Imagine an apple sitting on your counter. You go to the garage and get a vise and then put the apple inside it. Then you start turning the handle, and the vise starts tightening. It gets tighter and tighter and the apple gets thinner in the middle and fatter on the ends until it looks like it’s about to burst.
This is what’s happening right now. The virus? The social distancing? The quarantine? These things are squeezing us. Squeezing our patience; our budgets; our nerves; our faith. Tighter, tighter, tighter—until we feel like we’re going to explode.
It’s like Bilbo Baggins said to Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
Of course, if you kept tightening the vise around the apple it would eventually burst. And maybe you, too, know what that bursting feels like; it’s when something small that ordinarily shouldn’t have bothered you as much as it did just sets you off. And you find yourself overreacting to that single incident because of the accumulated pressure from the other circumstances.
Back to the apple, though. It’s important to notice in this illustration what comes out when the apple does burst: the stuff that was inside all along. Nothing new. Nothing foreign. And the same thing is true of us.
Being squeezed, as we are now, doesn’t cause anger, or frustration, or doubt, or worry, or whatever; those things have been in our hearts all the time. The stress only reveals what’s always been there.
In other words, there is a very important difference between “causality” and “revelation.” Causality implies that something has brought something else into being. Revelation implies that something, previously hidden, has now been made known. And here’s why that difference matters in this case:
There’s no doubt COVID has caused a great many things – it has caused cancellations, mask-wearing, economic downturns, overburdened hospitals, and many more. But COVID has also revealed many things – perhaps even more than it has caused, at least at a heart level.
COVID has revealed our misunderstanding of what the church is and does; it has revealed the true depth or relative shallowness of our relationships; it has revealed where we have misplaced our security and identity; and the list could go on. If we simply look at the wreckage around us and think about it in terms of cause when it comes to COVID, then the answer to repair that wreckage is simple – just get rid of the cause. But if indeed it is true that COVID has revealed more than it has caused, then the answer is not so simple. That’s because the root cause of this fear, anger, doubt, and insecurity is not “out there” in a virus; it’s “in here” in our hearts.
Here, then, is where we come to that rarest of all gifts – the one gift, in the midst of all it has taken – that the pandemic has actually presented to us:
The cold, hard, unvarnished truth.
The truth about ourselves. Our faith. Our security. Our hearts.
It has all been laid bare right before our eyes. The question, then, as we really do start to see progress in this pandemic, as we start to turn a corner toward a new kind of normal, as we begin to reacquaint ourselves with life as we once knew it, is what we will do with that truth.
There will be a day, soon in fact, when we will speak of the pandemic in the past tense. And all of us will have the luxury, again, to not see ourselves in as clear a light as the pandemic has shown us. We must, before we are lulled into complacency again, choose whether we want to engage with this truth, take it to Jesus, and be healed and changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, or whether we will not.
COVID has indeed told us the truth. The next step is up to us.