Life has drastically changed in the last few weeks. COVID-19 has put an end to most of our plans and has imprisoned us within our own homes. There is a new enemy within our city gates – an invisible one. The only thing normal now is that nothing truly is normal, and the events of the last few weeks can only be best described as surreal bordering on absurdity. This surreal experience, however, serves as a metaphor for existence itself and helps us better understand life.
The French philosopher and author Albert Camus understood this truth and in his novel, The Plague, he gives us a glimpse of the existential nature of humanity by confronting man with his greatest foe – death. When life goes on well, we seldom stop and reflect upon our own lives and what we are doing with it. This is why events such as this pandemic catch us by surprise. Camus helpfully puts it into words, "Everybody knows that pestilence have a way of recurring in the world, yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise."
It is human nature not to dwell on such things, for we were never meant to dwell on such things in the first place. We were never meant to die or suffer from plagues. That was never God's plan; but rather the consequence of our rebellion. Thus we have an intrinsic tendency to block out negative thoughts which might interfere with our everyday lives and our happiness. We don't ponder about death as it helps us pretend that we will live forever. We think somehow that makes our lives richer.
However it is only by dwelling on the fragility of our lives, on the inevitability of death, do we even begin to understand what life is all about. This is why the Psalmist wrote all those years ago, "teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).
Last week when Gal Gadot and her celebrity friends sang John Lennon's Imagine, it was their way of dealing with this existential question. It was their open confession that they cannot face the reality of life so they would rather imagine a godless utopia where people merely live for today. So they sang stubbornly.
Camus, despite all his insightful analysis of life, came to a similar conclusion. Life is meaningless, and the quest for meaning is futile, hence one is to "heroically" live in the here and now. Such is the curse of life. In his essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, reflecting on the Greek myth of the titan Sisyphus condemned to the same menial task of pushing a boulder up a mountain each day only for it to roll down at night, Camus stubbornly says – "one must imagine Sisyphus happy."
For the secular world, without God, the plague is a terror that confronts them of their mortality. The virus reveals the futility of living for today. Which is why they escape to the realms of delusion. However such hope is a mere phantom and has its limits.
The Bible, however, doesn't advise any such escapist tendencies for existence. Instead, it reminds us that life is transient, and points us to something beyond ourselves. It points us to the love of God. In the words of King David from Psalm 103:15-18:
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the LORD is from
Everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
And his righteousness to children's children,
To those who keep his covenant
And remember to do his commandments.
For David, the hope of this life is firmly rooted in the everlasting love of God, for it is only the boundless, eternal love of God that can come face to face with the deep tragedy and sufferings of a plague and still face tomorrow with the all the eager anticipation of a curious little child.
In the midst of all the work-from-homes, all the children running wild around the home, all the boredom and extra housework, all the blaring of the news, all the swirling emotions of confusion, fear, and anxiety, COVID-19 gives us an opportunity to pause and consider our own lives. Heaven has hit the pause button so we might think upon life and death. We only have so much time in this world. We can either choose the stubborn delusion of hope that Camus, Lennon, Gadot and the secular world offers, or we can choose to accept our frailty and rest securely in the love of God in Jesus Christ.