We are all getting a glimpse of what we’re really made of. When the Coronavirus crisis hit, how did you respond? Have you been the brave hero you hoped you would be, rising up to meet life’s challenges and thinking of others before yourself? Or, if we’re honest, are we seeing that we’re not quite the champion we thought? If so, this information is a gift.
If you have been in any way disappointed – either in yourself or in the Body of Messiah as a whole, a golden opportunity awaits us…
The blessing of 2020 vision
As they say, hindsight is 2020. Now that the Coronavirus pandemic has hit almost every nation on earth, we have the blessing of looking back and witnessing our own reactions. We have the opportunity to reflect on how our immediate responses have been, and change course if necessary.
Wherever our attitudes and thoughts have departed from those we know to be godly, we can now see clearly which spiritual muscles we need to exercise. As Winston Churchill famously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste!”
The Coronavirus is exposing so much of humanity – both good and bad. There’s the insane toilet paper hoarding and selfish panic buying, the pervasive fear and dread creeping through the media and gripping our hearts… and then on the other hand, there are amazing initiatives and groups popping up to serve and help neighbours and vulnerable people. The whole of Israel erupted in planned applause for the medical staff one evening, while in Italy communal singalongs broke out on balconies. There is an “in-this-together” communal spirit that has been reignited in a beautiful way. We could go on, and I’m certain you can think of plenty of examples – both good and bad.
How is the Body of Messiah in general responding across the world to this calamity? Are we being the salt and light Jesus spoke of? We can’t change things in ourselves that we’re not aware of, so seeing how we really react in a crisis is very helpful. It enables us as believers to adjust course and become more like the Christlike heroes we are destined to become.
We can consider this severe upheaval (because it will not be the last) a great training ground to build the muscles in our character and get in shape spiritually.
What are we aiming for? Here are some thoughts:
In Israel, in the event of a terrorist attack or someone getting stabbed in the street, you will see people running towards the danger, not away from it. This is because Israelis have to go through basic army training, and many are fit and prepared to deal with exactly that sort of trouble. Being prepared to face danger and trained so that we know what to do helps enormously in giving us the courage and confidence to be helpful in a crisis. This Coronavirus pandemic is a great time for us to start training!
It is not the first time believers have had to rise to this very challenge. In his book Exploring the Religious Life, Rodney Stark outlines what happened when various plagues hit the early Church. He describes devastating epidemics that swept through the Roman Empire, killing off vast numbers of people with eyewitnesses writing of “caravans of carts and wagons hauling out the dead”.1 It was a time before soap and medical knowledge, so no one knew how to treat the afflicted. Pagans found that beseeching their gods in their various temples made no difference, so the typical response was to avoid all contact with the sick. Stark writes,
“When their first symptom appeared, victims were thrown out into the streets, where the dead and dying lay in piles.”2
The Christians, however, ran towards the danger, not away from it, saving countless lives. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, affirmed that the courage to act with righteousness in the face of such danger and disease did not come automatically, but through exercise!
“How suitable, how necessary it is that this plague and pestilence, which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the justice of each and every one and examines the minds of the human race; whether we care well for the sick, whether relatives dutifully love their kinsmen as they should… we are learning not to fear death. These are trying exercises for us, not deaths; they give to the mind the glory of fortitude; by contempt of death they prepare for the crown.” (Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, Mortality, 15-20)
Later, in the fourth century, Christians were again selflessly serving the sick and burying the dead, catching the attention of the watching world. Even Emperor Julian noted (with frustration) how the number of “Galileans” as he called them was growing because of their virtues and moral character – their “benevolence toward strangers and care for the graves of the dead”. The Emperor complained that “the impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well”.3
Our courage and compassion in times of hardship is a powerful witness that can lead many to Jesus.
Fixing our minds on faith
God commands us not to fear. Fear is imagining a terrible future scenario, and having the feelings that accompany it, even before it happens. A waste of emotional energy, Jesus tells us (Matthew 6:25-34). Faith, on the other hand, is trust in God’s goodness, and confidence in His ability to keep us forever. Faith knows God sees us, God hears us, and He can answer when we call. Faith knows God is stronger than any apparent reality – any sickness, danger or even death.
With God’s help, we can learn to discipline our minds to be filled with faith instead of fear. This faith is not a denial of the facts, burying our heads in the sand, or chickening out of reality. Bad things certainly do happen, and believers are not immune from trouble. But like Abraham, we can simultaneously face the facts and have faith. Father Abraham, our great example, understood the reality of his situation very well yet still believed. Why?
God had made a promise, and Abraham took God at His word.
Now when God made His promise to Abraham—since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you, and surely I will multiply you.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham reached the promise... So by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.
We have this hope as an anchor of the soul, both firm and steady—a hope that enters the inner place behind the curtain. (Hebrews 6:13-19)
Like Abraham, we too have promises from God. Abraham was promised an heir, and we are promised life beyond the grave. We are assured of God’s constant care and everlasting arms to catch us when the bottom falls out of our world:
Keep your lifestyle free from the love of money, and be content with what you have. For God Himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” so that with confidence we say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear, what will man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
God does not promise that we will get through life free from difficulty (to the contrary, Jesus promises that in this life, we will have many troubles!) but He does promise that He will never leave us, nor forsake us. It is interesting to notice that this promise comes after a warning not to fall prey to the love of money. Don’t put your security in material things – put it in a place that is infinitely safer: in God.
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Yeshua the Messiah is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:7-8)
Keeping an eternal perspective
God has not abdicated his throne. He is still sovereign. He is faithful, He saves, and He has secured us a place to live with Him forever. We can have great hope in the face of temporal calamity, and the reason for the hope we have is anchored in eternity.
If we can learn to maintain an eternal perspective, it’s a game changer. Danger and death no longer call the shots. Bishop Dionysius describes how our brothers and sisters from the early Church lived in this way, free from the fear of death:
“Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead… The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom.”
Pastoral letter from Bishop Dionysius (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 7.22)
We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and our minds set on eternity, so that we can live the radically different lives of the early Christians – full of selfless love for others. Faith, hope and love. These three endure.
“In the world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)
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- Stark, Rodney, Exploring the Religious Life, John Hopkins University Press (2004) p.35
- Ibid p.35
- Ibid p.38
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