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King Asa and the pandemic

In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet.  Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the LORD, but only from the doctors.  Then in the forty-first year of his reign Asa died and rested with his ancestors. (2 Chronicles 16:12-13, NIV)

I have been struck recently by how an episode from the life of Asa King of Judah in about 871BC speaks to us in the pandemic.

King Asa knew how to depend on God: he once prayed, “Lord, there is no-one like you to help the powerless against the mighty”.  However, in later life, he tragically swapped God-reliance for self-reliance, as when he faced this disease. He was happy to see the doctor, but somehow did not also turn to God in prayer.  This, despite the fact that God was in a covenant with Asa and had abundantly showed him how He answers prayer.

It made me think about our attitude to the pandemic.  Eagerly we await the vaccine roll-out, and rightly we applaud the huge efforts of the scientists and medics.  We are right to be thankful for so many who are labouring on this.  But do we – will we – PRAY?  I find myself spending more time worrying about the news than I do unburdening myself to our Heavenly Father about all this, even though I, too, have a covenant relationship with God.

The more I think about it, the stranger this attitude is.  For our God is sovereign.  The pandemic comes ultimately by His decree, or at least, as Job’s disease did, by His permission.  So He can remove it, whether through the noble work of the scientists and medics, or in some other way.  As Jeremiah prayed, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”  Yet still, I don’t pray as I should.  Why not?

2 Chronicles gives at least two possible explanations.

One is unbelief.  This is a huge theme in this book, which is full of the question whether God’s people will rely on Him.  That is still a live question for us.  “Can God really deal with this situation?”, we ask.  “It all seems too huge.”  For the answer, read 2 Chronicles chapters 13-22, for God’s track-record!

A second possible explanation for our prayerlessness is resentment of God.  I do wonder if this was a factor for Asa.  Just before his foot disease, he’d been consumed with rage about a prophet of God who’d rebuked him for his God-less approach.  How dare God, or His prophet, speak to him like that!  He wouldn’t go to God now!

Looking into myself, I do detect the temptation to resent God for the pandemic – for it is so distressing in its many impacts.  If there is any such resentment, I’m unlikely to want to go to God in prayer!   And yet, do I have any right to such resentment?  Doesn’t it actually stem from my own entitled attitude to how life should be?  Maybe I need more schooling in humble gratitude for God’s many blessings, none of which are mine by right.  Or to remember God’s astonishing commitment to us in Christ.

So it is that, taught by the story of Asa, I know I must humble myself, let God be God, and come to Him seeking His mercy in this situation.  Thanking God for science and medicine, but first and foremost seeking our sovereign, covenant-keeping, merciful God.

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