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These Are the Times That Try Men’s Souls

by Michael Boyink /  

“‘Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. 

All nations and ages have been subject to them. 

Britain has trembled like an ague at the report of a French fleet of flat-bottomed boats; and in the fourteenth [fifteenth] century the whole English army, after ravaging the kingdom of France, was driven back like men petrified with fear; and this brave exploit was performed by a few broken forces collected and headed by a woman, Joan of Arc.

Would that heaven might inspire some Jersey maid to spirit up her countrymen, and save her fair fellow sufferers from ravage and ravishment!

Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. 

Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before. 

But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered. 

In fact, they have the same effect on secret traitors, which an imaginary apparition would have upon a private murderer. 

They sift out the hidden thoughts of man, and hold them up in public to the world.”

 Thomas Paine, The American Crisis

Paine wrote those words in 1776, after visiting George Washington’s Revolutionary War troops.

He as might have written them this past week.

I could paint a quick picture of America, now that the coronavirus has reached our shores and begun to change our lives.

But you know the situation. You can’t switch on the TV, listen to the radio, or scan your Facebook feed without hearing about the coronavirus. 

And maybe you are scared.

I am too. 

As I review the national and state news, it’s hard not to feel a sense of dread and hopelessness begin to creep in.

It’s hard to look at your supplies at home, read the news about panic-driven shortages of various supplies, and decide what’s now reasonable to purchase for yourself.

I can’t answer that for you.

What I can say is this. 

As much for myself as for you.

These are the times that try men’s souls. 

And this is the time for people of faith to quit talking about things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

This is the time to start living out those fruits instead.

In real ways. 

Like looking at the dwindling supply of toilet paper at the store and deciding that you have enough.

Like not shunning people that have a cough.

Like looking in after elderly neighbors.

Like choosing to not panic.

Like trusting that we will get through this. And be stronger for it.

If Paine was right, and crisis will reveal our hidden thoughts and hold them up in public, let those hidden thoughts be something to be remembered. Something good. Something Holy.

Not something to be buried and forgotten.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10