Yes, we’re agreed: too many people have been dying. I can name a dozen since my lockdown started. Your confinement may have started earlier or later, but you still agree: too many deaths. Too many people close to you. You don’t need to name the beloveds who now mourn, because you don’t need the grand reprimand your list will inspire from other beloveds—cronies and partners omitted from your spontaneous narrative.
The names I recall evoke wondrously uncoordinated memories: the blue of ocean between Trinidad and Tobago; the black of Canje water in Berbice, Guyana, and graduation gowns regaled with red capes in Maracas, Trinidad; the brown of Plaisance dirt roads and more black of what Guyanese call the pitch roads of East Coast Demerara, Guyana; the snug of crowded floors where we slept like rows of men in an overcrowded jail after some civil protest got half the town arrested. More memories: the delectability of fresh bread, the permanency of available food in the houses where we lived and slept together on those never-too-crowded floors—genetically cousins, practically brothers. The names run through my head switching on motion sensitive lights—thoughts and frightened feelings blended in the mixer that produced weeks of peanut punch in Maracas, and one crossing of the nameless strait between Trinidad and its northwestern sister island, Tobago. To many of us it was rough ocean, to others, standard, because they had traveled longer stretches of wider ocean to get to school in Trinidad from other Caribbean islands farther north and west. We got hugged, lost sleep, became seasick; hugged some more and played board games through the tossing night waves. We didn’t know we weren’t immortal, not yet. We just never thought of novel coronavirus pandemonium, or dying, and we didn’t know how to think of 50 years later.
Now it is, and we’re losing people because whether they’re ready or not, whether they know how or not, people are dying.
One I’ve lost since Wicked King COVID’s lockdown was a sweet soprano from our days in the college choir. Another was a youth I knew only as a little boy. My kid sister is his mom’s sister. They are all of a decade younger than I, too young for the claim of being my sisters: all they have to prove it is genes and years of unbroken love. I met my nephew, my sister’s sister’s son, when she came to visit my house with her army of three little worthies in tow. The beautiful infants got (me) into trouble, wandering into the neighbor’s property while we relaxed and chatted; they thought it was just as fine to play in the neighbor’s flower garden as it was to play in my yard.
How does a fine youth die? How does a gifted, handsome, godly man die in the times of Wicked King COVID? He dies on his motorbike waiting at a traffic light. To break lockdown boredom he goes out for a ride, and waits at the light like he should. An 18-wheeler coursing the freeway suddenly sweeps across the median and runs upon him from the wrong direction, breaking every bone in his body that’s a single day short of 35 years old, killing him instantly; leaving the lives of his 4-year-old daughter and pregnant wife in tatters.
What’s the Point?
So what’s the gore of Caesar’s morbid story for? It isn’t about King COVID. Maybe. It’s so you may render to the Caesars whatever is theirs, and to the demons of hell whatever is theirs. Our options for finger pointing include more than the wicked enemy (Matt. 13:28). But that doesn’t mean that the God option is your answer. Human beings, you and I, also make stupid and counterproductive decisions (Jer. 17:9; 10:23). But admitting our guilt doesn’t complete the story either. There is more to life than God, His angel armies, and His human children. There’s personal evil: Jesus “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). And when he fell, Earth is where he came to (Rev. 12:9). He’s been here since, and friend or foe, faithful or faithless, we’ve all been had by his virus.
In This Together
Everybody who dies today isn’t succumbing to COVID-19, though we may never know how many did: virus Sars-CoV-2has not been transparent about its business: a former student of mine simply didn’t wake up. Two beautiful classmates surrendered to cancer, one after protracted resistance. The other? After her passing, my college roommate (Room 11 forever!) posted us all a shot of her smiling wonderfully among friends as they cruised the world together, December 2019. Two months later she was diagnosed with cancer. Two months later, she’s dead. My brother-cousin had a heart attack. My 11-year-younger brother, yes, too young again, did not succumb, thank You, O God! He struggled at home for almost two weeks before being hospitalized: his vomiting and diarrhea were not COVID-19 symptoms. Until they were. Thank God he survived and went home. Last week, on a follow-up visit, his doctor read X-ray film and instructed that the virus has singed and scarred his lungs: he should stay home. No care just now would be too much.
He may have survived the ravages of this fierce pandemic. But he’s still its victim. We’re all
King COVID’s victims. How come? I attended a funeral: at one point the counter on the screen told me that 392 of us were at the funeral. The counter on the screen! Yes. We’re all manacled, under arrest, mourning apart, alone in our cell. One of my beloved sisters, who gave me the first nonfamily Christmas gift I remember, has lost her husband. She said to me on the phone: “Nobody’s coming to give me a hug!” She’s a victim too, and not just because her hero, our hero’s, gone. My OB-GYN daughter claims she’s that because I told her to go to medical school. All I know is that after I met her in my classroom, God told me to father her. We’ve been praying together on the phone for almost 20 years now. I talked with her about the bereaved who cannot mourn. She said, “It’s the same with the babies.” I hadn’t thought of it: whether for weeping or laughter, we’re all victims. The wretched pandemic has us all in its grasp. We’re all victims—of the virus and of its real master.
And there’s much more to him than smart and wicked: there’s frustrated, confused, desperate, and incompetent. Frustrated, like the schemer whose $1 million plot just didn’t work out; confused, like the thief exposed and trapped by the alarm system; desperate, like: “woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short” (Rev. 12:12); and incompetent, like if he could have made it all look beautiful as it did to Eve! But he couldn’t. We see its ugliness, and we want out. Help us Jesus!
Deliberate evil, confused havoc, fights between lovers, drunks who kill their spouse and kids, bullying, the bullied and used who strike out in frustration, self-harmers, desperation—all these are clear manifestations of Satan’s kingdom. He wasn’t asleep before COVID-19. He isn’t a one-issue voter; his bets aren’t all on one pandemic, or only pandemics, or just diseases, or exclusively biological confusion, or only biological confusion and dirty politics, or viruses, corruption and auto accidents: neither you nor I know his gamut, and neither one of us is beyond his attempts at assault. We’re all in this together.
Thanks to God, we aren’t ignorant of his strategies and tricks (2 Cor. 2:11). Still, we don’t have his run sheet. We don’t need his run sheet.
The days in which we live are solemn and important. The Spirit of God is gradually but surely being withdrawn from the earth. Plagues and judgments are already falling upon the despisers of the grace of God The calamities by land and sea, the unsettle state of society, the alarms of war, are portentous. . . . The agencies of evil are combining their forces, and consolidating. They are strengthening for the last great crisis.*
Those lines make it clear that none of us should presume to declare whether our pandemic is of God or of the devil. We know this much: that whatever the evil, confused, frustrated, and incompetent one is up to, Jesus is in this pandemic with us. Jesus is in this chaos with us. He’ll never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). He’s got this better place for us. He’s coming back to get us, and He’ll take us all out of this together. Remember His lines: “I will come back” (John 14:1-3).
*Ellen G. White, Christian Service (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1925), p. 52.