During a stroll through a local bookstore about a year ago, the title on the cover made the book leap off the shelf and into my hands. “The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America.”
It was a phrase turned by a master craftsman. The inscription kept me pondering about the book’s real message. Was this a book about losing the weight of pounds, the weight of materialism, or the weight of a growing socialistic and pluralistic society? Intrigue was compelling at least a superficial browsing.
The book was written by Tommy Tomlinson, a name recognizable to Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine readers. He has also written for Forbes, Esquire and several other publications. National Public Radio proclaimed this one of the best books of 2019.
Unknown to most, Tomlinson weighed an astonishing 460 pounds, unable to climb a flight of stairs, needing to purchase two seats to fly on an airplane, and at risk for life-ending physical complications. Rolling Stone magazine reviewed, “What could have been a wallow in memoir self-pity is raised to art by Tomlinson’s wit and prose.” The book attempts to bring a candid look at the everyday experience of being constantly aware of your size.
Life is like that, isn’t it? We are faced with challenges and we can either ignore the elephant in the room, wallow in self-pity, or creatively weave hope and courage into the tapestry of life.
There are three elephants in the 8 by 10-foot living room we call the coronavirus. Shall we unpack them from our trunk – pun intended?
The constant change, the uncertainty of the outcome and the number of confirmed cases and deaths related to the virus have created an almost uncontrolled anxiety in most of us. The routine and normalcy of life has changed dramatically. Financial pressures come from a plummeting stock market or a job that no longer exists in a business whose doors are closed. The unheeded whispers of “setting aside salary for a rainy day” were now violently shouting tsunami-like warnings. Elephant number one is pushing me off the couch.
The second elephant is running around the room, jumping up and down. We are consumed with information about this tragedy in a way that has the flavor and danger of an addiction. It is in front of us in the media, staring at us from the empty shelves of the grocery stores, and driving us stir-crazy as we sit sheltered in place. There is no entertainment to distract. How can I think about the other priorities of life? Can I shut out this deafening noise to have quiet time with God, especially as Easter approaches?
Finally, there is the star of this three-ring circus. Eventually we need to ask the theological question that has bothered man’s soul for centuries. Are the events that are connected with these tragic events the result of God’s wrath? Let’s try to ponder each elephant for a moment.
There are certainly Old Testament examples of the wrath of God. From the flood in the days of Noah to the Jericho walls tumbling during the time of Joshua, the Old Testament is filled with incidents showing God punishing people because of their sins. Lest we think that God’s people would be exempt, we need only be reminded of God’s wrath upon Israel at the base of Mt. Sinai to know that it happens. Does God – could God – discipline people through a natural disaster like the coronavirus? Certainly.
It is vital to answer that question while remembering a very simple truth. The only reason we know these acts in the Old Testament were displays of God’s punishment is because of inspired revelation. We wouldn’t know it was from God if it were not for the Bible. Natural disasters do not come with a Post-it note saying, “This is punishment from God.”
All of God’s creation – man, animals, plants – suffer because of the result of sin. Do you remember the punishment to Adam and Eve in the Garden? The natural events of life, like childbirth and work, will be accompanied by pain and sweat. The earth itself would produce thorns and thistles. The perfection of God’s creation is now marred with mutations and devolutions, deviant anomalies from the design of the Master.
The rumbles of a volcano, the tumbles of an earthquake and the troubles caused by a virus, cancer or pneumonia may well be the result of the effects of sin in our world. Sin causes a host of other disasters that are natural – greed, jealousy, murder, stealing, and gossip, just to name a few.
The important message about tragedy is not the event itself, but what can lie beyond the disaster. “And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28 ESV).
God’s purpose – the desire of His heart – is for your life to be pleasant and carefree. But even if it isn’t, He promises to be busy working things together to bring good out of our chaos.
If that is true, Paul draws the most logical conclusion. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (Romans 8:31, 35 ESV)? Or coronavirus, or stock market crash, or forcing your life to become simplified, or a shortage of toilet paper, or the postponement of the Derby, or ….
Finally, how can you not be consumed by this? Set aside time each day to silence this noise. Turn off the television. Put your cellphone and your tablet on airplane mode. Read the Bible. Commit to memory verses that talk about God’s sovereignty (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; Matthew 10:29-31; Colossians 1:16-17) and about God calming our anxieties (1 John 4:18; 1 Peter 3:14; 2 Timothy 1:7; Isaiah 35:4).
With God’s plan and help, there is Light at the end of this tunnel.