Large parts of the country are going through a difficult time due to the Coronavirus, we believe the Prime Minister should hold a National Day of Prayer.
There is a precedent for this in Australia and the US.
The year was 1838 and a severe drought threatened the livestock of the early colony of NSW. The colonists could not afford to lose any more animals because they were critical for their farming work and as a source of food. George Gipps was the governor of the colony at that time. Mr Gipps, a Bible-believing Christian, called for a day of fasting and prayer to be held on Sunday, 2 November of that year. Two days later, on the 4 November, the drought broke and it rained so much that many people came down with the flu. This 9th Governor of our nation, in his first year of office, applied God’s wisdom in dealing with that drought crisis.
Abraham Lincoln in 1863, called for a special day to seek the Lord as the US was in a perilous state.
We are in a national crisis with this pandemic, the states of NSW, Victoria, South Australia and parts of Queensland are in or have been in lockdown.
The majority of our nation’s population identify themselves as being Christian. Surely it is not unreasonable to seek prayer for the pandemic at this time.
In 1838 Governor Gipps rallied the nation around a unified, proactive strategy; I believe it would likewise be a worthy, unifying and positive strategy to call for the people of this nation to pray for Australia.
What is God doing? Why is this happening? We approach these questions with both confidence and caution. We can be confident that the Lord speaks to us about everything we need for “life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). So we search Scripture, read what others are saying, ask friends, and pray for wisdom. We expect insight. We are also cautious. We know our tendency is to overinterpret suffering and crave more specifics than Scripture offers. We want to know causes and reasons. Knowledge comforts. It gives us a sense of control and removes those nagging uncertainties. We assume that because the Old Testament prophets gave specifics, that we who have the Spirit should get even more clarity and certainty. The prophets, however, spoke to a nation that uniquely represented the Lord. We cannot lift their interpretations of plagues and pestilence and impose them on our present situation. What we can impose is that the prophets pointed to full redemption and rescue in Jesus Christ. In the cross we receive the knowledge of God, but its purpose is not to enable us to understand everything God does. Rather, its purpose is to move us closer, to fully trust him, even when—especially when—we don’t have all the answers we desire. Scripture always takes the question—What is God doing? —and moves us toward deeper trust.
Deeper trust? It almost seems counterintuitive. With this Covid-19 Pandemic, many are sick; many have died. Fear and grief and doubt are our daily companions. But the Lord knows what we need most in a crisis, and it is not the certainty of an explanation, but the certainty of knowing him. And so, in times of trouble, when it is harder than ever to listen to his words, he is simple and succinct, as if too many words will muddle us even more. In what follows, I will lead us through three of the certainties God speaks and asks us to trust in these times. I’ll suggest how you can personally respond in light of God’s reassurances. Though I cannot offer a direct answer to the question “What is God doing?” it does not mean the Lord is silent.
God says, I am with you. Speak to me. Scripture gives no prescribed starting point in discerning God’s ways, but here is a simple one. “Pour out your heart before him” (Ps 62:8). The kingdom of heaven certainly has room for quiet meditation, but its dominant feature is its abundance of good and important words. This, of course, is what we hope for in all of our close relationships. Words are the rule. To be silent, especially in the face of matters that weigh on our hearts, just seems wrong. Silence opts for independence over intimacy. In God’s house—and we have been brought into his house—we speak to him about what we deeply feel.
The psalms are a response to the Lord’s implicit and enduring request: “Speak to me about your fears, your doubts, your enemies, your feeling alone and in the dark, your sins, your desires, your thanks, your praise—speak to me about what is important to you.” Sounds easy, and, for some wise saints, it is. I so admire those who speak naturally to the Lord, often speaking out loud to him. Yet what they are doing is far from natural. What’s natural is silence, fretting, scheming, binge watching movies, playing one more video game, general dawdling, a distracted mind, and then more silence, and more fretting. Speaking to the Lord is not natural for sinners. It is supernatural—a gift from the Spirit and evidence of the Lord’s closeness and power in our lives. Expect to encounter resistance along the way. If your words to the Lord over the years have been few, simply get started. “Lord, I want to talk to you about this, but . . .”
Silence has its reasons: guilt from past or present sins, shame from the sins of others that persuade us that we are too worthless, embarrassment because we speak to him only when we are desperate (as if the Lord were our last option), general ineptness in speaking from our hearts to anyone, and so on. These reasons lead us back to discover the true knowledge of God in Christ.
He speaks to you. Stop and listen. “Behold,” he says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and sup with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20). The image is not of an impatient king who allots you five minutes to present your request, and he might punish you if he is in a bad mood. Instead, the gospel of Jesus is summarized in these words from Revelation 3. God has always pursued us. Now, in Christ, he has removed all obstacles to life in his presence. He forgives in one fell swoop, done and over. This forgiveness is yours when you simply open the door. When he comes in to be with you, speak to him.
Jesus never turns away from those who do. The psalms are filled with requests, such as “Give ear to my words, O Lord” (Ps 5:1), because psalmists know God will incline his ear to listen (Ps 10:17). His desire is for us to seek him. “Here I am, here I am” he says in Isaiah (65:1). Even to those in overt rebellion, he is welcoming: “I spread out my hands all the day” (Isa 65:2). Jesus, by the Spirit, is with us. On this rests all the promises of God.
Having learned more of the Lord, we get back to speaking to him as we do a friend. Some people who feel less than adequate with words will buy a card and let the card speak on their behalf. We can do similarly: we can take words from Scripture that speak for us, and speak those words back to the Lord. Make them your own. “When I remember you God, I moan…and my spirit faints…Has your steadfast love ceased? Have you forgotten to be gracious? Have you shut up your compassion?” (Ps 77:3,8–9). Or consider these words spoken in a Civil War movie by a child who had been mute for months. As her father was going off to battle, he pleaded with her, “please, honey, say something” and she remained silent. When he was almost out of sight, she was suddenly overcome and began to run after her father.
“Something,” she said. “Something, daddy.”
We are the children of God, saints who have been brought near, even called friends of God. Say something. Say anything.
What is God doing in this pandemic? He is inviting you to speak to him, so he can bear your burdens with you. Start with the hard things first. The people lost. The fear of losing more. The possibility of infecting others, or even dying. Then bring the rest. The financial uncertainty. The sheer length of time isolated. The likelihood that so much will be changed on the far side of the pandemic. He is the God who hears (Gen 16:11).
God says, I am over you. Fear me. When trouble persists, our words to the Lord are increasingly coupled with the fear of the Lord. This means that we acknowledge that God alone is God. He is over us. We humbly submit to his will, which we know will express his faithful love toward us (even if we are afraid of what his will might be). An early mentor in the fear of the Lord is Job, who, with less knowledge of God than we have, spoke these words after his crushing loss. “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). The fear of the Lord is the founda-tion for all wise and fruitful living.
Our later mentor is Jesus Christ. In his darkest hour, he said to his father, “not my will, but thine be done.” At the cross, he claimed Psalm 22 as his own, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Jesus’ delight was the fear of the Lord (Isa 11:3) and he knew the Father’s abandonment was not his final word. Jesus was confident that his father heard him, and he freely submitted to his father’s will.
Psalm 22 is for all those who fear the Lord—the One who is over them. They know the strength of their God, their own weakness, and their need for him. “Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.” (Ps 22:23–24) Note the word awe. It is a reliable sign of the fear of the Lord. And notice his presence with the afflicted.
God is with us; we speak with him as we would a friend.
God is over us; we submit to his will.
We cannot endure hardship without both. We need to know he is with us in our distress, so we can trust him for the outcome.
Psalm 130 follows the same pattern. The psalmist begins with grief, “Out of the depths have I cried” The bridge to contented submission is the assurance that his sins are forgiven and now nothing can separate him from the Lord and his promises. God offers forgiveness (v.4). Having joined God-with-us and God-over-us, the psalmist can then wait patiently and trust him during affliction.
Another way we acknowledge God is over us is by identifying ourselves as God’s servants. Moses was a friend of God, but his prominent title was servant of God (Josh 22:2; Rev 15:3). Joshua was first known as the son of Nun but was eventually rewarded with the title servant of God (Judges 2:8). Jesus, himself, was a servant of God (Matt 12:18). He came to serve rather than be served. As did the apostle Paul. “Let a man so account of us, as of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1). He identifies himself this way especially when he is called to endure hardships (2 Cor 6:4). A servant of God fears God. A servant of God accepts God’s plans.
What is God doing in this pandemic? He is leading you into his love by teaching you to fear him—to submit to his loving sovereignty—above all else. Having spoken your griefs and troubles to him, acknowledge him as Lord over you and Lord over COVID-19. Freely submit to his good will. Contentment becomes possible when you remember that, like the psalmist, your sins were the only thing that kept you from his presence, and in Christ you have been forgiven. His promises of blessing are sure. Now your father gives you the prized mantle of servant. A servant, in all circumstances, simply asks, “What is your will, Lord?”
God says, live by faith. Depend on me when I test you. God is with us. God is over us. These two prepare us for the trials that test our souls, and COVID is certainly a test of our souls. The book of James is insistent that we keep this testing in view.
God-with-us is clear in James. The tone is familial. God is our father; we are beloved brothers and sisters, children of the Most High God. James also emphasizes the companion to God’s nearness: he alone is God and he is over all his creation. We see this immediately when James introduces himself as God’s servant. Then the theme continues. James leads us in a determined obedience before and under the Lord. He calls us to patience and endurance—humble dependence—in our hardships. Our primary problem is our tendency toward pride and feeling superior to others. “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God” (4:6–7). When we make plans, we begin and end those plans with “if the Lord wills” (4:15).
This instruction prepares us for the testing we experience from the trials of life. The banner of the book is James 1:2–4: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing”. Here we find a third and certain answer to the question: What is God doing? The twin themes of God’s familial closeness and his transcendent power and authority merge in God’s testing of his royal children. He tested his children before sin entered the world, he tested his son, and he tests us. That is what kings do when their children ascend to significant responsibilities. Children who leave the kingdom are no longer tested. But God takes those who follow him through a maturing process in such a way that, having grown, we lack no good thing. Since testing is a sign of belonging and hope, it is reason for joy.
Consider David Powlison’s useful illustration: a person is carrying a cup of water, gets bumped by another, and water splashes out of the cup. What happened? The occasion for the spill was the jostling from someone else, but what came out of the glass revealed what had been in the glass. That is, the trials of life test our souls in a way that reveal what is inside of our hearts. My snarky comments to my wife or complaining spirit say something about the contributing events, but they usually say even more about what was already in me. God tests me to bring it to my attention. It does not feel good at the time, but I am joyful that God cares enough about me to identify where my unbelief is hiding.
What is God doing in this pandemic? He is testing your soul. That’s the nature of painful and unpredictable circumstances like this. Such tests reveal growing faith, little faith that can quickly lose sight of spiritual realities, or no apparent faith in that we live as though God is absent. One encourages us—we are growing and want to grow even more. One surprises us—we didn’t think that our rest in Christ could be so quickly disturbed. One leads us to confession of sin—the sin of turning from the Lord when he doesn’t give us what we want. Each of these lead us back to the pleasure of knowing that we are his.
What Is God Doing?
As promised, we did not answer the question we started with. Scripture does not tend to explain specific events with prophetic certainty. But we did discuss three certainties that will sustain you in this time of peril. God says—
I am with you.
I am over you.
I am maturing you.
Though we can enter into these in any order, there is a natural progression. The Lord brings us close through his loving faithfulness and many promises, and we speak to him from our hearts. In prayer, we can thank him for being close, and then we tell him what we are concerned about. As trials persist and defy our expectation of how the Lord should treat his people, he reveals his greatness, glory, and majesty, and we grow in humble obedience, awe, and patience. We remind ourselves we are his servants and can trust him. This trust can be expressed in small acts of faithfulness today as we know that “the earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1). Then we learn how trouble and trials are no mere troubles. For us, they are troubles that reveal and mature, to the end that we are complete and satisfied in Jesus Christ.
“God, I know surely that You do not exist. But if perchance You exist, which I contest, it is not my duty to believe in You; it is Your duty to reveal Yourself to me.” 1 The young Jewish atheist who uttered that flippant prayer was Richard Wurmbrand, born in 1909 in Bucharest, Romania. Little did he know how completely God would answer him, call him to a life of service to Christ, and use him to raise up one of the strongest ministries in the world today that helps the persecuted church.
Salvation and Service
In 1938, in a remote Romanian village, an old German carpenter named Christian Wolfkes lay sick. The only person by his side giving aid and comfort was a Jewish follower of Christ. When Wolfkes recovered, he was so grateful to God that he prayed earnestly for the opportunity to share the gospel with a Jewish person. Although none lived in his village, still he prayed.
One day a young, newly married Jewish couple arrived on vacation. They were Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand. The carpenter enthusiastically gave Richard a Bible. Richard had read the Scriptures once but had gotten nothing from them. However, this time, his heart was stirred. He didn’t know why, until he learned the secret. The carpenter and his wife had spent many long hours every day praying for his salvation. “The Bible he gave me was written not so much in words, but in flames of love fired by his prayers,” Richard would write later. 2
The carpenter spoke about God’s unconditional love for the Jewish people (Dt. 7:6–7; Jer. 31:3), the Messianic fulfillments in Jesus, and Jesus’ purpose in coming to Earth: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (Jn. 3:17). The Spirit of God freed Richard’s heart, and he believed. Sabina also came to faith and was so deeply changed she soon brought others to the Messiah.
To help Richard grow in the faith, God led him to a Jewish pastor named Isaac Feinstein in Jassy, Romania. Feinstein led a sizeable congregation of Jewish believers. As they talked, Richard cried out, “No, no!” With tears in his eyes he declared, “I do not want a Jesus who has been calculated, explained, and believed in, but a real Jesus.” 3
The pastor asked him to stay for prayer that night. It was then the Holy Spirit so deeply touched Richard’s heart to God’s great salvation that he immediately understood service for Christ meant full surrender as a living sacrifice (cf. Rom. 12:1). “I do not understand everything that has happened to me,” he wrote, “but I believe that my whole life, and the life of all His [God’s] children, has been planned by God, down to the smallest detail.” 4
Richard was focused on the Bible alone. He observed, the Jewish people have given to the world the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, a book written by Jews, but which is at the same time the Word of God—the only book capable of satisfying the spiritual needs of the world. And it will satisfy these needs when it is once again in the hands of those who have written it, and when they gather round Him who is the chief subject of the book, Jesus the Messiah of the Jews and the Saviour of nations. 5
This was his call, to take the gospel to the Jewish people (cf. Rom. 1:16). For more than 25 years of a ministry that spanned almost three-quarters of a century—whether free or imprisoned; through peace, war, and unspeakable torture—Richard Wurmbrand kept firm on that goal.
Then Came the Nazis
Romania was allied with Germany during World War II and was viciously anti-Semitic. Believing in Jesus did nothing to protect the Jews from the Nazis or the fascist Romanian Iron Guards. One of the worst pogroms in Jewish history took place on June 27, 1941, in Jassy when soldiers, police, and mobs tore through the town and savagely massacred 13,266 Jewish people.
Among them were Richard’s dear friend, Pastor Feinstein, and all the Jewish believers in Christ. (See “A Martyr for Messiah,”) “Not a single man from the Jewish-Christian congregation in Jassy survived; all were killed in the pogrom. Only a few girls escaped with their lives,” wrote Wurmbrand. 6
The Wurmbrands wept, but Feinstein’s death gave them strength to stand for Christ. They preached in bomb shelters and rescued Jewish children from ghettos. Again and again they were arrested and beaten. Sabina’s parents, two sisters, and one brother were killed in the concentration camps. Yet, like Pastor Feinstein, Richard and Sabina spoke of salvation to everyone, including prison guards and soldiers. Many came to faith.
Then Came the Communists
After the war, the Communists poured into Romania. Richard, now a pastor, preached boldly to the Russian troops and resisted pressure to swear loyalty to the atheistic rule. On one occasion, the Wurmbrands were forced to attend the Congress of Cults. About 4,000 people were there, and the session was broadcast live throughout the country. Many religious leaders forsook their faith. Sabina told Richard, “Stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ.” Knowing the cost, Richard stood and declared to all that their loyalty was to Christ first. He was kidnapped by the secret police and spent the next 14 years in prison, suffering horrific tortures and brutality. Even the Nazis were not as cruel to him as the Communists.
For three years he was kept in solitary confinement in a cell 30 feet beneath the ground. Among other things, he was forced to sit erect with eyes wide open and listen over and over to the words Communism is good. Christianity is stupid. Give up. Sabina was arrested and spent three years in slave-labor camps. Their nine-year-old son and only child, Mihai, was forced to live in the streets. After being released, Sabina spent several years under house arrest. When Richard was briefly released, they formed an underground church. Many people were saved as he preached to Russian soldiers and dis-tressed Romanians.
Free at Last
In 1965 Christians in Norway heard of the Wurmbrands’ plight and ransomed them for $10,000. The secret police told Richard to remain silent about his ordeal. But Richard never remained silent. In 1966 he testified before the U.S. Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee about his inhumane treatment in Communist prisons. As proof of his torture, he stripped to the waist to show 18 deep torture wounds on his body. His story quickly spread, and he became known as “the voice of the underground church.”
The Wurmbrands soon immigrated to the United States and began a work called Jesus to the Communist World, later renamed The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM).
Sabina wrote her prison memoirs, The Pastor’s Wife, published in six languages. And Richard’s books are bestsellers in more than 50 languages. His book Tortured for Christ, released in 1967, has become a classic. Wrote VOM: “By the mid-1980s his work was established in 80 restricted nations with offices in 30 countries around the world.”
In 1990, after the fall of Romania’s Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, the Wurmbrands returned to Romania for the first time in 25 years. Richard preached in many churches and also on public television. In addition, a Christian printing facility and bookstore were opened in Bucharest, and city officials offered storage below Ceausescu’s palace, the very site where Richard had been held in solitary confinement. 7
On August 11, 2000, Sabina went home to the Lord. A year later, a month before his 92nd birthday, Pastor Wurmbrand was reunited with her in heaven. Wrote their son, Mihai, in 2009: In 2006, the Romanian government-owned TV Broadcasting station (TVR), in cooperation with one of the largest newspapers of the country…started a poll among readers and viewers as to who were or are the greatest, most admired Romanian personalities throughout history. The television station promised to prepare one-hour TV documentaries about each of the top ten finalists. These secular promoters were flabbergasted to find out that nearly 400,000 random participants chose, right behind the top three most-known kings of Romania and Romania’s national poet, as the fifth most admired Romanian personality of all times, Pastor Richard Wurmbrand. 8
Despite all the torture and hardship an evil world could throw at them, the Wurmbrands stood firm to the end in their devotion and service to Jesus Christ and left a legacy for the rest of us to follow. Wrote the man who was once an atheist: “Our lives are planned in eternity; our lives serve God’s purpose. I can be confident, even when I understand nothing.” 9
Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ (Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice Books, 1998), 12.
Richard Wurmbrand, Christ on the Jewish Road (Middlebury, IN: Living Sacrifice Books, 1975), 36.
The Victorian era preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) began preaching in London in April 1854. Later that year the United Kingdom’s capital city suffered an outbreak of cholera in which 600 people died, with a mortality rate of over 12% in parts of the city. Another outbreak in 1866 claimed a further 5,596 lives.
Spurgeon visited many of the sick and dying and spoke at numerous funerals. He often addressed the issue of the outbreaks in his sermons. The following selected quotes from Spurgeon’s sermons are most instructive relative to the recent Coronavirus pandemic (2019-2020):
“Who is the man that does not fear to die? I will tell you. The man that is a believer. Fear to die! Thank God, I do not. The cholera may come again next summer – I pray God it may not; but if it does, it matters not to me: I will toil and visit the sick by night and by day, until I drop; and if it takes me, sudden death is sudden glory” (18th Feb 1855)
“In times of pestilence it is possible to walk in the midst of cholera and death, singing – ‘Plagues and deaths around me fly, till he please, I cannot die.’ It is possible to stand exposed to the utmost degree of danger, and yet to feel such a holy serenity that we can laugh at fear; too great, too mighty, too powerful through God to stoop for one moment to the cowardice of trembling” (14th Oct 1855)
“How many of the same sort of confessions, too, have we seen in times of cholera, and fever, and pestilence! Then our churches have been crammed with hearers, who, because so many funerals have passed their doors, or so many have died in the street, could not refrain from going up to God’s house to confess their sins. And under that visitation, when one, two, and three have been lying dead in the house, or next door, how many have thought they would really turn to God! But, alas! when the pestilence had done its work, conviction ceased; and when the bell had tolled the last time for a death caused by cholera, then their hearts ceased to beat with penitence, and their tears did flow no more” (18th Jan 1857)
“If you ask me what I think to be the design, I believe it to be this – to waken up our indifferent population, to make them remember that there is a God, to render them susceptible of the influences of the gospel, to drive them to the house of prayer, to influence their minds to receive the Word, and moreover to startle Christians into energy and earnestness, that they may work while it is called to-day. Already I have been told by Christian brethren labouring in the east of London, that there is a greater willingness to listen to gospel truth, and that if there be a religious service it is more acceptable to the people now than it was; for which I thank God as an indication that affliction is answering its purpose” (Aug 12th 1866)
The busy jovial self-employed painter I met yesterday in the decorating supplies shop was having none of it.
“I won’t be getting the virus. I’m immune to everything. I’m even immune to work!”
I smiled at his dark British humour, inwardly wondering if he was actually more worried than he was letting on.
The Romanian cleaner I met earlier in the day was, I think, more honest.
“We are scared. All my family back home in Romania are scared also.”
Fear is back. More to the point, what the Bible bluntly calls “the fear of death” is back.
But there’s another emotion overwhelming the mind of humanity right now. A sense of frailty – of helplessness, if you will – of not being in control.
Speaking on The Stansberry Investor Hour on 18th March, financial adviser and author Dan Ferris said, “I’m praying – literally, for the first time in decades. I’ve been an atheist for years. But literally, I was on my hands and knees, with my head bowed and my hands folded earlier this week, saying, ‘Please, if you’re out there man, we get it. We’re fragile. We don’t need any more of this.’ As you can tell, I’m at a loss.”
Perhaps a Bible prayer might help put it into more eloquent words: “LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.”¹
Realising you aren’t in control of your death – never mind your stocks and shares – and discovering you actually have no idea what death is about or what may come after it, is at one and the same time both a moment of terror and a moment of clarity.
That’s why COVID-19 is a such an incredible wake up call to planet earth – not just about the need to ban live animal markets, and to invest billions more in our health care systems – but about eternity. About God. About our unreadiness to face the music for our hitherto “I did it my way” lives.
Most will probably ignore it. Others may prick up their ears for a month or two, only to go back to sleep “once we get through this” or once science comes to our rescue with a vaccine and we wonder how we could ever have allowed ourselves to be so silly as to worry.
So I guess this post is just a note directed at anyone who is genuinely thinking about the big picture and sincerely looking for a coherent satisfying answer. Fearful and aware of our frailty, to whom can we turn?
Sitting on the margins of our affluent, progressive, enlightened society all this time has been the only Person who truly has anything of substance to say to our world at this critical moment.
Jesus Christ, the eternal, living Son of God.
Because He has been through death and come out the other side in victorious resurrection, He alone can genuinely say, “Let not your heart be troubled…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me…because I live, you shall live also.”²
That’s why He deserves your attention and, ultimately, your trust – or as the Bible calls it, your faith.
Right now the world desperately needs more hospital beds, more ventilators, more time. But faith? Don’t mock us. How can a nebulous spiritual feeling contribute anything useful to this global crisis?
The faith you need right now is no vacuous will-o’-the-wisp religious sentiment, nor even a crazed leap in the dark. Faith is taking what God says in the Bible as gospel and staking your eternal well-being on it.
What does that look like?
It means that God is God. He is the almighty, holy, righteous Creator from whom you came and to whom you are accountable.
Most of the time we pretend He is not there. We call ourselves atheists. We say “Where’s the evidence for God?”. But our unbelief is really just a smokescreen for the fact that we want what we want when we want it, and no one is going to spoil our fun. The bottom line in life is always the same: who sets the rules, God or me?
Breaking rules is part of our DNA. As children, the quickest way to get us to break a rule was to give us one. But ultimately, all our rule breaking is against God. We have sinned against the Almighty, repeatedly and defiantly. Yet, in the greatest expression of love and mercy the world has ever seen, Jesus Christ suffered, bled and died on the cross 2,000 years ago, to expunge the guilt of our disobedience and sin: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the punishment for our peace was upon Him and with His stripes we are healed.”³
If you will, right now, give up on any hope of ever making yourself acceptable to God by religion, self improvement or good works, and take your place as a fearful, frail, mortal deserving the wrath of God for ever; and then by faith look to God’s Son Jesus Christ – who on the cross “loved you and gave Himself for you” – and receive Him as your Lord and Saviour, you will be forgiven, delivered from the fear of death, and will receive the free gift of eternal life through Him.
Your fear of death, gone. Your frailty in the face of overwhelming catastrophe, swallowed up in the strength of Christ. Your faith, resting on the unshakable Word of God.
The bubonic plague struck Wittenberg, Germany, in August of 1527. This disease was especially horrific: in just one day, an infected person could show signs of delirium, fever, speech disorders, and loss of consciousness. Soon after, they would break out in large boils that infected the bloodstream and rapidly led to their death.
Martin Luther and his wife Katharina, who was pregnant at the time, were urged to flee the city. However, they chose to stay in order to minister to the sick and dying.
When asked by Christians in another city for advice, Luther wrote a pamphlet that is as remarkable today as when he produced it. Titled “Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague,” it combines realism and faith in a way that is powerfully relevant to our crisis.
Luther counseled his readers to utilize medicine and intelligence “to guard and to take good care of the body so that we can live in good health.” As a result, he stated, “I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it.” He also practiced what we call social distancing: “I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.”
With this caveat: “If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely.” He understood the urgency of sharing the gospel so as to lead the sick to saving faith before they died and to minister to believers in their final days.
“Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die”
As it turned out, Martin and Katharina Luther were spared from the plague. But they did not know this when they chose to stay behind to care for the sick of their community.
They could risk their lives to serve others because they were not afraid to die. Their hope was in proper procedures and medical treatments, but even more, it was in Christ. They trusted their Lord to protect them in life and to bring them to heaven in death, whenever it came.
My point is not that we should refuse the urgent calls to social distancing that are absolutely crucial to slowing the spread of the pandemic. To the contrary, as one primary care physician notes, we must adopt such critical measures immediately.
My point is that choosing to hope in God as the Luthers did sustains us as nothing else can. It reminds us that the worst that can happen to us leads to the best that can happen to us. The moment we close our eyes on this diseased, fallen planet, we open them in God’s perfect paradise. When we take our last breath here, we take our first breath there.