“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails, and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
Since the onset of the global pandemic we are now experiencing, there has been an exponential increase of grief in our world. The emergence of Covid 19 only compounds the already preexisting and perpetual state of universal human suffering and sadness. The graphs and charts to which we are exposed by the media, showing a steady increase in infections and deaths, are but an objective summary of the reality of human despair. The mere numbers often leave us emotionally disconnected from the pain felt in real time… in hospital rooms, nursing homes, mortuaries, unemployment lines, and places where people are scrambling for basic necessities.
As we navigate our way through our current reality, we can find inspiration in the words the prophet Habakkuk, who anticipated his own crisis situation and how he would respond to it. Living in an agrarian culture, largely dependent upon the produce of the land, he describes a looming economic downturn where his people would experience their own version of a recession. There would be figs that were not budding; grapes that did not grow; olives that were failing; and fields that produced no food. Also, there would be no sheep or cattle from which to get milk, meat, or wool. Their ancient economy would be devastated. One of the most obvious ways the Coronavirus has adversely affected our nation is its impact on the economy. Just a few weeks ago, America was boasting of having the greatest economic expansion in the last fifty years. Now, thanks to Covid 19, everything has been upended… unemployment is at an all-time high, and millions of people are feeling anxious and uncertain about the livelihood.
The prophet was facing a similar kind of instability. What would be his response? How would he positively respond to the negative events in his context? He would choose to rejoice in the Lord. His ultimate trust and confidence would not be in his own resources, which would include the means by which he would make a living and feed his family. These things were important ,but they were not the basis on which his life was built. As a result, if the fields failed to produce food, and the sheep and cattle were gone—God was still the one in whom the prophet found joy. In the last few weeks, we have all experienced lost on some level. Some have lost jobs. Others have lost their health, and tragically…many have lost their lives. The whole world, to one degree or another –has lost a sense of normalcy. One way to mitigate the impact of such loss is to find something that is constant, dependable, and unchanging. Habakkuk finds God as the ultimate solution. He says with resolute conviction “ …I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
Another passage , which gives support to the words of the prophet, reminds us that “ weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) The impact of this global pandemic has brought our world much sadness, grief, and weeping. While there is an ongoing pursuit to find a vaccine to stop the spread of this virus, an important counter to its negative spiritual and emotional impact is– the joy that comes only from knowing God. A song of many years ago reminds us that this joy about which we speak is a joy that “the world cannot give it to us, and the world cannot take it away.”