In these present times, the corona virus threat looms large. Every day the number of cases and deaths rise, but we will get through this. We may not be able to see the end of it yet, and it might last longer than any of us hope, but we will get through it.
We might long, now, for life to return to normal, but I really hope it doesn’t.
The corona virus is a wake up call for everyone – for those who are vulnerable, and those who aren’t – because what we do doesn’t just affect ourselves. Our actions affect those around us. We are learning that lesson collectively.
The Bible puts it this way: if we sow the wind, we reap the whirlwind. (Hosea 8:7) We see the way it works out with the virus: one person can infect three, and three people can infect nine, and the spread of the virus spreads exponentially if we don’t take measures to arrest the unseen enemy of our bodies.
The same principles apply to sin. Our selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed, proud and arrogant sinful proclivities affect (infect) others, and the influence spreads.
It spreads to our children. It spreads to our spouses. It spreads to our co-workers, neighbors and people we contact inadvertently every day. What we do and what we say and the attitudes of our hearts, if they are informed, motivated and inhabited by the sinful nature within us, has unintended consequences … for ourselves and for others around us.
What we can’t see can and does hurt us and hurts others.
The virus comes at us from the outside, works its way in, and does its damage inside us, wreaking havoc in our bodies until it is subdued or we die. Sin, on the other hand, comes from within us.
“[I]t is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person…. whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled[, b]ut what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”” (Matt. 5:11, 15-20)
The corona virus may take the body, but it doesn’t defile a person like sin does; a virus doesn’t destroy the essence of who you are meant to be. Jesus told us not to fear what can take the body but can’t take the soul; rather we should fear the One who can take both. (Matt. 10:28) (More on the fear of God in a moment.)
We aren’t comfortable in these modern times with the idea of a God who gives and takes life. Yet, He does. Even if we believe that God doesn’t cause illness or catastrophe, still He allows it to happen. We can’t escape the fact that an all-powerful God has some say in what goes on.
Even if God doesn’t cause these things, he pushed the “Go” button on a world in which bad things happen. He didn’t have to initiate it. He could have set different parameters for the world, right?
We struggle with the idea that a loving God can allow things like deadly viruses to exist and do their worst, but it’s the reality. If God is God, He does allow bad things to happen, and He doesn’t stop them.
We might cringe and pull back from these thoughts, but the Bible doesn’t do that.
Paul embraced suffering, as Jesus did. Not in some sadistic or masochistic kind of way. They weren’t ascetics who practiced rituals of self-harm, but they didn’t shy away from or become undone by the injustices done to them or the hardships they faced.
They recognized that it was part of a purpose and a plan that needed to play out. We are told that Jesus “endured the cross for the joy set before him”. (Heb. 12:2) Similarly, Paul said that the “light and momentary” afflictions we face “prepare for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”. (2 Corinthians 4:17)
From our human perspectives, the afflictions that COVID-19 sufferers face don’t seem light or momentary. Compared to eternity, though, they are. Compared to eternity, our lives are transient. They are a vapor in the vast eons of time past and future, and not even time, itself, compares to eternity.
That is the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul and over 500 people who saw Jesus alive after witnessing his public death (1 Corinthians 15:1-8) were forever changed by that experience. They were no longer afraid of death. They counted their suffering light and momentary.
Paul was imprisoned multiple times. He was beaten and left for dead. He lived in poverty and was persecuted, and died a martyr’s death, so he didn’t speak those words lightly. He suffered all those things willingly because of the assurance of eternal life with God the Father that came with the experience of meeting Jesus risen from the dead.
When Jesus said that we shouldn’t fear what can take the body, but we should fear the One that can take the body and soul, he was thinking about the prospect of eternal life. A virus can’t take from us the eternal life that God offers us, but we can miss out on the offer if we don’t accept it.
If we live our lives only for ourselves and for the transient things we can collect and enjoy in this life, we leave God’s offer of eternal life on the table. Those things are available for the just and the unjust alike. (Matt. 5:44-45) We don’t necessarily give up all enjoyment in this life to embrace God’s offer, but we must give up ourselves to God in order to receive what God has to give us.
When Jesus says don’t be afraid of what can kill the body, but fear the One who can take body and soul, we filter that through our modern minds. Why would God want us to be afraid of Him?
That isn’t the point. When we fear death, we respect it. We may actually be terrified of it as well, but that isn’t what is meant here. When we respect death, we take appropriate precautions to avoid it. We watch our diet and exercise. We don’t take unnecessary risks. Living our lives with a healthy “fear” of death is prudent.
Do we live our lives with a healthy fear/respect for God? This is what Jesus is talking about.
God offers us eternal life in relation to Him. Do we take that offer seriously?
God is love, and love doesn’t force itself on others or coerce others. God has given you an offer, He won’t force you or coerce you to accept it.
He gave us the ability to ignore and even to reject His offer, because that’s what love does. Love doesn’t force itself on another.
At the same time, God has built into this world a reality that reminds us of our mortality and the transience of our lives. Paul says God subjected the world to futility in hope that we would obtain the freedom of becoming His children. (Romans. 8:18-25) The pain and suffering we experience is meant to cause us to think about the transience of our lives, “let go” of the temporal things and embrace the eternal life God offers us.
And so, I hope for a new normal. I am hoping that these difficult times will help us to re-set our priorities and take more seriously the offer God has given us. He gave His life by emptying it and dying for us so that we can share in the imperishable life He offers us in Him.
Are we willing to “let go” of our present lives, clenching it in our fists to the very end, unwilling to surrender them to God? If so, these transient lives are only reward we will receive. Or can we find it in ourselves to let go of our death grip on the things that are passing away and grab a hold of God and His promises? The choice is ours, but God stands ready to meet us (even now in the present) if we are willing to meet Him and surrender ourselves to Him. It’s time for a new normal, and God is waiting for us to grab it.