On February 19, Zach Edler and more than a dozen other people set out on a twenty-five-day adventure: rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
When they left, Bernie Sanders had a double-digit lead heading into that night’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas. Cases of coronavirus were showing signs of decline in mainland China.
On March 14, when they pulled their rafts out of the river, a man who worked for a rafting company asked them, “Have you been in contact with the outside world?”
They had not.
Except for a few one-way text messages sent to their families on a satellite phone, they had not heard anything in more than three weeks. No cell service or news. Not even a passing word from fellow travelers.
Then the man told them what they didn’t know: coronavirus had exploded in the US and around the world. Italy was under lockdown; the stock market was plummeting; professional sports were suspended; many schools were closed. Tom Hanks had the virus.
‘How’d we go from paradise to hoarding rice and beans?’
“Half of us thought he was joking,” Edler said. “It’s like, here’s an old river guide pulling our leg. I mean, I’ve heard some pretty big tales out on the river.”
However, as a nurse named Sarah Knaack said, “I think the girls believed it right away. He said it in this real ominous way but then he just walked away to see about lunch and we were left nervously joking with ourselves totally unsure what was going on.”
The group packed up their rafts and gear and drove out. Ninety minutes later, they picked up a cell signal and the texts poured in. “It was this feeling of disbelief,” Ms. Knaack said. “It’s like, ‘How’d we go from paradise to hoarding rice and beans?'”
Another rafter searched Amazon on her phone for toilet paper and saw it wasn’t available. “That was a moment when it felt pretty real,” she said.
Now that they’re facing the pandemic along with the rest of us, Mr. Edler said, “We rafted the Grand Canyon, so there are no regrets at all. Some people wouldn’t like this but I loved that blissful ignorance. It allows you to enjoy the beauty of life.”
He added, “We had so much fun. We lived in the moment. We were some of the only people in the world who had no idea. I liked it better then.”
We know enough to worry about what we don’t know
When I read the article, I wondered who else in the world doesn’t know what we know.
I spent the summer of 1979 as a missionary on the island of Borneo, where I encountered hundreds of people who had no access whatever to the modern world: no electricity, no telephones, no knowledge of world events. They were living as their tribal ancestors had lived for thousands of years.
It is estimated that, of the world’s 7.6 billion people, more than 2.5 billion have no access to mobile phones. More than 3.3 billion have no access to the internet. How many don’t know about the crisis that the rest of us are facing?
Of course, not knowing about something makes it no less real.
You can have cancer without knowing that you have cancer. Your house can have foundation issues that are not yet visibly apparent.
The good news is that we don’t worry about problems we don’t know could exist.
The coronavirus pandemic is different, of course.
Unlike Zach Edler and his friends, we are inundated with news about the disease all through the day. And so, we know enough to worry about what we don’t know: Will social distancing work? Will enough people do it? Will American become Italy? Will my family get the virus? Will I still have a job when this is over?
When will this be over?
‘I have overcome the world’
Fears of a future we can neither know nor control are not unique to the pandemic.
On Maundy Thursday, after Jesus told his disciples that he would be betrayed and abandoned (John 13:21, 38), he made this prediction: “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33a). “Tribulation” translates a Greek word which describes the giant weight used in their day to crush grain into flour.
Jesus was predicting that the world would hate and persecute his followers (John 15:19). His warning became reality over coming years as they were beaten and imprisoned; all but John were martyred, and he was exiled on Patmos.
But as these disciples faced an uncertain future, they could claim this assurance from their Lord: “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). The Greek indicates past action with present consequences: “I have conquered the world and am its conqueror still today.”
No matter what we face in the future, we can trust our fear to the One who will be just as omnipotent then as when he made the universe. He will love us just as much then as when he died for us.
How to face the future
So, name your fear of the future and turn it over to the King of the cosmos.
Trust that he is in control of what you cannot control.
And ask him for all that his omnipotent power and passionate love can do.
Andrew Murray: “Beware in your prayers, above everything else, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what he can do.”
Your future is as bright as the providence of God.