When the Leaf Rattles
On a Saturday afternoon recently, I joined my wife to help her finish picking up our yard. A cold front had blown through earlier in the week, chasing away momentarily the warming spring weather. The strong winds caused by the weather system had dropped numerous branches and twigs from the tall oak trees around our home. By the time I joined her, she had already picked up and disposed of enough wheelbarrows of fallen debris to constitute a small tree.
After we finished cleaning up the yard, I fired up the leaf blower in order to remove the piles of leaves that had congregated around the stone wall and bushes that line our driveway. Clearing leaves is usually a fall time pursuit, but those with oak trees know they hang on to many of their leaves throughout the winter. The gusty winds in the springtime are the Lord's way of cleaning and pruning these majestic trees, preparing them for the coming buds and new leaves they will bring.
As I herded the leaves down into the woods with the blower, a phrase from the Psalter came to mind. Psalm 104 says "the winds do Your will" in speaking of the Lord's sovereign use of the winds to accomplish His purposes. With far more wisdom and purpose than my simplistic use of a leaf blower, the Lord - as this same psalm testifies to - makes the winds His messengers as He uses them to fulfill His will and design on the face of the earth. As the disciples said of Jesus with astonishment, "Even the winds obey Him!"
The swirling winds of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused people to tremble in fear these days. While finishing the job and putting away the leaf blower, I recalled hearing how some communities were so concerned that these machines could spread the Corona virus that they were banning their use. People's behavior in response to the virus can be as humorous as it is sad. My sister-in-law recounted that she was out walking her dog down the sidewalk on one side of the street when a man on the other side of the street was coming in the opposite direction also walking his dog. When he drew even with her, he pulled out a mask, covered his face, then dropped it after passing by. I guess 30+ feet of social distancing outdoors is still not safe enough these days.
People are asking if the COVID-19 outbreak is a judgment of God. Given what the Bible says above about God's control over all things, even the winds, is not the answer clear? Undoubtedly this is the Lord's judgment, though one must be careful in assigning too much correspondence to individual cases. For when the Lord sends his winds of judgment upon the earth, be they in the form of tornadoes or viruses, the righteous as well as the wicked can suffer (Matt. 7:24-27).
Yet the virus is not the only judgment we face at this time. So is the fear that has fallen on so many. The Book of Leviticus recounts what happens when people turn away from God to the idols of the nations. One punishment the Lord brings is the removal of mankind's natural bravado. He says of a nation under his judgment: "The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight" (Lev. 23:36). People have grown very fearful at this time. So many in authority are scrambling to use their power, often in nonsensical ways such as keeping abortion clinics open but dentist offices closed, to try to stave off the virus and the fear it brings. Has it not become clear during this crisis that here in America "the land of the free and the home of the brave" has become anything but?
What is truly necessary at this time is not extreme government protectionism, more face masks, or even a miraculous Corona vaccine. For the fact of the matter is that, under the ultimate curse of sin and eternal death, "We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away" as Isaiah said (Is. 64:6). Now is a time for the church to respond in boldness, faith, and a strong gospel proclamation of Christ crucified, buried, and risen that demonstrates why the most repeated commandment in the Bible is: "Do not fear!" As James urged so well yesterday, the church should take the lead in dispelling fear by reopening its doors once again in times and measures suitable to its community, gathering for worship, and beseeching God's mercies for ourselves and our land.
People around us desperately need to see the church not shaking like a leaf but, confident in its salvation and eternal life, proclaiming to all who will listen the hope of Jesus. For He is the calmer of the wind, the one who causes "the righteous to flourish like a green leaf" (Prov. 11:28).