Monday, April 13, 2020

Pulling Silver Linings Out of Dark Clouds

With news about the coronavirus breaking so rapidly, it’s hard to anticipate what the latest “scoop” will be. I recall the late Gilda Radner’s “Saturday Night Live” character, Roseanne Roseannadanna, who used to say, “It’s always something!” Bad news seems to beget bad news.

But no matter: Out of any crisis, big or small, important lessons can be learned. And most of the time, good emerges out of bad, pulling silver linings out of dark clouds that hover over us. For example:

Did you know that as traffic has dramatically reduced in many cities because of people staying home, air pollution also has noticeably declined? So have traffic accidents. And did you know that in the beautiful Italian city of Venice, best known for its canals, those typically polluted waterways have cleared up in the absence of tourists? So there’s definitely some good coming out of a very bad situation.

In case you haven’t noticed – if you’ve observed stay-at-home recommendations – gasoline prices have been dropping dramatically. And it wouldn’t be a shock to learn other forms of illness have declined due to social distancing and reduced germ transfer. We could find other positives arising out of this global negative, but what about a little closer to home – our own lives?

Many of us have found ourselves spending more quality family time in our own homes. A lot of people have re-discovered the joy of sitting around the table together, sharing a meal and actually talking with and looking at each other. TV viewing has increased, but so has the neglected practice of reading books. Some families have actually resumed playing games together. It seems silk purses still are being fashioned from sow’s ears!

Perhaps the greatest benefit from this societal pause has been the opportunity to re-examine where our hope and trust really lie. Fear and uncertainty have a way of unsettling us. That can be a good thing if it causes us to revisit important matters such as faith, purpose and meaning in life. 

During prosperous times and living in a materialistic society, it’s easy to focus on things we acquire and accumulate. But being unsure what the next day will bring can prompt to ask ourselves a question like the old movie from the ‘60s posed, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” Why are we here? What’s life all about, anyway? Should there be more to life than getting up in the morning, cleaning up, going to work, coming back home, having dinner, watching little TV, then going to bed so we can do it all over again tomorrow?

Recently I read a psalm that recounts hardships the people of Israel experienced. Many times, after enduring great bitterness and travail, “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress” (Psalm 107:6,13,19,28). In good times they would forget about God, reveling in their perceived self-sufficiency. But whenever difficult times returned, they would seek Him again.

The normal pace of life has become so hectic that many of us have lost the ability to reflect, to ponder what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. When we encounter a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, however, we find more time on our hands than we realized. When things seem spiraling out of control, we’re reminded once more where to go for hope and stability.

Our knee-jerk reaction is to look to the government, medical experts, scientists, whoever is “in charge.” But their wisdom and expertise go only so far. To find answers to the deeper questions of life – and death – we need to go elsewhere.

A verse often comes to my mind: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). Do you ever feel like that, sensing that despite being surrounded by so many material advantages, we still live in a dry and weary land?

At such times we can embrace this assurance from another of the psalms: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you” (Psalm 84:11-12).

The Scriptures tell us we are blameless in Jesus Christ, and that He offers us direct access to the Father. As we listen to news reports about COVID-19, or some other calamity, and find ourselves tempted to descend into fear, even panic, these promises urge us instead to turn to and trust the God of the past, present, and all eternity. That’s a silver lining no dark cloud can obscure.