We won’t find the stability we crave short of the help and hope and satisfaction that only comes beyond the sun. If we haven’t learned that lesson, we’ll be just as unprepared for the next time the world turns upside down. And there will be a next time. “What has been is what will be…and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
People who ought to know keep saying that this year we will finally put the pandemic behind us. I’ve given up predicting myself, but I hope they’re right. If they are, I wonder how we’ll remember these last couple years.
For those who suffered the death of someone close to them, the defining experience of the pandemic may be loss. For many of us, I imagine the primary experience will be disorientation. We saw our plans upended. We felt time suspended. We saw what had been pillars in life crumble one after another — from time with aging family, to the joy of in-person worship, to a simple smile on the unmasked face of a friend.
Far beyond the physical impacts of the disease itself, the pandemic experience has exposed the fragility of so much of what we take for granted in life. How will we cope with the disorientation of the last couple years? Where will we look for stability and renewal coming out of them?
Nothing New Under the Sun
The Bible’s wisdom literature is given to help us answer questions like these. Wisdom provides proper orientation to the world. It’s a learned instinct for living in the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. And of the Bible’s wisdom books, perhaps ironically, it is Ecclesiastes that offers the perspective we badly need in responding to what we’ve been through.
I say ironically because Ecclesiastes itself can be a disorienting book. It offers the perspective of a man called “the Preacher,” who essentially had everything he wanted in life. No one told him no. But in the end, he found it all to be nothing but vanity. A mere vapor. Meaningless. Empty.
It is striking to me how closely the list of his pursuits in life resembles the main options we have for reorienting ourselves after a difficult couple of years. We’ll be tempted to look for stability or hope in the same vanities that collapsed under his weight long ago.
Take pleasure, for example. In the earliest days of the pandemic, traffic to major porn sites skyrocketed. So did Netflix subscriptions. And now, after two years in which so many plans were disrupted, pleasure-seekers are booking luxury vacations at record pace. As one Forbes writer put it, what we learned from the pandemic is that “the future is unpredictable,” that “life is short,” and that “dreams should not be put off.” “If all goes well,” he continues, “2022 is going to be a big year for dream trips.”
The Big Quit
Some have chased dreams; others are looking to work for a fresh start. In September of 2021 more than four million people voluntarily left their jobs for other opportunities. That number broke a record set the previous month, when millions more made the same choice. It’s a trend so significant that pundits are calling this “The Great Resignation” or “The Big Quit.” Given how much of the disruption of these past years directly affected our work, it shouldn’t surprise us that so many would look to move on with a change of scenery.
Then there’s money and what it can buy. Retail therapy was a go-to treatment for months before any vaccine hit the market. With stimulus money going around, people purchased new fire pits and television upgrades, and started home improvement projects to take the edge off what had gone wrong. So many months later, retail therapy still sells. As one recent AT&T commercial put it, “I think we can all agree that after the past year-ish, we all deserve something new.” Why not reward your survival with the latest iPhone?