I've had extra time to read recently.
A mixed blessing.
My kids have had more time to go Lord of the Flies around the house.
Without regular outings, playdates, lessons, ball practices, church, and shopping, we have time at home to get around to more individual activities - as well as get under each other's feet.
The pause has made me think.
Again, a mixed blessing.
Constant awareness of the circulating germs reminded me of a Bible story from the days of King David. I love learning from the life of the shepherd king. Our current struggle with the Novel Corona virus isn't the first deadly pandemic to strike humanity. Turns out, it's not so novel.
Once upon a time, David took a census and started a plague.
Have you read the story? Its buried in the Old Testament, twice. Once in 2 Samuel 24, and also in I Chronicles 21. King David numbered the people. God disapproved, and He gave David three options as a consequence. Would he rather his nation suffer from three years of famine, three months being defeated by their bloodthirsty enemies, or three days of a plague?
So he was faced with a dilemma.
Being a leader isn't easy.
David's response was "Please let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are very great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man." (2 Samuel 24:14 and I Chronicles 21:13).
He chose the virus.
David chose certain death.
He chose it rather than national insecurity.
He chose it rather than famine and ill health.
David considered death a safer choice for his nation than international enemies and food security.
What did that mean for Israel? When I'm reading a familiar Bible story I tend to gloss over the concept. But this time I paused, imagining what life looked like. It isn't so hard at the moment.
Did the people prepare? Did all business stop? Did schools close? Did international trade cease? Did they quarantine? Who was most at risk? Did the people blame their leader? Was there a national shortage of toilet paper? Were there riots? Whispers of conspiracy? Were people scared of their neighbors?
God sent an angel to destroy the people under King David. Seventy thousand men of Israel fell. Based on their recent census (which did leave a couple tribes out), that's a 4.46% death rate.
According to the rules God instituted for Israel to keep them flourishing, there was a law regarding census taking. Every man was supposed to give a ransom for himself, a half shekel, at the time of counting. It was a memorial for each of them before the Lord, to make atonement for themselves. If they didn't, the consequence was a plague. (Exodus 30:12). Perhaps when David counted the men of his nation, he neglected to require the tax be paid. All this is conjecture. But we know there was sin. David was wrong.
They say the only things sure in life are death and taxes.
Perhaps they tried to overlook the taxes. But in doing so, they invited death.
David knew death. He was a warrior. He'd seen friends die. I doubt he took it lightly knowing the cost of blood. But perhaps something was more important to David than the life of his countrymen. He realized his nation was built on the favor of the Lord. They could not thrive without the Lord's approval.
David understood this.
He did not shirk from death as if it was to be feared.
Rather, he considered it safer to be in the Lord's crosshairs than to lack food or safety.
What meaneth this?
David could not stop this. He understood the consequence of sin was death. But he also understood that God is a God of mercy. Seventy thousand men - a generation - died. But David was right, God is a God of mercy. After God struck, He paused.
Joni Earickson Tada, a woman who has been quadriplegic for 40 years, says "God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves." Does He want suffering or death? Rather, what He wants is - us. Every bit of us. Wholly and completely. If the only way to get our attention is take away something, He will do it.
The last time we saw one of my children's grandmothers, a couple days before our state started to lock down, my five year old stole her little half-used bottle of hand sanitizer from her bathroom. He didn't even know it was a hot commodity. Sorry Nana.
I don't know when we'll see her again. Maybe not this side of heaven. Or maybe we'll be sitting with her next year remembering this season. I know this will affect the future for my nation, my friends, my children. I know people will die because of this virus, both by its natural process, and by the severe restrictions enacted to avoid it. I know, one way or another, it will cost in blood.
But I also know that God is a God of mercy.
I am glad I don't lead this nation. But I do lead a small one. I have had to choose lonely quarantine with a sick child and miss out on life for a while before. I have had to ration food due to the family economy. I have had to say no to outings. I have felt the angel of death hovering over a child with a deadly infection in his brain. I have had to lay my own desires on the altar of His mercy. And in that space, I have not only experienced His mercy, I have known His grace.
It is in loneliness that He is my closest friend.
It is in economic lack that He sustains my body and my soul.
It is in physical pain that He has filled me with peace deeper than comfort.
It is in the void of busyness that He meets me at my kitchen counter.
It is in the dogged mundane as I pay bills, vacuum, drive, shop, cook, mother on, wife on, daughter on, and try to sleep occasionally - it is in that humble service that He is most honored.
It is when my child is sick that I realize He loves even better than a mother. He wants more than health, wealth, and comfort for me. He wants me.
Whether it costs me freedom, stability, comfort, or even life, what I gain will be worth it. I will gain fellowship with Him. That is a mixed blessing that David knew. He saw the angel of death paused, restrained. He didn't run in fear. He went there. He built an altar. He offered a costly sacrifice. In the face of death, David asked for atonement. At-one-ment with His God. And the Lord, a God of mercy and of grace, granted it.
Generations later, on that same spot, Jesus Himself stretched out on the sacrificial altar, and gave His life to complete the sacrifice that David foreshadowed that day. He gave what I didn't deserve. He gave grace. He gave me His life in exchange for mine.
That, dear one, is worth losing everything.
Even toilet paper.