“Unprecedented.” “Unknown.” “Uncertain.” “New normal.” These are terms that have become commonplace this year, are they not? How often have you said, or heard it said, that we are living in an “unprecedented” time? How accustomed have you grown to preparing yourself for the “new normal”? We have lived the last six months as though nobody in human history has ever experienced what we have and as if there is no hope of returning to what we once considered “normal.”
I don’t want to downplay the severity of what we have faced. Statisticians tell us that we have seen more than 30 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and the confirmed death toll approaches one million. It is not entirely unreasonable to suspect that the actual numbers may be higher than that.
And yet, how “unprecedented” is 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 is 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 the country went into lockdown, Doug 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. Nearly six months have passed since he preached that sermon, and we must be careful that those six months have not robbed us of our theological memory. The truths of Psalm 46 were true then; they remain true today.
For some, things remain as dire today as they were in late March. For others, fears and uncertainties have subsided. But whether our fears remain or have abated, we do well to remember that God is still our refuge and strength and still 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.