Viral Pandemonium

Life has become. . .strange. It feels like 9/11 colliding with Black Friday. The panic that has been building over the past couple of weeks, was offset by the fact that each day was still bringing life as usual. The topics of conversation at work included speculation about the sudden hoarding of toilet paper. The situation escalated on Thursday. Wednesday night, my sister and I enjoyed a fun and lively meeting at church, where a group of us are going through a book together. The next day, a state-wide directive led to the cancellation of all church meetings for the rest of the month. Of course, some people are more upset about Disneyland closing.

The panic doesn’t seem to be over the virus itself, but the response. Panic begets panic. The first people to panic caused shortages that led to a different kind of panic, as others feared they would not be able to get the everyday things they need for their families. I confess that I have probably contributed to problem. As the situation has unfolded over the past couple of weeks, I have worked to ensure that I will have what I want and need for daily life, should the pandemonium continue. Now we are left with the strange and disconcerting sight of empty store shelves, here, in the United States of America. Our nation’s wealth is typified by grocery stores brimming with every kind of food imaginable. Under normal circumstances, we tend to buy and eat more than we need. But this week, people began shopping as though they would need to survive months in a nuclear fallout shelter. It was as though they might not be able to shop again.

Our soul waits for the LORD;
he is our help and shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.

Psalm 33:20-22

The panic and hoarding seem to stem from fear of what the government might do; everyone wants to be ready for a Wuhan-type quarantine. On Thursday, I found myself evaluating my own readiness. I even began to worry about my parents being able to get their medications. Today, it seems like an overreaction because the virus is not actually sweeping through the nation or even my state. So why have I fought anxiety? It’s the uncertainly. We walk through life knowing that bad things can happen and life can change in a moment. Yet experience tells us that most days will come and go in an ordinary fashion. As the response continues to escalate, the biggest problem is not knowing the extent of the disruption that will be imposed on us. We humans don’t like uncertainty, and we don’t like to be out of control of our daily lives.

This isn’t the America I know. I am glad to report that the people I have interacted with are more perplexed than panicked. But there must be people somewhere who have completely lost perspective. This is a virus that the vast majority of people can expect to recover from, and currently, it is affecting a very small portion of the population. Under two thousand people have been infected out of our population of about 330 million. China locked down a city of 11 million people to stem the spread of a virus, and apparently succeeded because only about 80,000 were infected. It’s a lot of people, but a very small percentage of an immense population. Weeks later, America’s initial steps to keep the virus out and contained, have now turned into an all-out state of war.

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4

President Trump has called for tomorrow to be a national day of prayer. America, and the world, need it. Whether a person is panicked over the virus, panicked over the state of panic, or just anxious over the uncertainty that is hanging over us, everyone needs some peace and comfort. I wrote a couple of weeks ago that believers should not panic. We need to go a step further and help those who are affected by the panic. Whether it is a neighbor who is running out of toilet paper and can’t get more, or someone who is struggling with fear and uncertainty, we should be a light to them. We are called to share our treasure, all of the time. These present circumstances will tempt us to hold more tightly to the comfort of our storehouses. But God wants us to be generous and share what we have – bottled water, toilet paper, and all – with faith that He will supply our needs.

I have been looking to Scripture and I want to devote myself to prayer. I will be praying that in the face of this panic, the people of this country don’t allow their elected officials to take away their basic freedoms. My prayers are also focused on people who were already facing trials before this panic came along and made life even more difficult. There are communities trying to put the pieces back together after deadly tornadoes. There are people fighting cancer and other illnesses, and families who were already living with the shadow of death. For some, this panic is adding to already overwhelming stresses. I pray that God will help me, and all who believe, to have peace in our hearts so that we can look to the needs of others and be servants of the Most High God.

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