Navigating chaotic times with 3 unlikely biblical guidesWritten by Subby Szterszky
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“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain,” wrote C.S. Lewis. “It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
This principle holds true on a societal as well as personal level. When times of chaos and uncertainty upend our otherwise stable lives, we’re driven to seek God with a renewed sense of urgency. We’re made to realize how fragile life in this world is, and how dependent we are on God for every moment we have.
For followers of Jesus, the COVID-19 pandemic has led us to lean on the promises in his Word with a conviction we may rarely have felt before. We remind ourselves that the Lord is our shepherd. He will never leave us nor forsake us. And all things (even the present crisis) work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose.
As we read these familiar promises and many others like them, our hearts are uplifted and our faith bolstered. But since all of Scripture is inspired by God, even the more obscure figures from its less visited pages can offer some of the best guidance for navigating chaotic and uncertain times. Here are three of them.
Jehoshaphat: We do not know what to do
When one thinks about the ancient kings of Judah (assuming one is inclined to think about such things), Jehoshaphat likely isn’t the first name that comes to mind. It’s true he was one of a small handful of good kings to sit on the throne of David. But if he’s remembered for anything, it’s his impulsiveness and naivete that led to foolish alliances from which only the grace of God could extricate him, and not without consequences.
Even so, his heart toward God was generally in the right place, never more evident than when a league of surrounding enemy nations threatened to destroy Judah. Jehoshaphat called an assembly of the people that included men, women, children and little ones. Before this gathering, the king pleaded with God for deliverance, one of the longer prayers recorded in the Old Testament, filled with reminders of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness.
But then, Jehoshaphat wrapped up his prayer with an abrupt, naked admission of helplessness, along with an expression of trust in the face it: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12).
Whether the threat comes from invading armies or a global pandemic, that’s one of the wisest and most honest prayers for the people of God to lead or end with. In either event, we have no ultimate control over the situation. We don’t know what the future may bring. But our eyes of faith remain fixed on the one who does.
Esther: For such a time as this
For many Christian as well as Jewish readers, Esther is a strange, wild stepdaughter among the books of Scripture. There are those who’ve questioned whether Esther even belongs in the Bible. The book never mentions God and contains no religious imagery or theological comment on the events it portrays. The heroes of the story, Esther and Mordecai, appear to be secularized Jews who’ve assimilated much of the Persian culture in which they live.
The closest the book ever comes to a direct statement of divine agency is via Mordecai’s admonition to Esther: “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)
Nevertheless, it’s not hard to see God’s sovereign hand in the narrative’s dramatic reversals and apparent coincidences. More than that, the book’s literary structure – built around a symmetrical arrangement of parallel and contrasting scenes – alludes to the providence of God behind the seemingly random series of events.
Writing for The Bible Project, Whitney Woollard muses rhetorically, “Could it be that the absence of mentioning God is directly connected to the book’s brilliant literary design? Maybe God’s apparent ‘absence’ is actually part of the book’s very sophisticated way of talking about God’s providence? Perhaps the point is that God is always at work, even when we can’t see that work explicitly.”
That theme would’ve resonated with Esther’s original readers, scattered across the Persian Empire. And God has preserved it for our encouragement as well – for such a time as this.
As Woollard sums up, “Esther pushes us to look at our own lives and consider how God might be actively working behind the scenes, even in the face of great threat or tragedy, to accomplish his good and perfect purposes. We’re called to trust in God’s providence even when we can’t see it working or don’t understand what’s happening. The message calls us to deeper levels of faith where we choose to believe that no matter how horrible things get, God is committed to redeeming his good world and overcoming evil.”
Habakkuk: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord
Even for an Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk is somewhat offbeat. Most of his prophetic colleagues wrote oracles of judgment or exhortation to the people of Israel and the nations surrounding them. Either that, or they performed miracles or else engaged in strange, symbolic acts to illustrate some aspect of God’s purposes and power.
But Habakkuk did none of those things. His short book, one of the twelve Minor Prophets, is made up of a series of personal dialogues (some might call them arguments) with God, followed by the lyrics to a song, complete with instructions for musical performance.
Along the way he coined the expression, “the righteous shall live by faith,” quoted three times by the writers of the New Testament as a core truth of the Gospel (Habakkuk 2:4; compare Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).
However, it’s the final stanza of his song that concerns us for the present discussion. After engaging with God over his righteous acts of judgment against the sins of his own people and the worse sins of their enemies, Habakkuk concluded his thoughts with these words:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
Not every unstable and chaotic moment in history is a direct result of sin. In fact, according to the testimony of Scripture and of Jesus himself, most aren’t. But Habakkuk’s approach to navigating such moments is universal and applies to each of them, including our own. With respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, we might paraphrase the prophet along these lines:
“Though the shops are all closed and the shelves at the supermarket empty, though our streets and parks are eerily silent, though the social and cultural activities that gave us pleasure and joy are on indefinite hold, though our savings are dwindling and our economic prospects up in the air, yet we will rejoice in the Lord; we will take joy in the God of our salvation. God, the Lord, is our strength.”
Yet we will rejoice in the Lord. May that be our overriding meditation in the days and weeks and months to come. May it strengthen our faith, comfort our hearts, and bring pleasure to our good, wise and sovereign God.
Sources and further reading
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, HarperOne, 2015.
David Mathis, “Will we keep singing? Trusting God in troubling times,” Desiring God, March 15, 2020.
Jason Seville, “King Jehoshaphat and the coronavirus,” The Gospel Coalition, February 6, 2020.
Whitney Woollard, “Esther: secular or sacred?” author’s blog, December 19, 2019.
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2020 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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