What are the pandemic and social unrest teaching us?
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 27 is one of the most beautiful cries of faith and trust in God in the entire Bible. Amazingly, King David wrote this song of confidence and triumph in the midst of trouble. He was facing attack, confusion, chaos and disorder all around him. He was being unjustly accused. The circumstances in which he found himself were dire.
In the middle of the latest surge of Covid-19, all of us are faced with difficult circumstances that we could not have imagined just a few short months ago — illness, loss of a family member, loss of a job, financial insecurity, separation from loved ones and friends. Now, there is political upheaval and divisiveness, civil unrest and acts of violence. The cry for social justice and equal treatment under the law rings loudly in our ears. Yet we seem paralyzed as a society about what to do or to whom we turn.
On top of this, we are being asked to wear masks, shelter in place and follow local authorities on how to live, work, socialize and educate our children — all in response to an invisible but deadly virus.
There are three beautiful calls from God to his people throughout scripture for specific actions that will usher in His presence; I believe these calls are God’s answer to these pressing demands on us. They appear in the book of Psalms and in many other places in the Old and New Testaments:
First, “Seek my face.” (Psalm 27:8, 11:7, 34:5, 69:17, 80:13, 89:15)
While we are masking in public and waiting to return to seeing the faces of family and friends, let’s seek His face and confess our sinfulness.
Second, “Fix your eyes on God” (Psalms 25:15, 119:6, 15, 18, 37 and 141:8)
While we are being asked to follow all government guidelines, let’s fix our eyes on Him.
Third, “Walk in my ways.” (Psalm 23:4, 86:11, 119:32, 105)
While we are sheltering in place, let’s walk in His ways.
Therein lies the answer to the question of what to do and who to turn to. God’s word- and in particular, the Psalms, gives us the answer: Jesus.
For us as believers, we need to seek God’s presence in these three ways and by doing so, God promises that our lives will be marked by joy, peace and hope that only Jesus can provide, even in the midst of tribulation. Let’s unpack them.
Seek my face
As human beings created in God’s image, we are created for connection to others. A baby knows love by gazing into her mother’s face. Looking into the faces of each other is how we are wired to connect and communicate our feelings, our thoughts and our desires. That’s one of the ironically painful parts of this pandemic; to keep each other safe, we are having to cover our faces. My sense is that God is saying, “my face is enough” for right now!
The face of God is emphasized throughout scripture. The first reference to face is used twice in the very opening chapter of Genesis in the story of creation (Gen 1:2 Darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters”). In verse 26 God says: “let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” In Exodus we read the famous recounting of the Lord speaking to Moses “face to face as a man speaks with a friend” (Exodus 33:11) and of Moses shining face after talking with God (Exodus 34:29-35).
In the ninth chapter of John, we read the wonderful resurrection account of Peter running to the empty tomb and finding the linen face cloth of Jesus lying by itself neatly folded (John 20:7). And in the very last chapter of the Bible, we read of believers: “They will see his face and his name will be on their foreheads” (Revelation 22:4).
However, it is David’s heartfelt response to God in Psalm 27 that most poetically describes our posture as believers:
You have said, “Seek my face”
My heart says to you,
“Your face Lord, do I seek.
Hide not your face from me.”
Confession and repentance are a crucial part of seeking God’s presence. We cannot approach God on our own merit. Especially at this time when so many people are taking offense, we need to forgive those who hurt or threaten us. As the cross and resurrection of Jesus powerfully convey, it’s not by our works as believers but rather by God’s grace through faith that we have salvation. It is a gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Fix our eyes on God
That brings us to the second command that is timely and has special meaning for me as an ophthalmologist. Instead of watching endless news cycles on TV and on social media that pollute our minds, let us fix our eyes on God, as the Psalms remind us (Psalm 25:15, “my eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net” and Psalm 119:15, “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your commandments”).
It is ironic that the only part of the face we are not covering in this pandemic is our eyes; thankfully for me and my colleagues, it allows us to examine our patients! It is also an opportunity for all of us to be intentional about making good eye contact and using our eyes to encourage, lift up and love one another.
I vividly recall an incident about 15 years ago when I was doing some mission work and cataract surgery in Honduras that encapsulates the beauty and joy of a patient’s sight being restored. He was a young man, about age 25, who had gone blind as a teenager from diabetic cataracts. He was shunned by his own family and was living in squalor on the dirt floor of a metal shack. After doing surgery on both of his eyes to remove the solid white cataracts and placing new intra-ocular lenses, I removed the bandages from both of his eyes the next day. As the bandages came off, the young man looked into my face and into the faces of the nurses and other doctors in the room. In stunned amazement, not having seen anyone’s face in perhaps years, he could see clearly. Streams of tears poured down his face and his countenance went from despair to joy and elation.
Throughout the book of Genesis, we hear the familiar account of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph: “and he lifted up his eyes and looked and behold …” Each time Abraham or his offspring lifted their eyes and looked in faith, God met them miraculously and lovingly (see Gen 18:2; Gen 22:13; Gen 43:29).
Peter famously walked on water with his eyes fixed on Jesus (Matthew 14:28-32) and the beggar was healed in Acts 3:4-10 as he fixed his eyes on Peter and John and was healed by the Holy Spirit.
As we fix our eyes on Jesus, we “look not to things that are seem but to things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient and the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
Walk in His ways
Finally, the third loving command of the Lord I believe is particularly important for us in these challenging times while sheltering in place is to walk in His ways (Psalm 81:13).
In the words of David in writing the 23rd Psalm, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and staff they comfort me” (v. 4). Walking in God’s truth (Psalm 86:11) and running in the way of his commandments (Psalm 119:32) are emphasized as we recognize his word as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (v. 105).
This global pandemic and our country’s struggles are far from ending. Our lives will be forever changed by events we are experiencing right now. Let us pray that our Christian witness will be life giving to others and honoring to God.
At the Last Supper, Jesus gave his disciples a final command: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
The secret to loving one another? The presence of Jesus in our lives and in our hearts. Let’s seek His face, fix our eyes on Him and walk in His ways to truly make a difference in this world in these dark times.
In conclusion, let’s recall the greatest priority for which David so earnestly pleads in Psalm 27:4.
One thing I have asked of the Lord
That I will seek after:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life
To gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
And to inquire in his temple.
Lord, in your mercy, show us your face, help us to fix our eyes on you and to walk in your ways.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. John Boatwright is a local ophthalmologist and founder of Carolina Eyecare Physicians. He is married to Dr. Barbara Boatwright and they have two married children. John was invited to write this article for Life Resources, a non-profit Christian emotional and relational wellness center located in Mount Pleasant, S.C. For more information about Life Resources, visit their website at www.myliferesources.org.