The Fiery COVID Furnace

by Cheryl Ann Smith

We’re beginning to emerge from our COVID trial by fire. Some people are gingerly, fearfully venturing out the door. Others are springing out, desperate to make up for lost time, desperate to return to life as it had been. But we will never have that old life again. We’ve all changed. What will we do with those changes?

From prince to pauper, we all experienced two great shocks in the past couple of years. First: We are not in control of our life and world. Oh, we may have professed with our lips that we surrender everything to God and his holy will. But in reality, we have our secret five-year plans; and suffering, death, and limitations are not part of those plans.

No one was prepared for a world which suddenly stopped and in which we couldn’t see or touch our loves ones, let alone “save” them.

No leader, no matter how popular, intelligent, or powerful, could offer a quick fix or spin on this one. No one knew what this virus would do next, and so we were each confronted by our inability to control a thing—except our interior response.

This exposed our fears, vulnerabilities, weak faith, faltering love—the realities we try to obscure or escape. In the face of this invisible, deadly bug, we came smack up against our poverty and littleness.

The second great shock: When we were confined at home with the same people 24/7, it was impossible to maintain any pious or pretty façade. Our sins, weaknesses, wounds, fault lines were all exposed. No more running from the truth.

Was all doom and gloom in the pandemic? Far from it! The gift offered was rediscovering what is essential in life: we couldn’t travel around the world, but many fell in love with their own home and garden.

We couldn’t expand our social life, but many stopped taking family for granted and deepened in love for them. We couldn’t “keep up appearances” of being always loving and prayerful, but God invited us to see and know that he loves and accepts us just as we are.

With no power to contain COVID, many truly cried out to God from their need and entrusted their lives to him. With churches closed, many suddenly realized that receiving the Lord’s Body had always sustained them, and a hunger for his tangible Presence pierced comfort and complacency.

I couldn’t be with my father when he died, but God was there. He’s better company than I am anyway!

We were stripped to the essence and discovered that God was waiting there for us. This was the great call and gift of this pandemic crucible.

Do you remember the Old Testament story of the three young men who were bound and thrown into a fiery furnace because they refused to renounce God? For their defiance, the furnace was made seven times hotter than usual, burning anyone who approached it. Obviously, these three courageous young men were helpless to save themselves.

What did they do? They acknowledged that it was the sins of their people that led to this just punishment. They offered their humbled and contrite spirits to God, promising to follow him with their whole hearts, seeking only His Face.

Knowing they were powerless to save themselves, they begged his saving help. And what happened? The angel of the Lord joined them in the heart of the furnace, with a coolness such as wind and dew will bring, so that the fire did not even touch them or cause them any distress (Dan 3:50). And the King acknowledged the power of their God and released them.

God did not throw the three young men into the furnace, and he did not create the COVID pandemic. But he uses all things to draw us to himself.

As we’re led out of the fiery COVID furnace, may we acknowledge the beauty and power of the Lord, and our own poverty and littleness. May we follow him wholeheartedly, seeking his face once more. May we allow him to be our Lord, to save us, to draw us into his Heart.