Thoughts in a time of trouble
As the Corona COVID-19 virus sweeps over the world, we see a movement of togetherness in the midst of separation.
Media pours out enormous amounts of information, and basically keeps to the factual side, at least when it comes to the virus per se.
This world is truly presenting itself as a village, where what effects our local community has the potential of effecting large areas.
Governments try to deal with the situation to the best of their ability, and this being uncharted territory, no one actually knows what is the best trajectory. And so national leaders try to listen to both scientist and public opinion, and countermeasures are formed with more or less success.
People are worried. No one wants to contract the virus for themselves, as no one wants to be sick. Even more we worry about the elderly and frail among our family and friends – we do not want to lose a loved one. And so, we listen to advice, keep our distance, wash our hands more often than ever and stay away form crowds.
The economy is affected, and worried scholars suggest it will take years for global economy to recover.
Individuals are afraid for their jobs, and of course their salary. Business owners dread the time ahead, as they wonder if hard work and endless hours will be wasted. If their business goes down, how will their employees fare?
Many are distressed by the mere fact that no one can tell them how long this will last, or how we will manage. Losing control of livelihood, health and even life, is troubling.
We have reached a level where the question, “Will I and my loved ones be alive a month from today?” is valid. And so, the psychological pressure is considerable for many, and too much for some.
So how do we deal with this from a Christian point of view?
Let us first look at a couple of “don’ts”:
Firstly, in times like this the doomsday-prophets come crawling out of the woodwork. They see the virus as an act of God, and as God’s judgement over a sinful generation. They focus the specific sins that trouble themselves and claim that people should repent. The mercy of God should drive people to accept Christ, and not the threat of calamity. Just as politicians should not make hay out of the Corona-situation, believers should not max out their wrath against sin at this time. Remember the Biblical understanding of the rainbow: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” As long as the rainbow spans the sky, we have God’s word that he will not repeat the judgement of the flood.
Repentance is always right, and vengeance belongs to the Lord, so let us leave the vengeance to its rightful owner.
Secondly, it is a human inclination to comfort when someone is hurting. This inclination leads some of us to tell people that God loves his children, and that he will protect them for all evil. God keeps you in his hands and he will care for you and your loved ones, so that no harm will reach you.
This is a lie, no matter how well intentioned.
Never has God given such a promise. Throughout human history the people of God has suffered all kinds of human tragedy alongside the unbelievers. They have even at times suffered more, as the unbelievers have found all sorts of ways to make their lives miserable. And God, in his wisdom and goodness, has not intervened. Comfort-seeking believers have always questioned this, as they focus on their own situation rather than on God’s plan of salvation. Anyone who has read the Bible knows that suffering is an inherent part of the believers’ life. So how do we then relate to the Aaronic blessing, «The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”? We need to understand this blessing, and other similar Scriptures, in the light of the eternal God. Even though the blessing doubtlessly has temporal implications, it is first and foremost eternal. All of his believers belong with the Lord, and that is where he will keep you. «My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all ; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.” And furthermore: "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;” It is also wise to read Hebrews 11 for instruction. The citizens of the kingdom of God have their eyes fixed on their homeland and know that God’s promise is that he will bring them there, no matter how perilous the road.
Life in a community
The togetherness we currently observe all around us, is a bond of belonging and of caring. These traits reflect three important truths:
Firstly, that the humankind is one, created by God. We belong together as we are created by the same Creator. In need and tragedy, we flock together. We intuitively know we need each other, differences aside, and we take measures to make that possible, even if we cannot meet physically. This flocking is actually a testimony of our God-given uniqueness. We do not bring animals or trees into this flocking; it is exclusively human. We are created in his image.
Secondly, as we circle the wagons in times of threat, we place the weaker ones in the most protected areas, and the healthy and stronger ones on the perimeter to fight evil. We care for the ones who cannot necessarily care for themselves. We do our utmost to keep them out of harm’s way – some nations even close all schools in the land to prevent the children from contaminating their grandparents. This is part of being created in the image of God – the love he has for his creation is being reflected, even by people who adamantly deny there is a god.
Thirdly, we listen to advice given to us by our superiors. Medical doctors, scientists of different types, administers and politicians have pooled their knowledge and wisdom to face a dire situation. The head of state communicates the resolutions, and the people generally listen and act accordingly. When someone steps out of line - because there is always a know-it-all - the others correct them and force them back into line. It is the function of a civilized community. But again, it is a reflection of God’s order, for God is the God of order.
This is good, even great.
The band of believers
And so, let us focus on the band of believers, and specifically how they can live at this time.
There are three areas that come into play. It is your relationship with Lord, your relationship with your fellow believers and your relationship with society.
It is a good principle that you build your relationships in times of peace and health.
Relationship with the Lord
A citizen of the kingdom of God knows that he belongs to another world, and longs to be there. This is very different from having a death-wish. As believers we are not saved to die, but to live. As we receive salvation, we become sons and daughters of God, and derive our identity from him. The relationship is one of faith and ever-increasing knowledge of him and experience with him. It starts in this life, as you give yourself to God and receive the state of childhood. Some Bible text express this great exchange like this: Christ died for you, and you give your life to him. You do not belong to yourself anymore, but to him. This is eternal life. This is why death need not be a threat to a believer – the life you live with him here, will continue there. As believers we are blesses beyond reason, as this relationship is not theoretical, but vibrant and real.
Hebrews 2 teach us that Jesus through his death broke the power of him who holds the power of death - the devil - and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Here lies the freedom of a believer when the threat of death presents itself. In as much as you have invested in the relationship with your Lord, you can grasp this truth in faith, and it will carry you through, for it is the promise of God. As a believer you need not be a slave under the fear of death.
Not all believers have invested in their relationship with the Lord, due to lack of teaching or discipline.
On one hand, your church may not have installed in you a need to live in a continuing relationship with Christ, and this notion may not even be part of their understanding of the Christian life. Churches may focus on the teachings of Christ, which is good. They may focus on prayer and sacraments as good Christian practices, without an understanding of the two-way relationship. This is too common for comfort.
On the other hand, your church may have placed a strong emphasis on the relational faith life. But as life flows, you may not have known what you were missing. Many Christians do not experience this as a need, and work, school, friendship, children and marriage more or less fill up your wake hours.
And so, Corona comes along, and life gets a little too serious. You are worried and may be even scared. You find yourself in a situation where you question your faith, and the goodness of God, and you get confused. This is the downside of not investing in the relationship in peace time.
You may then find yourself in a very steep learning curve. Steep, but not impossible. Turn to the Lord, call upon him, pray to him, and worship him. Do so in church, with believers, and alone. Do not fall into the trap of the old ways and solely go through the movements. Call upon him from the very depths of your being, also known as your heart. Talk to him about everything, convey your fears and your distress, your love and your joy. Relationships are real, they are not formed by just doing the right activities. Feed yourself with his Word, whatever way you find more accessible – read the Bible, buy the Bible as sound book, listen at home and in the car, listen to faith building sermons. Share with your spouse and your children.
As you and your loved ones come out on the other side of the pandemic, continue to invest in the relationship. You would not be the first one to experience adversity as a steppingstone to the presence of God.
It is time to get real.
Relationship with believers
As a believer you are part of God’s family on earth. God’s sons and daughters are your inner circle. One of the decisive markers of a true believer, is the love he or she practices towards their fellow believers. Your love has two directions: first unto God, then to your brothers and sisters in the Lord. The rationale is that if you love the begetter, you also love the begotten. You cannot claim to love God, whom you have never seen, if you do not love your brothers and sisters in the Lord, whom you have seen.
The Bible presents what I choose to call “giving love”. This is the love that God showed by sending Jesus to save the world. This love is not constituted by emotions, but by conscious choice. You see the needs of your brother or sister, and you decide to give that because you can, and you choose to do so to the detriment of your own needs. This love is called agape and is by far the most used word for love in The New Testament.
1.John 4:7 states: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” A truer translation would be: “Loved ones (agapetoi) , let us love (agapomen) one another, because love (agape) is from God, and all who love (agapon) are born by God and know God”. There are two basic truths here.
Firstly, this love is “giving love”, not emotional love, not affection, and it is the only word for love used in the passage. Using this word as a synonym for friendship, affection, or love between man and woman, is missing the target. Greek has other words for those phenomena, all of which are fully legitimate, but different from agape.
Secondly, there is a form of the verb in Greek that is named “the eternal present”. The form is used when the action is constantly repeated – he breaths, she lives. If you use this form in the sentence: “He talks.”, it will mean that there is an unceasing flow of words coming out of his mouth – it never ends.
When this passage states that “all who love are born by God” the eternal present is used. The sons and daughters of God are people that unceasingly practice giving love.
As agape is not based on emotions, but on decisions, it is the proper time to make loving decisions, to put words into practice.
When individuals are afraid, we comfort. And rest assured, every adult knows that you need to give comfort even if you are as afraid as the person you are comforting. This is a time to step up and be adults. We need to focus on those who need us, and focus less on ourselves.
As sons and daughters of God we need to take initiative to embrace our siblings in the Lord. And since we cannot meet as we wish to, we need to use our ingenuity to find ways to be of comfort. We have Smartphones, we have iPads, we have Facetime and Skype, we have Facebook, we have mail. We can easily reach each other. And so, you need to understand that there are a lot of believers a few digits away that truly need you to call, to message, to skype. Just to tell them that they are not forgotten, and they are not alone.
This applies even more to the ones who are in higher danger of falling ill – the ones struggling with their health, and the seniors.
Even as we are physically separated, we need to find arenas to pray together, to worship together, to share communion, and to share the Word with each other, even when we feel strong and healthy. We belong to one another, and our fellowship is vital for our spiritual life.
And we need to share great ideas for fellowship with our fellow believers. Post ideas and success-stories on Facebook, Twitter or other suitable platforms.
Some among us will fall ill and may be even seriously so. Even if you cannot visit the bedridden believer, be sure to make them understand that they are never alone. Call them, comfort them, encourage them. Ask them what you can do for them, and suggest you sing for them, pray with them, read the Word for them, if they want that. Ask if there is something practical with which you can contribute .
Never leave a brother or sister alone in mourning. Be present, listen to their story again and again and again and again. Pray with them, worship with them, share the Word with them. Be there! Be the hand and the heart of God for them. And yes, bring food – as long as it is safe!
It is also important to underline that as a believer you are also a recipient of giving love. It takes humility to receive love. And you do need love, just as much as the next believer.
Relationship with your neighbors
As God lets his rain fall over righteous and unrighteous alike, so the band of believers must step up and take responsibility in the greater society as well.
We are called to love God first, and then our brothers and sisters. Such a love practiced must result in us also loving our closer and more distant neighbors, and even our nation.
I submit to you the two words “friendly” and “useful”.
A believer of Christ should create and show faithful friendship to others, whether they believe in Christ or not. Friendship is to spend time with, to be present for, and helpful to. It is to show genuine interest without an agenda. Your neighbor should trust you, based on your behavior.
Useful means you contribute. You follow the guidelines for your community, both in practice and in the way you talk about them. You support good ideas for helping and caring for families and individuals, and for keeping everyone safe. You suggest better ideas, if you have some, and you present them as an equal party, and not as a superior.
Giving love is first and foremost practical. It is what you give, and what you do.
Seeing our friendliness, and us being useful, some may start asking for God, wanting to share the faith we are living. I therefor suggest you prepare yourself for sharing the deepest love of your life, your honor and your joy, your freedom and your hope. If you are real, others will want to know the God you serve. Don’t force it but be accessible and prepared.
This is a challenging time, and as far as I may, I bless all who read this. May your journey be one of giving love, and lead you all the way home.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Love does not tire.
We will meet on the other side.