Coronavirus and Infinite Resignation

I had influenza about a month ago, I think, despite getting a flu shot. I got it from my 4-year-old, who got it from another 4-year-old, or maybe from my son's first grade class, which has been a vector of lice, influenza, and norovirus throughout the year. God love teachers.

I happened to get sick in one of the busiest work times of the year for me, so on my worst and most contagious days I stayed home, and on the other days I brought tissues and cold medicine and didn't shake any hands.

Part of the lingering cold/allergy symptoms I'm experiencing now includes an occasional cough and infrequent nose blowing. This seems to flare up in the mornings and the evenings, and sometimes after doing some cardio exercises at the gym, which seems to loosen any lingering snot. Gross, I know.

So I'm hand-washing and not hand-shaking and being careful but compassionate. All the while feeling the immense pressure of working a job as a pastor and a speaker that requires - necessitates - connection with others in a time when connection feels fraught with danger.

Also, I flew to Chicago last weekend for a speaking event at Valparaiso University in Indiana, and you just do not want to be coughing on a plane at all right now. And despite publicized decreases in travel, the line at airport security was more than 40 minutes.

I honestly don't think anyone knows quite what to do right now, aside from medical and disease professionals. The rest of us, including our government, are caught in a feedback loop of preparedness and projected confidence in the face of uncertainty.

Most of us probably won't get it, and if we do, we probably won't die - but what about my loved ones who are 80 and older or dealing with preexisting conditions like COPD or heart disease? And what about the 30-something guy a few counties over who is now in critical care with no preexisting conditions?

Life is uncertain, but the bills keep coming. That much I know. The mortgage and the student loan and the car payment will all be due, a beast that must be fed despite worldwide calamity.

In the midst of it all, as I said, I'm busy right now at work. We're hosting weekly Lenten services at church, in addition to preparing for Holy Week at Easter, and I'm teaching a weekly webinar for Luther Seminary at 1 p.m. on Wednesdays.

This Wednesday, our Lenten service reading comes from Genesis 22, the heartbreaking and wrenching story of Abraham being told by God to take his beloved son, Isaac, to the mountaintop and sacrifice him, only at the last moment God provides a ram for sacrifice and Abraham's life is spared.

This story is one of Abraham's massive faith, but to tell it in such a way that diminishes the heartache, and the deep love for Isaac, at war inside Abraham, is to sell an important story incredibly short.

If you haven't ever done so, I really recommend reading Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard's meditation on this passage, found in his book Fear and Trembling. 

You can actually read a large selection of that work here.

I won't pretend I can compress Kierkegaard's brilliance into a few sentences of a lowly blog here, but I want to try and say something I found in his writing that is bearing with me in these days of Coronavirus, uncertainty, and financial fear.

Kierkegaard dwells deeply with a conflicted and tormented Abraham, at the moments of his walk together with Isaac toward the mountain of Isaac's doom and the testament to Abraham's great faith.

Ultimately, Kierkegaard arrives at something he terms infinite resignation, which describes more accurately the mountain of faith at which Abraham and all of us must arrive to survive life in a cruel and often uncertain world.

For Kierkegaard, faith is not rosy or platitud-ish or simplistic. It is instead seeing clearly the cost of life in an uncertain world with a God whose love cannot be proved in the worldly way, and choosing to lean deeply into that uncertainty, with an infinite resignation to hope, to a belief that God will save despite all evidence to the contrary, including a Cross, and an empty tomb.

That God will provide a ram at the last moment - or Jesus - and the lives of our loved ones and ourselves will be spared.

I am not sure what ram is coming in the face of coronavirus. It is probably something that none of us see coming at the moment, a relief that is spiritual and communal and universal rather than our hopes for something practical and particular and individual. God works in God's ways.

Still, the alternative to this infinite resignation to hope is a finite struggle against fear, one that exhausts and tires and always disappoints.

So today, as I work online and wash my hands and give fist bumps at church, I will also find a way toward infinite resignation. A loose hold on my life, so that God will grab tightly and send a ram, or something.


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