One year on. It is a year to the day since the Prime Minister told us that we must stay at home. We still live under the same command. In the meantime the equivalent of the non-student population of Oxford has died of coronavirus in the UK. At noon the nation will fall silent to remember and reflect.
How should we use the silence? I spoke a little bit on that subject from Psalm 49 on Sunday– one option is to recognise that death comes to us all and ponder how we are facing up to that. But I am also drawn to a verse at the end of Habakkuk 2: “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” In the context, the call is to bow before the surprising sovereignty of God.
That may be a problem. I have hated the last year. Truth be told, I have been spared sickness and personal bereavement myself. But the restrictions have hit hard. A year of living in a house on my own with others banned from entering by Government diktat. Events to which I was really looking forward cancelled. Church just a pale shadow of what it should be- and much else besides. And I’ve probably got off relatively lightly. It has been a dreadful year. And so the sovereignty of God over it is far from a straightforward idea to accept. Rather like Habakkuk himself it may force us to utter questions and objections.
Perhaps because of that we haven’t focused much on the Lord’s control over the past year. Our attention has been drawn instead to the actions of Governments and holding them responsibile for locking down too slowly or failing to re-open fast enough depending on our perspective. But Governments aren’t ultimately responsible for what has happened. There is no way round this- for that you have to look to God.
Only if we do that will we learn the right lessons. The strange sovereignty of God was revealed in Habakkuk’s day by his use of the brutal Babylonians to invade Israel. It was a disciplinary measure- a call for Israel to face up to her injustice and idolatry. The past year should be the greatest learning lesson of our lifetimes. Never before has there been such a brutal reminder of the limits of human control. Perhaps the idols of leisure that we looked to for meaning have been revealed as fragile things that can disappear in a moment. Before the overwhelming power of God there is little that we can do. It is healthy to have our pride brought low and to realise that we are not in charge of the universe. To be silent before God is to acknowledge the ultimate reality- He is the eternal Lord and we are but dust.
And, only if we acknowledge the sovereignty of God do we have hope. For our whole faith relies on the truth that in the ugliest of deaths in Jerusalem the Sovereign Lord was working out his salvation. And it is only a powerful Sovereign God who is worth looking to for help in times like this such that we can say with Habakkuk- “The Sovereign LORD is my strength.” And only one who is totally in control of the future can guarantee that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
I’ve probably spoken too much this year. Complained too much. Moaned about the Government too much. Tried to plan the future too much. Today would be a good day to learn the lesson of the last year: God is God and I am not. “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him.”