Making Sense of a Pandemic
Our daily life has changed dramatically over the last week. The elderly and vulnerable are susceptible to critical illness, even death. I probably don’t need to remind you that the stock market is in a tailspin, which means retirement accounts and pensions appear fragile. Many businesses are closing and inching towards bankruptcy. Rent and mortgage payments are in jeopardy. Diplomas may be on hold. And now, we’re physically isolated from one another. A few days ago, I still had had a sense of confidence—“If we all just buckle down for a few short weeks, this will all pass and be history.” That could be the case, but this increasingly looks like an extended crisis. Let’s pause for a moment and pray for healing—physical, societal, economic, and spiritual healing.
How do we, as Christians, make sense of such times? How do we make sense of a pandemic? We believe God is on the throne (Ps 115:3). We don’t believe this global crisis has taken God by surprise. There’s a lot we don’t know about the mysterious ways of God, but the Bible does tell us something of what God is doing in and through a crisis.
Creation is groaning. At the end of 2019, we sang these words as a congregation: “Is all creation groaning?” And we collectively responded with our voices: “It is.” Of course, this truth doesn’t originate from an Andrew Peterson song, but from God’s Word in Romans 8:20-22. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth up to the present time.” From Adam on, the curse of sin has infiltrated not only every crevice of our hearts, but every crevice of creation. Creation groans. How severe? Like the agony of childbirth. I’ve watched, not experienced, the births of my three children. Sara tells me it’s an agony like none other. This beautiful, spectacular creation is experiencing the agony, the screams, the pain of sin’s curse. Disease, hurricanes, tsunamis, crushing poverty are some of those pains. If we thought we were inching toward utopia, we’re reminded afresh, the world is broken. This world is not as it should be. Creation needs Divine intervention. Creation needs redemption.
God is calling. When people ask me how God intends us to respond to tragedies or natural disasters, I always point them to Luke 13:1-5. A terrible tragedy occurred in Jesus’s day. The tower of Siloam (in Jerusalem) fell over and killed eighteen people. Jesus asked his disciples: “Do you think this tower fell on them because they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Jesus answers his own question. “Of course not!” And then Jesus makes a far more penetrating claim: “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Tragedies are a call for sinners to repent. It’s a call for us contemplate the futility of life. The coming judgment of God for sin. It’s a call to those living, repent and trust Christ while there’s time.
God is reminding. We live in the most comfortable and prosperous age in world history. That is undeniable. We speak constantly of progress—technological progress, scientific progress, moral progress. For many of us in our relative youth, we may feel invincible. God is reminding us, in the midst of all our perceived “progress” and prosperity, we’re fragile. We’re dust. Our days are numbered. The Lord says in Psalm 90:3: “Return to dust, you mortals.” And the Psalmist adds in 90:13: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Global tragedies serve as Divine reminders that we are not the captain of our own destinies. They remind us that our sense of control is mostly an illusion. They remind us that our lives are but a vapor. But if we “number” our days, we’ll cherish the time God has given us as thoughtful and thankful stewards.
God is opening. We know this is true from church history. I’ll offer the quote I gave in the previous update from Charles Spurgeon as he reflected upon ministry during the Cholera epidemic in London. “If there ever be a time when the mind is sensitive, it is when death is abroad. I recollect, when first I came to London, how anxiously people listened to the gospel, for the cholera was raging terribly. There was little scoffing then.” God often uses tragedies and suffering to soften hard hearts to receive the gospel. You are probably familiar with the famous “apologetics verse” from 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you.” What we need to remember from 1 Peter is that it’s suffering, and Christian responses to that suffering, that sparks the unbelieving world to even ask such a question.
In times of desperation, God is opening unique opportunities for Christians to shine the light of Christ. And so, we should anticipate needs. We should look for creative ways to shine the light of Christ that will cause the world to take pause. In tragedy, God is opening doors. Now, burst them open! (With some hand sanitizer in your pocket).
We are waiting. Right now, we’re doing a lot of waiting. Waiting for church gatherings to resume. Waiting to return to work. Waiting to return to school. Waiting to go outside our homes. Waiting for economies to recover. Waiting for the physical embrace of a friend. Waiting for life to go back to “normal.” We’ve been forced into a social exile of sorts. But that’s not entirely new territory for Christians. Our sermon series in 1 Peter reminds us that we’re fundamentally “pilgrims”, “strangers” in this world. We live in the kingdom of this age, but we belong to a future kingdom. And that means this life is a life in waiting. Waiting for Christ to return and make all things new. As we rightly look forward to a return to the “normalities” of life, don’t neglect to anticipate our future life in God’s kingdom. Hope for the future is intended to sustain us as we navigate life “in exile.”
A New Creation is coming. After we sang with our voices that “all creation is groaning”. We continued singing: “Is a New Creation coming?” And praise God we answer with all the hosts of heaven: “It is!”