At 8:01 in the evening, a patrol car roams around our village and rings a siren to signal the start of the curfew. This has been going on for some weeks now, since our province is put under community quarantine due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Upon hearing the siren for the first time, I asked my mom, “Which is worse, the martial law back in the day or this pandemic?”
She unhesitantly replied, “Pandemic.”
“Really? Even when the martial law was so scary then?” I said.
“Back then we knew who the enemy was. Today we’re fighting something we cannot see,” she answered.
The reality is that an enemy surrounds us, and it’s one that cannot be seen, heard, nor touched. When I first heard about the virus, I thought it will be contained in the city where it originated. However, the cases and fatalities caused by it increased drastically all over the globe. I didn’t feel frightened until there was a confirmed case in our city. Death tolls are rising, the economy is crashing, people are wailing.
“Nothing’s going to happen if you keep dwelling in the past,” some would say. We are told to press forward. We are conditioned to keep fighting, to do something, to solve the matter at hand, to act. While these pieces of advice are practical, how do we respond to a situation where we are commanded to cease all plans of action and stay still indefinitely? The first thing most of us did was panic.
- Panic is what happens when you have enough supplies to sustain you for a length of time, but you still go to the grocery store and hoard, thinking what you have at home will run out fast.
- Panic is what happens when you’re still employed amid the lockdown, but you feel like you are the first to be laid off from work when operations resume.
- Panic is what happens when you read consecutive news of rising death tolls, and with a simple headache, you think you might die next.
Sometimes I pause and think about the uncanniness of everything that’s happened (and is still happening). A volcanic eruption and a pandemic are two scenarios I label as things that will not happen in my lifetime yet both broke out within a quarter of a year. We are inclined to get anxious, to doubt the future, to let go of our hopes. But how do we combat the anxiety from a world that keeps bombarding us with fear?
Remember that the people from the Bible experienced famine, plagues, loss of loved ones, slavery, drought, and war. Perhaps if we lived during their time, it would feel like we’re being besieged by the world — locked down and beaten up in a corner until we admit defeat, or until we prefer death over life. With God, we can look at these things differently. Instead of looking ahead in distress, we can stay still and remember.
- Peace is what happens when you remember that God provided Abraham a ram on the mountain when he was about to sacrifice Isaac as an offering (Genesis 22:13). Abraham, even though he waited a long time for a son, trusted God (Genesis 22:8).
- Peace is what happens when you remember that God led Ruth to the grain field of Boaz (Ruth 2:2-3) so she may work and bring food for Naomi and herself. Ruth, even though she was a foreigner, knew God (Ruth 1:16).
- Peace is what happens when you remember that God protected His people during their departure from Egypt. Many calamities came upon the land, but God’s people were spared from them all (Exodus 9:25-26). The Israelites, even though they felt afraid, believed in God.
When the future looks blurry, it is important that our memories of God’s faithfulness aren’t dimmed by the current circumstances. God commanded us to walk not by sight, but by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). As believers, we were trained to see God’s work and power amid the catastrophe because we hold a truth that’s far more real than our reality. Our vision doesn’t rest on our sight because, as Paul said, we don’t look at things of this world (2 Corinthians 4:18).
There is an expression that says, “desperate times call for desperate measures.” One would understand why people do things out of their character in order to survive. Some people steal or cheat because they are desperate. However, as kingdom citizens, we continue to read the prayers in the book of Psalms and know in our hearts that desperate times call for holy desperation. It is a kind of despair that draws us closer to God. We cry out to Him, we pray to Him, and we fast. We say to God, we don’t know what to do but our eyes are on You (2 Chronicles 20:12). Even if we feel unequipped in this battle, God didn’t leave us defenseless for we are by His side.
The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
— Psalm 9:9
I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.
— Psalm 18:1-3
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!
— Psalm 31:2
But I will sing of your strength;
I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been to me a fortress
and a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love
— Psalm 59:16-17
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
— Psalm 91: 1-2
But the Lord has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.
— Psalm 94:22
He is my steadfast love and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and he in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me.
— Psalm 144:2
The psalms were written by various authors yet they all had one thing in common — they trusted God as their deliverer in times of trouble. He was, in the above verses, referred to as a fortress. What does this word in a 2,000-year-old book could mean for us today anyway?
Fortress is derived from the Old French term “forteresse” which means a strong place, a stronghold. In a military sense, a fortress is a defensive structure built to protect the people inside.
During ancient times, nations conquered other nations for different reasons. In order to defend oneself from such invaders, people established their community in sites where there is an abundant supply of water and food. They dug underground tunnels that link to a spring and concealed the stream so that in case of a siege, their opponents wouldn’t know that they still have a source of water inside their fortified city. They also built thick and high walls around their territory to keep the people inside safe even in the face of attacks. Towers are placed in corners of the wall so watchmen may guard over the surrounding area and keep the warriors alert of the possible harm from the outside.
This was how they chose a place to dwell in back in the day. People survived a siege because everything they will ever need is within the walls they built, and that their fortress is unbreakable. As Professor Macalister, author of Bible Side-Lights from Mound of Gezer, said in his book:
“Water, the first necessity of life, was in abundance. The three primitive modes of livelihood–hunting, pasturing, and agriculture–could be practiced here better than in many places. Further, for defense–another prime necessity in early days–the hill is admirably fitted. It is steep and not easy to climb, and being fairly high it commands a wide prospect so that the approach of enemies can be seen and prepared for.”
When enemies want to conquer a territory, they put it under a siege. Military forces would surround a town or a fortress, isolate it and cut off all supplies until the community inside suffers famine and has no choice but to surrender. To fast-track the process, the enemies would also fire cannons or contaminate their water source so they may eventually give up.
I can’t help but use the illustration of siege and fortress at the time of this pandemic. I see our current situation as a warfare of the unseen, like being besieged by this disease. Apart from the danger of the coronavirus, we are also attacked by criticizing comments, the impact of corrupt leaders, the suspension of work, demoralizing news from around the globe, the worry for resources and so on. But even then, we have a reliable fortress to protect us from whatever challenges this pandemic may bring.
Think about it. Those who consider themselves people of God have nothing to stress about because we are under God’s protection — inside the walls of His mighty fortress. Even before this war has started, He has already piled up the stock of resources we’ll use. He has already prepared the place where we can sleep unharmed. In this safe space, we are secure with food and water supply.
There is no timeline as to when this calamity will end, but I pray that you ask God for a heart that truly leans on Him. May you see how He provides you not only with food for your body but food for your soul as well, which is the Word of God. Rejoice that you have a supply of both drinkable water and the Living Water, which is given by Christ Jesus (John 4:10). And while He sustains you, be vigilant like the watchmen day and night, guarding the people through prayers and gratitude. It is us Christians who know well that there is a bigger purpose for these sufferings. The weight of what we endure now is nothing compared to the weight of glory that is coming (2 Corinthians 4:17).