Yale Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling sent the following to alumni/ae and the campus community on Sunday, March 22:
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
When I was a ministerial intern, the senior minister struggled with pancreatic cancer. One morning he arrived at the church but soon left because he became ill. His wife called to tell me that he had slipped into a coma and was rushed to the hospital, where I quickly joined her. A blood test determined that he had slipped into a diabetic coma as a result of his cancer-damaged pancreas; an insulin shot brought him back to consciousness. As I entered his hospital room that evening, he spoke to me, quoting the Psalter: “This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble” (34:6).” I will never forget that moment. He was a person of great faith, a faith that shaped his outlook on life, on illness, and on death.
We are facing a pandemic that is more threatening than any in our lifetimes, although there have certainly been others that were horrific, e.g., AIDS. All of us are concerned for the welfare of our families, ourselves, our communities, and our world. Does faith matter in such a time and, if so, how? Let me suggest two ways.
Faith enables us to face the uncertain with equanimity. Faith neither naïvely wishes for the impossible nor unrealistically ignores the fact that tragedy can happen to me and to my family. Faith neither panics nor shuts its eyes to reality. Faith neither neglects its moral responsibilities nor acts with foolhardy abandon in the face of danger. Faith is the quiet confidence that no matter what we face, God will give us strength to face it. It is serenity in circumstances that lend themselves to stampedes. It is the calm to look for answers when others can only formulate questions. The longer I have lived, the more the statement of Paul has meant to me: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39). I hold on to this with increasing confidence.
Faith is, however, more than confidence in God and God’s love; it is a life motivated to serve on the basis of that confidence. It is praying for those who are ill, praying for those who are working in health care, praying for those developing a vaccine, and praying for those around the world who are making decisions that impact all of us. It is taking steps to help the economically disadvantaged whose challenging circumstances will be made more worse by this crisis. It is self-sacrifice in a time of crisis rather than self-advancement. It is doing all that we can to keep ourselves healthy and out of the hospitals that will be overcrowded with the ill. It is curtailing our own plans so that we do not endanger others. It is staying in touch with those in our ambit of acquaintances who may be lonely in times of enforced isolation. It is a call “to work for the good of all” (Gal 6:10).
Only when we don’t know the future do we really know if we have faith. This crisis will test our faith. It will reveal our confidence in God and God’s love. It will reveal our love for one another, for those we know and those we do not know. I am confident that, like the senior minister with whom I worked, faith will shape our outlooks on life, on illness, and on death. May God’s peace be with you.
The Reverend Henry L. Slack Dean
Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament
March 22, 2020