“The seven years of plenty that had prevailed in the land of Egypt came to an end; and the seven years of famine began to come. There was famine in every country, but throughout the land of Egypt there was bread.”Genesis 41:3-54
A few days ago I was going for my usual late afternoon cycle along the River Thames in Maidenhead and two thoughts were occupying my mind. First, how beautiful the scenery was and how much more I would have enjoyed it but for what was happening in the world. Second, how thin the line between faith and stupidity can sometimes be.
This thought had come to mind as a result of a number of articles I had read in various newspapers about pastors who were encouraging their congregations to meet despite the warnings about covid 19 and the spread of this dreadful virus. One pastor had called people who were social distancing “pansies” and “sissies”who had been “neutered” because they were listening to government warnings. He described Christians who used hand sanitisers as having fake faith and certain other things that I cannot repeat.
Another well known pastor in Florida, originally from South Africa, was arrested for continuing to hold services and bussing people to them. He made the claim that his church had machines that could stop the virus and vowed to personally cure the state of Florida through faith.
Now these stories may sound like they come from the lunatic fringe but I believe there are many Christians who will be confused at this time wondering whether or not they have enough faith, or whether, if they did have enough faith, something like social distancing, for example, wouldn’t be an issue.
Two things come to mind in all of this. First, that faith isn’t always about flying by the seat of one’s pants, nor is it magical thinking, nor is it about putting God to the test. It is about putting our trust in God’s presence even in the midst of the challenges we face and it is about seeking wisdom in the midst of those challenges. For example, think about the story of Joseph and his brothers that we find in the book of Genesis. We are told that Joseph, in the service of the Pharaoh, interpreted the Pharaohs dreams and told him that seven years of prosperity were about to take place in the land and they would be followed by seven years of hardship.
So, the Egyptians didn’t sit around waiting for things to go pear-shaped or put their faith in a belief that God would simply provide at the last minute. Instead, they prepared and made sure that during the seven years of prosperity they stored up grain, so that when the seven years of hardship and drought arrived they could feed their people. In other words, they listened carefully to the wisdom that was imparted by people like Joseph, and took him at his word.
Think of the prophets of the Old Testament. Many people still believe that they were prophets because they could magically see into the future, like folk who gaze into crystal balls, but this is not what they did. Prophets kept their fingers on the pulse of society and scrutinised those with power and those in authority. They watched for trends in society and, like meteorologists today giving weather forecasts, posted warnings when storm clouds were brewing. They gave advice, sought to speak wisdom into precarious situations, sought to keep those with authority over people within the lines of what was good and godlike and what was not.
Today, with regards to the virus we are facing, we have experts, epidemiologists, for example, giving us guidelines as to what might lie ahead and what we are able to do in order to avoid catastrophe and we would do well to listen to them. Heeding their advice, listening to them, does not speak of a lack of faith- far from it. Instead, I believe, it speaks of the opposite, for faith, especially in a time of crisis helps us to stay righteous, helps us to honour the way in which God would have us live. It helps us to be prepared.
As we journey through this difficult time with many voices coming at us from different angles, bless us with discernment and wisdom, not just for our own good but for the good of those around us.
Thank you for the gift of faith, for the trust in you which faith speaks of, for the relationship with you that faith builds. Help us, Lord, to understand faith, not as a competition, nor as a test that you have set us but as the knowledge and experience of your presence and love. For we ask these things in Jesus name. Amen.