Are you overwhelmed yet? Every sphere of life seems turned upside down right now. Surely we have learned not to ask, “how much worse can it get?” But with every news-cycle, the catalog of catastrophes expands. While not to the level of the Biblical plagues, we can well imagine how the people of Ramses’ Egypt felt. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. But as bad as the circumstances of last year have been, even worse are the downstream consequences. Life has always been uncertain, but we feel it more keenly now. And with that, mental, emotional, and spiritual crises have produced a far greater impact than the events that triggered them.
A recent article in JAMA, makes some pretty startling observations.
Since February 2020, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to at least 200 000 deaths in the US and 1 million deaths worldwide. These numbers probably underestimate COVID-19 deaths by 50%, with excess cardiovascular, metabolic, and dementia-related deaths likely misclassified COVID-19 deaths.
This devastating pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of daily life. While nations struggle to manage the initial waves of the death and disruption associated with the pandemic, accumulating evidence indicates another “second wave” is building: rising rates of mental health and substance use disorders.
This magnitude of death over a short period of time is an international tragedy on a historic scale. Focusing on the US, the number of deaths currently attributable to COVID-19 is nearly 4 times the number killed during the Vietnam War. This interpersonal loss at a massive scale is compounded by societal disruption. The necessary social distancing and quarantine measures implemented as mitigation strategies have significantly amplified emotional turmoil by substantially changing the social fabric by which individuals, families, communities, and nations cope with tragedy. The effect is multidimensional disruption of employment, finances, education, health care, food security, transportation, recreation, cultural and religious practices, and the ability of personal support networks and communities to come together and grieve.
A June 2020 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 5412 US adults found that 40.9% of respondents reported “at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition,” including depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and substance abuse, with rates that were 3 to 4 times the rates 1 year earlier.2 Remarkably, 10.7% of respondents reported seriously considering suicide in the last 30 days.2 The sudden interpersonal loss associated with COVID-19, along with severe social disruption, can easily overwhelm the ways individuals and families cope with bereavement.
The events of 2020 were bad. And, unfortunately, for many, 2021 may get worse. As Christians, how do we respond when life is absolutely overwhelming? We profess that our faith gives us strength “many trials of various kinds.” We are instructed to “count it all joy.” We declare that we can endure “all things through Christ who strengthens us.” We have an expectation that things will work out because, “if God is for us, who can be against us.” Yet, when things go from bad to worse, how do those scripture truths hold up as threads in the fabric of our lives. How do we keep from being overwhelmed? Or do we?
Or perhaps the question is not ‘how do we keep from being overwhelmed,’ but are we ‘overwhelmed by the wrong things?’ The Apostle Paul points to this paradox, writing to the ancient Church at Corinth.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies…. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.2 Corinthians 4:8-10, 16-18
Through a remarkable series of comparisons, Paul admonishes us to be overwhelmed by the grace of God, not the gravity of the present crisis. Perhaps our problem is that we are overwhelmed by the wrong things? A friend once noted that ‘fear is simply faith pointed in the wrong direction.’ Are you overwhelmed? Overwhelmed by fear of what will happen next? Or overwhelmed with faith in the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Join us this week as we examine 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 and consider the calling as Christians to be overwhelmed by the things that will last forever. We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info. You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.