2334) Are We Listening?

Listening and obeying | philmoser


By Mark D. Tranvik, professor of Reformation History and Theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.


     In the Christian faith times of crisis are also understood as opportunities to reflect on what God might be saying.  So, in the midst of a pandemic, how might God be seeking to get our attention?  I am going to point to three things:

     First, the pandemic is an opportunity to reevaluate what is truly important.  People of faith confess regularly that they fail to honor God and instead invest inordinate value and loyalty in some earthly thing.  The old-fashioned word for this is idolatry.

     Think of all the ways our idols have been revealed in the past few months.  For example, I love to watch sports on television, curled up on the couch before a large and well-defined screen.  That’s gone, and I wonder if it is all bad.  There is more time for my family and community.  Some great books are now getting my attention.  Walks with my wife are more frequent.  Or consider how many of us were getting accustomed to long-distance travel.  Now we are getting to know our own towns and local communities better.

     It’s not that I want a world without sports and travel, but we might ask ourselves if they had become selfish preoccupations, obscuring neighbors and others in need.

     Second, the virus unmasks the great myth of self-sufficiency.  People of faith should know that the community is prior to the individual.  We Americans love to celebrate all things centered on the self.  But let’s face it:  About the only thing we truly do alone is die.

     The stories of courage and self-sacrifice coming from our hospitals and nursing homes are reminders of our dependence on a host of people and institutions.  The long car lines outside food shelves point to the many in our midst who are perilously close to poverty.  And consider our basic need to trust others to wear masks, wash hands and keep a distance in order to prevent the virus from spreading. 

   Seldom has it been more evident that our own well-being rests in the hands of others and that many in our midst are hurting.

     Third, the pandemic calls into question something I would term “nature mysticism.”  People of faith are wary of confusing creation with the Creator.  In our day there seems to be an increasing tendency to turn to the natural world for meaning and purpose in life.  Often this grows sentimental, as the phrase “nature bathing” suggests.  The earth becomes the cleansing source of life itself, possessing the power and strength to make us “whole.”

     Now, I enjoy the outdoors as much as anyone and long for the days when campgrounds and parks are fully open.  But the pandemic reveals what we all intuitively know:  Nature has its shadow side.  The deadly virus is nature at its darkest.  The message here is that nature needs to be cared for and respected.  It is a source of awe and beauty.  But it isn’t God.

     C.S. Lewis once said that pain and suffering are God’s megaphone to a deaf world.  If he is right, then God has not been silent during the pandemic.  Pain and suffering also raise huge questions, of course, about God’s justice.  That’s fair, and faith can provide insights on that as well.

     But my primary concern here is to deflect some attention away from the fringe response to the virus and point instead to the ways God might be interrupting our lives and asking us to stop and think.  I believe God is speaking.

     Are we listening?


Deuteronomy 8:2-3  —  Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.  He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Zechariah 7:13  —  “When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,” says the Lord Almighty.

Psalm 119:66-68  —  Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands.  Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.  You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.

John 16:33  —  (Jesus said), “ I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”


Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

–I Samuel 3:9