This morning my wife Kathi and I participated in a global online gathering of Christian believers from many nations, representing multiple people groups of the world, praying, repenting, and calling out, like the prophet Daniel, for the Lord to forgive our sins and the sins of our respective nations, and renewing our commitment to humbly seek him and to love our neighbors.
Currently, as in the days of Daniel, the people of God are in a time of unprecedented opportunity.
I know the news media tell us that we are in a catastrophe and a crisis and declare that the world is in turmoil and shutdown. Prognosticators and pundits relentlessly trumpet the chaos and destruction threatening our way of life; even our very survival as a species.
All this is true—sort of. But as is always the case when we look deeper into “reality” and peer below the surface of the physically evident, things are not what they seem.
It’s true we are in shutdown everywhere. Untold numbers of people have been consigned to seclusion in their homes. The flowing movement of modern society as we have known it has been halted with sudden and brutal ferocity, creating fear—even panic—in millions of people. We are not able to gather in public squares and marketplaces the way we have been accustomed. The halls of worship built for our rampant consumerism—malls and stores and restaurants and bars—have been closed.
And the halls of worship for religion have been closed as well, although there have been some who choose to defy any imposed restrictions.
This is a time of grief for so many thousands who have fallen ill or have had loved ones become sick and die. Our hearts are broken for such cruel and incomprehensible loss. For such tragedies there are no pat answers; frankly, there are no answers at all save the Bible’s admonition to suffer and weep with them (Jeremiah 8:21, 9:1, 14:17; Romans 12:15; John 11:32-36).
But as we grieve, we must also quiet the inner clamor of our thoughts and ask questions. God invites us to time and again in Scripture to become aware of his greater reality, and if we will perceive it, we will hear the faint rumblings that he is doing something dreadful and wonderful. Our Father, to whom the whole universe belongs, has not turned from us or allowed his hand to be shortened. This plague has not caught him off-guard. He always takes what is meant for evil and uses it for good, if we will humble ourselves. God is not the author of evil, but he does discipline us and he has brought us to this time of worldwide silence unlike anything any of us now alive have known.
Also unlike any time in human history, we have technology to go past forced seclusion and interact with each other in meaningful ways. The Lord is changing our expressions of worship and fellowship “as usual” and is causing us deep heart-searching. Have we obeyed the first and greatest commandment and sought after him and loved him beyond everything else? Is his presence our greatest treasure and magnificent reward? Will we really love our neighbors as we love ourselves? Do we really want his kingdom, or are we still content to promote our own little fiefdoms?
This global pandemic has forced us to face these questions head-on. It is forcing us, especially those of us who live in affluence, to face the very real truth that we are not as strong as we think we are. In this time that appears so dark, we can succumb to despair, or we can humble ourselves and draw closer together, heart-to-heart, and communicate with each other through the means available to us. We can recognize more fully that we are truly one body under one almighty and gracious Head.
Our God declares those things which aren’t as though they are, because those things he declares as are are the things he does and plans to do, and so they actually are already accomplished. (Confusing, I know.) He loves to turn our presumptions and our accomplishments upside-down as he displays his glory through individuals and events we would never choose or imagine.
When we look below the surface of our physical world, we discover paradox. Scientists don’t know why the world even exists or how the fabric of space-time works at the sub-atomic level; we try to get a fix on “dark” matter and energy; we don’t fully understand what time really is (see here and here). It’s the same in the realm of the spirit as we follow Jesus. Lose your life to save it. Give everything away to become rich. Be great by becoming everyone’s servant. (I won’t even begin to discuss the contrast between God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom of choice.) We are now directly inside another paradox, because even as people around the planet go into seclusion through “social distancing,” all humanity together is sharing this same emergency at the same time, in essentially the same way. This is not just happening “somewhere else” and oh isn’t it tragic; it is happening here as well as out there. It isn’t only happening to other people; it is impacting all our families and friends. It isn’t the sort of shared experience we would ever choose, but we’re together in this, and if we will respond the way our Lord would have us respond, then even as we are “distancing” socially, we are drawing together in greater intimacy.
It is time to press in more closely to our Lord who knows all our ways, who loves us and is drawing us to himself that our faith may be purified and we might come closer to fulfilling the desire of Yeshua that he expressed in his John 17 prayer. May we share the resources and hope we have been given as the body of Christ with those who desperately need the bread and water of Life.