These are troubled times. As of May 8, over 75,000 Americans have lost their lives to a virus we considered a distant problem two months ago. Thankfully, living on lockdown the last several weeks has flattened the contagion curve and saved hundreds of thousands of lives! But the lockdown itself has become a menace.
Domestic violence has spiked as abused women and children have nowhere to escape. Suicide hotline calls have increased 900 percent. Internet pornography traffic is up 700 percent. Over 30 million people have filed for unemployment, figures unseen since the Great Depression.
To ease the ravages of lockdown, many states are re-opening at some level. But outbreaks of COVID-19 are still occurring, some in rural areas, and no state has met the now shelved CDC guideline of a 14-day decline in new cases before opening. Most troubling of all, there is no cure and no vaccine. And no one can say when this will end.
We now know this is not an interruption of our normally scheduled lives. It is a disruption on a global scale.
Of course, we’re not the first Christians to live through great upheaval. Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) lived in England during a time that would make us shudder. Her entire life was marked by the Hundred Years War between England and France. She survived the bubonic plague, which killed more than a third of Europe’s population. And she lived through bitter church divisiveness and political turmoil.
Perhaps because her husband and children died in the plague, she chose to become an anchoress—a woman who withdraws from society for a life of prayer and contemplation in a small room attached to a church. It was a severe self-quarantine. Once she entered her cell, she remained there for the rest of her life.
About age 30, Julian received 16 “showings” or visions of God’s love. After meditating on them for 20 years, she wrote them down in a single volume, “The Revelations of Divine Love.” It is the earliest surviving book in the English language written by a woman. In one showing, Jesus revealed how God’s love and Divine will are at work in every circumstance.
“All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well…” Jesus said to her.
But how could that be? Julian had seen heinous acts of human cruelty and knew all too well the catastrophic losses of a pandemic. She openly wondered how such great harms could ever lead to any good result. Don’t we all? It disturbed her deeply, until she had a further vision.
“And all this being so, it seemed to me that it was impossible that every kind of thing should be well, as our Lord revealed at this time. And to this I had no other answer as a revelation from our Lord except this: What is impossible to you is not impossible to me. I shall preserve my word in everything, and I shall make everything well.”
In our day as in hers, we rightly wonder how the great harms we see and sometimes commit could ever lead to any good result. Yet God took the greatest evil in history, Christ’s crucifixion, and turned it into the greatest good. In the short term, suffering and evil make no sense. But our God plays the long game. Somehow, in the mystery of God’s love, all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.
Jesus looked at [his disciples] and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
Matthew 19:26 (NRSV)