I’m sitting here on my sofa looking out at a world ready for springtime, though covered with a light dusting of very wet snow. Outside is the sound of dripping and trickling, that wonderful music of the waking spring. My feet have been sandal-clad, ready to be done with the cold, and my face is just getting a touch of tan after a snowshoeing sunburn last week. The grass is greening, the sky is by turns overcast, then bluer than blue, the wind is wonderfully sweet, and the perfume of warm pine needles on south facing slopes is intoxicating. I’ve already found my first teeny baby pasque flower, just starting to poke up through the pine needles on one particular hill I always check this time of year.
Spring is coming, the same way it always does when the winter is winding down. The exact same way it always does.
And yet, this year is different.
Because of fear.
Nearly two weeks ago, panic came to rural Western South Dakota, and to our whole nation. Covid-19 is now a household world, as familiar as the common cold. This was definitely not something I ever anticipated, definitely not something I’d “planned” for, definitely not something I’d looked forward to. I never thought I’d be prepping to teach music lessons remotely because of “social distancing” recommendations. I never thought I’d be off work with the fire department for two weeks because of symptoms I wouldn’t normally give two thoughts about. I never thought I would be going on three weeks without meeting with my church family for our weekly service and Bible studies.
This time of year, my students are in the home stretch of their lessons, as we have the last five or so weeks of lessons before the end of the year recital. Very likely, we won’t have a recital this year. Fire department trainings should start gearing up for the wildland fire season, with pack testing and refresher courses. But pack testing has been put on hold, and trainings have been cancelled or modified for distance learning. Easter is right around the corner, with anticipated family get togethers and church family celebrations. But with groups of more than ten people forbidden, that will be very different this year. Everyone is itching to get outside, to enjoy being together. Seasonal restaurants should begin opening for business, tourists should start trickling in. The delight of springtime often involves other people. The delight of life itself so often is the togetherness. And that togetherness has been replaced by fear, mistrust, and isolation.
But national and international panic results in some pretty unimaginable things.
I can’t begin to imagine the number of people without work right now, who already are living paycheck to paycheck, with financial fears and health fears hanging over them. I have nothing to complain about, in the big scheme of things. I’ll feel it, but I’ll be alright. Not everyone is so fortunate.
I will abstain from making any political comments one way or the other about the nature of this crisis or how well it warrants the level of concern we’ve given it. We’ve had enough misinformation from the media and idiotic comments from armchair physicians who suddenly know everything about a pandemic. But please understand that I am concerned, particularly for those who are the most vulnerable. But what has struck me and continues to strike me is the level of fear, blame, panic, anger, selfishness, and fear-mongering I have been witnessing for the last two weeks. The fear is driving people to do irrational things (don’t even get me started on the toilet paper shortage).
People fear because they don’t know another option.
The way the world handles a crisis will be (should be) drastically different from how a Christian handles a crisis. Should there be a sense of urgency? Absolutely. Should there be concern, particularly for those who are most vulnerable? Absolutely. Should there be sorrow over the loss of life? Absolutely.
But if you study your Bible, you understand several things that should drive you away from the cliff edge panic and into the security of the arms of Jesus Christ.
First, we shouldn’t be surprised at sickness and famine and heartache. We live in a world that is wracked by the effects of the sin of mankind. All one needs to do is take a quick, cursory glance at history to see that sickness and famine and heartache are normal. Obviously, a global-scale pandemic causes more concern than other types of sickness, but at the end of the day, a pandemic is sickness. Sickness is a normal part of living in a fallen world. Jesus is recorded having told His disciples in all three of the Synoptic Gospels that famines, earthquakes, pestilence and war would wrack the end times, the time between His Resurrection and His Second Coming (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). So in a sense we should be encouraged. We should be encouraged because events like this pandemic speak to the veracity of Scripture. Two thousand years may seem like a long time to wait for Jesus to come again, but these events of worldwide proportion speak to where we are in history: we are right on track, whether that track lasts another two minutes or another ten millennia. God keeps His promises. His Word is true.
Second, the Believer has no need to fear death. Paul expresses the exquisite tension that the Believer in Christ should feel, when it comes to facing death or the possibility of death: For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain….I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1: 21, 23) For the Christian, not only should we not fear death or the possibility of death, but we should recognize that death is the final door that ushers us into eternity with Jesus. Obviously I am not advocating for a mindset that obsesses over death or flirts with death or is reckless, but we absolutely should not live in fear of death. For the Christian, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by going to be with Jesus. If we are to fear, we should fear for those who may die without ever coming to Christ in repentance and faith. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus said, “and do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” There is something much worse than dying, much worse than financial hardship, much worse than world upheaval and economic collapse. That is not being right with God when we die.
Third, God is ultimately in control of all of this. Matthew 10:29 reads, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” If the God of the universe sees and values even the life of a sparrow, how much more does He see us and value us, the pinnacle of His Creation! Romans 8:28-29 tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” The difficulties a Believer experiences aren’t just unfortunate events that God will somehow figure out how to recycle. They are intended, brought about, to accomplish a greater purpose. That purpose may be as simple as causing us to trust Him more. Think of the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis, sold in to slavery by his own brothers, who could later tell his brothers in Genesis 50:15-21 that the evil that they did to him was brought about by God to accomplish a greater purpose. Throughout the Bible, we see the pattern very clearly that God doesn’t just work with events and somehow figure out a way to make them work out for good. God isn’t taking lemons and making cosmic lemonade. We actually see that God is, in a way we can’t fully understand, the author even of calamity. Isaiah 45:7 reads: “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.” God says this of Himself. If this gives you heartburn, consider this: either God is all powerful, or He isn’t. If He isn’t, He isn’t worth serving. If He is, there are two options. Either He evil and malicious and diabolically brings about evil things (not the God of the Bible), or He is so wonderfully good and perfect, He can state this truthfully:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
We may not understand why God allows or ordains horrific events. We can get down into the weeds of First Causes and Second Causes, and debates about how sovereign God actually is. But the way I understand it, either God is sovereign or He isn’t. I believe He is. Sovereign is sovereign. Not partially sovereign. Not selectively sovereign. Either of those would mean He isn’t truly sovereign. Either God is good or He isn’t. I believe He is. Not mostly good. Not usually good. Either of those would mean He isn’t truly good. And I can trust a good, sovereign God. And I can submit myself to Him, knowing that His ways and thoughts are much higher than my ways and thoughts.
Fourth, the world WILL END when God commands it to end; not a moment sooner, not a moment later. By that token, the world WILL CONTINUE for as long as God ordains it to continue. We can neither hasten the day, nor delay it. In Genesis 8, God made a promise to Noah that He would never again destroy the earth by a flood, and this beautiful verse is nestled in the midst of that promise: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22) God will sustain the earth until the time that He sees fit to bring it to an end. And in a time like this, when the whole world is panicking, that should be immensely encouraging. God is in the Heavens. He is in control.
So if you are afraid, whether for yourself or your loved ones, weather the fears are financial, or health, or general fears related to a world gone crazy, whether you fear the shortages and what desperate people do when things truly get desperate…Please be encouraged. Be encouraged that there IS a God in the Heavens, and that He cares for this creation. Don’t fear Covid-19. Fear God. Seek Him. There are promises in Scripture of common grace extended to all mankind (every breath we take is evidence of common grace), but there are so many wonderful promises and encouragements that aren’t yours if you don’t know and love Jesus as your Savior.
I’m so excited that spring is here. God’s work is beautifully visible in something so taken for granted as the change of seasons. We don’t give the seasons much thought, unless we get tired of one and are eager for the next. But God Himself sustains those seasons. We don’t worry that winter will never end, because we know that winter will end. That’s how it works. That is how God made it to work. That is how God sustains it to work. There is comfort in that. If God can sustain the seasons, the planets, the solar systems and galaxies, the tides and the orbit of the moon, the tiny workings of our body’s cells…then He can sustain the world through a pandemic, however severe. And even the resulting financial hardship that many of us will feel with loss of work is yet another wonderful opportunity to trust in God’s goodness and mercy and providence. Any opportunity to trust God is a good thing.
If you want a psalm to read that will brighten your heart, read Psalm 104. I’ll post it in its entirety in another post, but it is a beautiful psalm praising God for His power over and visible in Creation, how He is the one who brings about the seasons, the growth of plant life, sustaining the animal life, and on and on. Read it, and be encouraged.
And one last verse…Romans 8:35, 37-39:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”