Sunday night gathering August 16, 2020
For the last several weeks a small group of friends have met in a church parking lot to dig deeper into what God might be saying to to Church during the Covid-19 pandemic. This week we began a more systematic look at Scripture, pairing Romans and Hebrews. Several people shared the insights they had gleaned from their own study during the week. This post is the narrative I composed based on our discussion Sunday evening.
These are trying times, and it seems like we are in it for the long haul. Back in March, we thought things would be back to normal by summer. We learned better; this is a persistent virus. Like the false prophets who told the exiles, “Very soon now the articles from the Lord’s house will be brought back from Babylon,” we were assured by some of the pundits that summer heat would kill off the virus and all would be well. Hananiah gave the exile a limit of two years (Jeremiah 27), giving the people false expectations for quick resolution. To our society, two years seems like an eternity; we want to check off the box marked “pandemic” and move on. However, it seems to become clearer with every press conference that we might be stuck in this space for a long season. No one wants to hear that, but no one wanted to hear Jeremiah’s word to “Build houses, plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; multiply there and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” either (Jeremiah 29).
If we are in pandemic mode for another six months or two years, what is our purpose in it? What are the lessons we need to learn, internalize, and share? What do we need to develop in order to be salt and light in this brave new world?
Romans 1:-5 sets the foundation we must build our lives upon: We are set apart for the sake of His Name. Our building materials are the gospel, God’s promises, the perfection of Jesus, the holiness of the Spirit, and the matchless grace of the Lord. Our work orders are simple: bring about the obedience of faith to all the nations. The work is not easy, but it is clearly laid out for us.
The difficulty of the work before us lays in the nature of the building project: we are not engaged in physical work, but rather spiritual (Ephesians 6:12). The false promises of a quick ending to the pandemic are spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically damaging. As a result, uncertainty prevails among the people, whether or not they are believers. Uncertainty breeds fear, and with fear comes despair. What a contrast to the hope and peace God has for us! Yes, we may be suffering in the uncertainty, but “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5).
So, why a pandemic? Why does a righteous, powerful, and loving God allow the whole world to be afflicted instead of blessed? And why does He allow chaos and uncertainty?
The short answer is that God allows these things because humans can’t handle blessings and need adversity to remember that they aren’t gods. Catastrophes remind us of God’s promises and compel true believers to turn to Him. Prosperity is not a bad thing, but it is easy to lose focus on Who is our provider. We get caught up in enjoying the gifts and doing the things that make us feel good about ourselves. We list our activities as evidence of our faith. Like the disciples who heard the words of Jesus and witnessed his miracles, we eat the bread and the fish, but are taken aback when things get complicated (John 6).
Sometimes a crisis separates the true disciples from the cultural christians. When Jesus told his followers that only the Spirit gives life and that the flesh is powerless, many of them left. They could not accept a gospel on God’s terms; they wanted the miracles without the suffering. Similarly, if this current pandemic persists and churches are restricted in their physical meetings for an extended time, people who go to church for cultural reasons will ultimately fall away. The faithful, however, will use the time to dig deeper into the Word. When Jesus asked the Twelve whether they wanted to leave with the others, Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). We reclaim the time that we once spent doing by focusing on being connected to the Father, not because things are easy, but because He is good. The things we suffer now are nothing compared to His glory (Romans 8:18). This is our testimony.
Our testimony begins by declaring the Lord’s righteousness. The psalmist wrote, “My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone” (Psalm 71:15-18). Every believer has opportunities to testify of the mighty deeds of the Lord, whether that is in a children’s Sunday school class, a ride-sharing trip, or in a small group coming together for mutual encouragement (Romans 1:12). We need to be aware both of God’s sovereign movements in our days and for the divine appointments He puts before us.
We are set apart and called to this work (Romans 1); we can be confident that God will work everything together for our good (Romans 8:28). We place our hope in Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12). He is greater than the angels (Hebrews 1:5), greater than creation (Hebrews 1:10), and certainly greater than anything the enemy might dream up (Ephesians 6:11). We are dwelling in the liminal spaces of time, the place between what once was and what will be. What we do now determines how we will respond to whatever it is that comes next. When we focus our time and attention on God’s eternal power, divine nature, and tremendous love for us, we can be assured that He will use even this time of pandemic to work out His sovereign will in and through us (Romans 1:20; John 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:10).