“While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18, KJV).
The novel coronavirus casts an invisible gloom, reminding me of months ago, riding the train into a morning of darkness that seemed to deny the hour.
COVID and Shadow
It is 7:00 in the morning; the station is full of silent, sleepy people suddenly awakened by bursts of the icy wind that slaps our faces. It is January, and I am Berlin bound. January and its cold, gray skies; like hearing, with foreboding, the news from Wuhan China. Seven a.m. sounds too late for gloom and dark; like China, continuously exploding with economic, military, and political development, now frightened by an invisible thing that impels unprecedented lockdown—11 million people immobilized, imprisoned, quarantined in their own places of dwelling or wherever the order found them.1
The sun rises late and goes back to bed before 4:00 p.m. After the lights that illuminate the world in December, January seems rather lonely and dark, like all that COVID the Invisible has done to make the whole world darker.
COVID and Tomorrow
But January is the first month of a new year. There must be better days ahead. January is full of hope; it resuscitates desires that die in its own winter; like the good God who has good plans for our tomorrow, to give us a future bright with blessed hope (see Jer. 29:11; Titus 2:13).
As I stand on the platform ready to board the train, I look up, trying to find a star. But the clouds conceal them; like public health and economic futures—unstable, unseen, unknown. As I look up, the only object that looks capable of frightening all the stars is the full moon; like constant warnings of distorted vision from your car’s side mirror: your eyes and the moon may be fine, but beware of what they tell you, for “objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” Danger may be greater than you fear. Or quite the opposite; like daring to think through and beyond the looming moon, fixing your gaze beyond heartbreaking bereavement, lost employment, broken stock and bank accounts; you are no lunatic for believing in more than menacing danger or even overwhelming tragedy; for seeing visions beyond; for going outside to look and see beyond convention, beyond the things everyone sees (see Gen. 15:6).
Trips on Berlin’s trains are full of silence. Nobody greets, nobody speaks—on the phone or to their neighbor passenger; music is loud only on headphones. Quiet citizens try to respect each other’s stillness and silence. The silence of the train gives us time to think and remember, plan or read. I fill my trips on the train with words, books, notebooks; with my scribbles, reflections or blogs, like this one. I’ve learned to arrive on time because German trains do not wait and almost never delay. I learned promptness the hard way when the doors were closed on my nose several times, and I arrived for school late because of my 30-second hesitation. Now I greatly admire the organization and punctuality of public transportation in these parts of the planet.
When the sky clears up, the train is in the middle of a gray forest that seems dead, but is actually asleep. As I am about to enter the city, I see how the trees on its edge show their naked skeletons, waiting for spring sun to come back. Rains, frost, and sad snow keep some of the meadows a faint green. I observe the thin branches of the weeping willows. They seem so fragile and delicate. I do not understand how they support the cold that freezes my bones.
But not everything that seems fragile is; and not everything that seems dead is. And not every omen of pandemonium deserves to be taken as tomorrow’s definition. The sky will clear. Your fragile faith, your tiny mustard seed, is quite enough: it’s what you were given to begin with, so you could grow it as it grows you and you both grow, together. The patient and quiet of these trees may teach you, and others with whom you share it, strong truths of spiritual serenity deep down inside the soul, that waits with certainty for the light’s return. Then the rebirth of their leaves will give us fresh air again. In a few months I will see them again with their bright and crispy spring green. Then I will go back to the forest and run—“a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccl. 3:4, KJV).
Today we will see the sun. I do not see its radiance from my seat, but I see how it announces its arrival, and colors my sky with a shining beauty. Magnificent violets and pinks part the clouds to announce the magic of a dawning day. Then, slowly, it is born out of the bright and powerful sky, light and life for warming encouragement even in winter. And I can smile, because from everywhere to everywhere else, from Wuhan to New York, from Eden to the New Jerusalem, “from the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised” (Ps. 113:3, NASB).2 COVID still casts shadow. But I’ve looked up outside, and I can see the conquering light.