By Carmen Joy Imes

Notes from the Pandemic: Social Distancing and the Presence of God

On our small campus, the mood is somber as many students packed up and left within a day of our announcement that we’d be moving classes online. Those who chose to stay in the dorms are feeling bereft. This is not what they signed up for. This will not be the same.

But here’s the thing. Grief and gratitude are not incompatible. In the midst of all this loss, one thing has emerged for which I am especially grateful: God is with us. Each day, our state and provincial governments release even tighter restrictions on our movement. The list of cancelled events and cancelled flights and closed borders grows ever longer. But the Spirit of God transcends government recommendations about social distancing. God is with us in this.

He walks with us. He even holds our hand — without threat of contagion. In our strange season of isolation, will we rediscover just how glorious this is? God is with every student traveling home, numb with shock. God is with every professor hunched over their laptop, trying to figure out how to teach online. God is with every administrator facing decision-making fatigue. God is with every pastor who is trying to figure out how to shepherd a dispersed flock. God is with every care home resident who is denied visitors. God is with every small business owner whose margins are too thin to survive this crisis. God is with every doctor and every nurse working long hours to get us through. God is with every engaged couple as they face the real possibility that their wedding must be cancelled. God is with every parent who is suddenly expected to homeschool their children. God is with us. Psalm 46 reminds us of this:

Psalm 46 (NIV)

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah.
According to alamoth. A song.

God is our refuge and strength,
   an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
   and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
   and the mountains quake with their surging….

The LORD Almighty is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our fortress...

He says, "Be still, and know that I am God;
   I will be exalted among the nations,
   I will be exalted in the earth."

The LORD Almighty is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our fortress.

We may feel alone, but we are emphatically not alone. This season is an invitation to rediscover this truth so foundational to our faith. For that we can be grateful.

About the Author

Carmen Joy Imes (PhD, Wheaton) is associate professor of Old Testament in the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, she is the author of Bearing YHWH's Name at Sinai, Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters, Being God's Image: Why Creation Still Matters, and the editor of Praying the Psalms with Augustine and Friends.

Imes has written for a variety of websites, including Christianity Today, The Well, and the Politics of Scripture blog. She is a fellow of Every Voice, a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. Imes and her husband, Daniel, have followed God's call around the globe together for over 25 years.

Read Carmen's article on being God's image as a woman in the academy and the church.

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