It’s safe to say that the Coronavirus outbreak in this country has turned life upside down in many ways. From big-picture concerns like the economy, health care and education to the everyday realities of life at home for families and individuals, everything is changing rapidly. Otherwise stable and reliable routines and institutions are being thrown into uncertainty and, in some cases, outright chaos. Even churches, intended by God to be beacons of steadfast and solid hope, are having to close their doors for a season and function at a minimal level in order to do their part to keep people safe and healthy.
Does God have anything to say in the midst of this crisis? Does the Gospel—the Good News of Jesus Christ—speak into this situation in anyway? I would say “absolutely!” For God is the creator and ruler of all things seen and unseen, and the Gospel of Christ is the good news of redemption for all of creation…not just our souls.
Of course, if you want to know about COVID-19 itself, talk to friends who are medical professionals. I’m referring to the fact that God’s Word has a lot to say about the effects of this crisis in the hearts and lives of people.
Fear and Anxiety
Needless to say, this pandemic has bred fear and anxiety in an intensity we haven’t seen since perhaps 9/11. The mass panic-buying of supplies such as toilet paper and hand-sanitizer is just one of the many demonstrations of this fear. On one level this is understandable. The human heart is naturally afraid of uncertainty and lack of control. Our fear of the dark as children doesn’t leave us, it just shifts from a literal to a more metaphorical sense. This crisis has plunged us into “the dark” regarding the things that touch us deeply: our health, our finances, our families, and in some cases our very lives. What does God have to say to believers in the midst of this uncertainty?
“Do not be afraid.” This simple and direct command occurs over 200 times in the Bible. It is actually the most frequently uttered command in all of Scripture. But doesn’t it seem rather dismissive and flippant for God to simply answer our fears with “don’t be afraid?” It would if that was the only word and if there was no basis for the exhortation. But the command to fear not never occurs alone and it isn’t an invitation to ignore serious circumstances surrounding our lives. The command to fear not is accompanied by an invitation to trust. What we call faith is not simply intellectual agreement with certain facts or doctrines. Nor is it a blind and vague leap into the unknown. It is a God-given, Spirit-cultivated, daily-practiced trust in God on the basis of certain realities and truths that are unchanging. What are these truths and realities? Let’s look at three for starters: The Providence of God, The Presence of God, and the Provision of God.
The Providence of God is the way we describe the fact that God’s guiding and governing hand is in all the affairs of the world and of our lives. While this has naturally led to the question of “why” during various times in history, the comfort of that understanding comes in the knowledge that nothing that ever happens takes God by surprise, is outside of his power and governance, or is unable to be used by Him for His glory and our ultimate good. In our current situation, one can see God leading us to a greater dependence on Him and a greater, more practical love and care for our neighbor. God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will (Eph. 1:11).”
Over and over again the command to not be afraid is followed immediately by the words, “for I am with you (Gen. 26:24).” As you all know well, I have never been a fan of the language of God being “The Man Upstairs” because it suggests that we are here and God is somewhere else. But the witness of the Bible is that God is omnipresent…present everywhere. In particular, He is always present with his redeemed people. We Christians believe in a Savior whose name in prophecy is “Emmanuel,” which means “God-with-us.” In Christ and through the Holy Spirit, God is not to be found somewhere at the end of this crisis, but is present with us as we walk through it together. The Israelites did not have to wait to arrive in the Promised Land to find God. He led them there by his Word and his presence for the entire journey. We can expect and trust in that same presence with us now.
Related to all of this is the fact that God has promised to provide for the needs of his people. Jesus told his disciples not to be anxious about their food, clothing, or shelter (in other words, the necessities of life). Why? Because “your Father knows you need them (Luke 12:20).” And elsewhere Jesus says that “if you who are evil, know how to give your children good gifts, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him (Matt. 7:11)!”
To all of this I would add one last “P”: God’s power. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the glorious story of the redemption of the world through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the resurrection of Jesus, the power of God overcomes the greatest enemies of mankind: sin and death. If not even death can overcome the power of God, then there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can thwart God’s power or separate us from the love of Christ.
With Regard to Precautions
Though we trust in the Lord, we are not absolved from doing the hard work of thinking deeply and acting wisely and prudently. Thus the original precautions taken during last Sunday’s worship and the current decision to suspend worship and other gatherings until further notice. It seems like “giving in” to hysteria to some, and I understand that reaction. I ask for your trust and patience as I try to lead our flock in a way that reflects trust in the Lord but also reflects a caution born out of the deep care and concern for the most vulnerable in our congregation. I would quote the words of the proper preface for Easter as appropriate for life in our parish at this time: “For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended.” Our parish life will look different for a while. But Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today, and forever.
During this time of suspension of gatherings, life will go on at St. Stephen’s:
- Services, Bible Studies, etc. will be offered via video and audio streams online. Instructions on how to view these things will be given as well.
- The Vestry will continue to meet—via video conference—to continue tending to the necessary business of the parish.
- Julie and I will continue to keep office hours so that the everyday affairs of the parish will still be managed. If we find ourselves needing to isolate, we will still be able to work remotely.
- I will remain available at any time when pastoral care or conversation is needed…including in-person visits and home communions where these are allowed.
- I am resuming the practice I did last year of offering a daily devotional via e-mail to all of our News and Notes subscribers.
How can we practice and minister the Gospel during this time?
- If you find yourself with extra time during a period of isolation, consider using it to engage your spiritual life in some way that you couldn’t otherwise.
- Pray for the nation, the world, those who are sick, and those who care for them.
- Reach out to neighbors, friends, family members and others, just to check in and let them know that you love them and are thinking of them. Offer whatever practical help that you can. While our visiting capabilities may be limited, cards, e-mails, texts, FaceTime or regular phone calls are wonderful ways to express care.
- Make a donation to the organizations and ministries that are working around the clock to continue to operate, meeting the needs of those who are most affected by this outbreak. Churches and charitable organizations are among those “businesses” deeply affected by the economic turmoil of this outbreak.
- Encourage friends to read or tune in to the content we will be broadcasting. It might be just the encouragement that they need!
I wish, as I’m sure you all do, that I knew how this crisis would end or resolve. But we don’t. What we do know is this: God is in control, Jesus Christ is still Lord of heaven and earth, the Holy Spirit is still alive and present in the church and in our hearts, and the Word of God is still true. We are still the family of God and though we won’t see each other as much in person for a season, we are still bound together through our faith in Jesus Christ and our affection for one another. Let these things be our comfort and our rock of stability during these unstable and uncertain times. I love you all.
With prayers and blessings,