million respectively.
Simply put, in the bigger scheme of human history, the COVID-19 pandemic was not really “unprecedented.” The problem is, we tend to have a short collective memory. As Philip Ryken has said, “People generally do not know their history very well, so what seems new to us may in fact be something ancient that we have long forgotten.”
But Ryken diagnoses an even more severe problem than historical amnesia: theological amnesia. “Believers often forget to remember God,” he writes, “and when we do we are right back ‘under the sun’ again.”
Shortly after South Africa went into lockdown, our pastor preached a sermon from Psalm 46. He encouraged us that, while we were entering what, for most of us, was an “unprecedented” time, we should remember that God was still faithful and we could still sing praises to him during the storm. It was a much-needed exhortation then, and it remains a much-needed exhortation today. Whether the COVID-19 pandemic remains a threat while you read this or whether it is a distant memory, we must be careful that we do not allow ourselves to be robbed of our theological memory. The truths of Psalm 46 were true then; they remain true today.
Whatever your present circumstances, you do well to remember that God is your refuge and strength and that, for the Christian, he remains a very present help in trouble (v. 1). He both “brings desolations on the earth” and “makes wars cease to the end of the earth” (vv. 8–9). Whether we face an uptick in desolation or a ceasing of desolation, our response remains the same: “Be still, and know that I am God” (v. 10).
Psalm 46 vividly portrays Yahweh’s command over the world, but it equally vividly portrays his commitment to his people. Even as “nations rage” and “kingdoms totter” and “the earth melts” the “LORD of hosts is with us” (vv. 6–7). Even when “wars cease to the end of the earth” and God “breaks the bow and shatters the spear” we must “be still, and know that [he is] God” (vv. 9–10). Whether, from your perspective, the earth is still melting, or whether the war has ceased, God’s commitment to his glory remains: “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (v. 10).
As we head into a new week—perhaps unprecedented, perhaps not—let us do so remembering that “the LORD of hosts is with us” and “the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Be still. Remember: He is God.