How we will remember covid?
“When difficult times are past and periods of growth and flourishing have come – when the wilderness seems far away – what do we do with those difficult experiences and memories?” I’ve only just read these words, written by my daughter as it happens, in her day-by-day commentary of the Old Testament book of Hosea for the BRF. She could have been writing about our experience today of the Covid pandemic. For many it has been a truly disturbing time, not least because of the dearth of social contact, especially in the early months of the Lockdown. Many are still fearful, especially as our schools are about to reopen. Whole sectors of our economy are experiencing economic collapse. I’ve encountered some distressing stories, of not being able to be with loved ones as they died in ICU, even of children unable to engage in social conversation. It’s been a tough time, and the end is not yet nigh. As author Asa Don Brown observes: “The human race was ill-prepared for such a calamity of events to unfold.” The temptation, when all this is over, is to simply airbrush 2020 from our memories. Too painful to recall, it just didn’t happen. I’ve just discovered, thanks to Google, that there is a name for such a practice – “motivated forgetting.” It seems that this was pioneered by the 19th century philosopher who gave us “God is Dead," Friedrich Nietzsche. “Without forgetting it is quite impossible to live at all,” he proclaimed. And yet such times of testing can be redeemed to become times of spiritual advance. That was certainly the experience of the Bible writers. Hosea is a good example, God’s prophet ministering at a time of crisis for the people of God about to be overwhelmed by the Assyrian empire. It’s a time of upheaval, even of political assassinations. There was a sense of menace in the air which his people were seeking to avoid. Above all they were seeking refuge in the wrong place, in the worship of Baal and through devotion to Anat and Asherah. Any port in a storm, so to speak. To shock his people into facing reality, the prophet is forced to employ a whole variety of disturbing metaphors and astonishing wordplays not evident in our English translations. He seeks to confront this people with the truth of their situation when they would rather not know. So God is “like a moth to Ephraim, like rot to the people of Judah”, a she-bear robbed of her cubs, a wild beast which “will tear (his people) to pieces and go away.” Above all, the people of Israel are playing the harlot and committing adultery by their attachments to others gods. So the book of Hosea begins with an explosive command to the prophet “Go, take for yourself a woman of prostitutions and have children of prostitutions.” The nadir is reached when God names one of these offspring “Then the Lord said, ‘Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” (Hosea 1:9) Here, as my daughter points out, God speaks the unspeakable, reversing the divine name. God claims no longer to be “I AM” to Israel, with all that this entails. However, all is not lost. “Even so Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself.” (Hosea 10:1). These words in Hebrew are ambiguous – an alternative translation allows the very opposite, even “Israel is an empty vine, whose fruit is destruction.” The future of Israel is on a knife edge. It seems only the people of Israel can decide, to be a luxuriant or an empty vine. Their choice, their challenge. So the book closes as unexpectedly as it begins, with remarkably positive language speaking of God's vision for his people. “People will dwell again in his shade; they will flourish like the corn, they will blossom like the vine – Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon.” (Hosea 14:7) And so, as the people of God emerge out of this terrible testing, the ministry of Hosea is not excised from their past. The very opposite: they are challenged to reflect on this painful era in their history, to recall their past failures. We all have times in our past which we would prefer to forget, not just bad decisions but more especially moments of failure. The good news is that God can use such experiences. Think Peter. No wonder he should write: “Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.” (1 Peter 4:12f, Message translation). So when we return to school (or whatever) decide now to remember how it felt at the time. especially if we found it very difficult. We need to create memories which are both accurate and accessible for the simple reason is that is how God works best, through times of testing. So even as Hosea challenges his nation, God woos his people: "I will show my love to the one I called “Not my loved one”. I will say to those called “Not my people”, “You are my people”; and they will say, “You are my God.”’ (Hosea 2:23) #covid #remember