“The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.”
-- Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
This isn't really a post about the novel coronavirus. It's about what happens to us when we are persuaded to be alone, even against our wishes and appetites. It's about what happens when we not only feel "cooped-up," but vaguely threatened, or perhaps just anxious. It's about feeling lonely in an over-connected world that suddenly has had its legs knocked out from under it. And it's about dying, which we all are.
What's happening now is the unvarnished truth. We are having to face ourselves. Netflix and Zoom can't fix that. Our fears reveal what we're made of, and so does our solitude. Pascal famously said, "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone." We try to drown out the quiet to avoid that reality, but it's more or less true. We medicate with busyness, noise, distracting pleasures, and even feigned invincibility -- hello, coronavirus Spring Breakers -- because if we don't, we will have to face ourselves.
Now we can't avoid it. Our petty worries now amount to what our faces look like on daily video screens. The Instagram-ready posing is long gone. We can't keep up. Our serious worries amount to how we will keep our grandparents safe, or our kids away from home safe or our brothers and sisters at church.
All alone with our selves, being babysat by our anxieties, we might see just how helpless and frail we really are. And we might see just how loved. If we have the eyes to see.
I think of the painful news stories of COVID19 victims dying alone, as loved ones are kept at bay. I think there might be nothing worse. We all have to die someday. But to die alone? Without a hand to hold? Without a face to look into? The thought is almost too much.
A couple of months ago, I sat in my seminary office and thought I was about to die. (It turns out it was just a panic attack, but I didn't know that, so please cut me some slack.) My first instinct was to go into a public space, so I wouldn't be by myself if something happened to me.
But, Christian, you are never alone. The Lord Jesus Christ has promised to be with us always (Matt. 28:20). He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). He has sent his Spirit even to dwell inside of us (Ez. 37:14). If this is true, the worst case scenario is not the worst case scenario. Even in our loneliness, even in our death, he is there holding us, safeguarding us. The absence of our feeling is not the absence of that sacred fellowship. C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity:
“An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God – that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on – the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers."
And the communion of saints is real. The Spiritual kinship of the church is real. We are more connected than we realize. Times like this might make us feel utterly disconnected but they also become the proving grounds for the heavenly friendship of the brethren. As churches rise to the occasion to feed, fund, and otherwise serve, we can be reminded that "whoever loves has been born of God and knows God" (1 Jn. 4:7).
But even if the church somehow fails us -- perish the thought! -- we know the Lord God will not. He cannot. His love is so constant, so thorough, so powerful that it secures our life even if we die (Jn. 11:25). All the raging rivers of trial and tragedy cannot quench his love. Floods of tears cannot overwhelm it. He is near, ever-near to the brokenhearted. He comes closer still to the crushed in spirit.
We don't even die to ourselves alone (Rom. 6:8; Gal. 2:20). Certainly we will not truly die alone. We will never be alone, period.
His love is closer than your next breath, even if your next breath doesn't come easy. His love will never let you go. The only eternal regret would be dying without knowing that love. We're all going to have to die --whether today or tomorrow or forty years from now. Why not start today, dying to our shallow pick-me-ups and half-baked spiritualities and self-exalting religiosities and now-exposed self-sufficiencies, and remember the all-conquering, life-sustaining, hell-defeating love of God? It is here, if you want it.
And if you want it, it will always be yours.
"Love never ends."
-- 1 Corinthians 13:8a