Saturday, March 21, 2020

Facing the Coronavirus

When in the midst of a very difficult situation, it is impossible to know how we will look back on it once the crisis has passed. We may discover that we were worried over nothing. Or, we may find that it was nothing in comparison to what happened as it advanced. I hope, and tend to think, it will be the former. But every word of comfort and wisdom is of value while in the middle of trouble. I thought, then, that it would be a good idea for me to share a few reflections on our present challenge with the coronavirus.

To begin with, it is important for us to avoid erring too far in either direction in our response to the outbreak and the measures being taken to stop its spread. The more widely recognized mistake has been overreaction. There ought not to be shortages of basic needs, but store shelves are empty because people convinced themselves they needed to overstock. Desperation often leads to irrational decisions. The best thing to do is to take a proper view of the situation, follow expert recommendations, and remain calm. If we take reasonable measures to prevent the spread of disease, then there is no need to panic.

However, there have also been people who have swung to the opposite extreme. They have downplayed the danger, seeing it as no more than a manufactured crisis, and are busily criticizing those who are attempting to keep the virus in check. Let me say, I empathize with something in this view. The media have a tendency to sensationalize everything in order to keep eyes glued on the screen, and politicians always look to capitalize on crises. Also, it is entirely possible that this disease will make a very small impact once all is said and done. But that is not the point right now.

The point is that, justified or not, disruptions are rampant and they need to be dealt with. Many people cannot work. Others have lost considerable investments. People are infected in almost every state, and it is likely that the number of infections will rise considerably. Above all, sadly, people have died and more losses are expected. Panic is not justified, but concern certainly is. You cannot simply tell people that they should not be afraid. You have to tell them that fear can be overcome. And you do have to take seriously the risks of an epidemic. We’ve seen quite a few come and go with little damage, but we have also seen them devastate populations. Pride and contrarianism are not healthy responses to requests for social distancing. Rather, they are just as irrational as panic.

So much for my advice, such as it is. As for comfort, I would invite you to see it in the paradox that fear can bring us peace. Fear comes from two sources. We are afraid of what we do not know, and we are afraid of what we know we cannot control. We like to believe that we have our lives well organized, that the answers to all questions are available and that we have the power to keep everything the way we want it to be. Even though we know better, it is what we want to be true. We do what we can to ignore the uncertainty of life. Sometimes, though, that uncertainty breaks through. Right now, it is washing over all of us. When we are impotent and ignorant, it frightens us. When everyone is, even people in positions of power, it has the potential to terrify us.

But it should not terrify us. It should humble us. It should remind us of how small and weak and fragile we are. We cannot trust in ourselves for answers. If we cannot trust in ourselves, in our knowledge or our strength, then where should we turn? For we must turn somewhere. It is in human nature to lean on something. And the only sure foundation is God.

God, the Creator of all things, knows everything we do not. The world does not work as He originally intended it (Gen. 3:17–18), but He is still in ultimate control over it (Job 42:2; Ps. 135:6). Nothing escapes His notice, and nothing can overpower Him. He cannot become ill or grow weary (Is. 40:27–31). His victory over suffering is assured (1 Cor. 15:54–57).

Peace comes in recognizing this in the face of our fears. Worrying gets us nowhere (Matt. 6:25–33). When we learn to let go of our own need for control and instead trust in God, we find that is what we actually needed all along. It is difficult to give up that control on our own, so when life confronts us with situations that shatter our illusions, they actually help to point us to the reality of our reliance on the Lord.

What is most important to remember, however, is what it means for the Lord to be in control. It means that His goals will be achieved. And His goals are not always the ones we think they ought to be. We want this disease to go away. We want to go back to work, get back our money, and have stores backed up with food and goods. Our focus is here and now. It shouldn’t be.

Things may soon go back to normal. There is nothing wrong with hoping that they do. We should pray that they will. But God’s focus is on eternity. He gives thought to the troubles of this life, but He also uses them to draw us to Himself. He may wipe out this disease, and we should thank Him if He does. He may, instead, allow it to follow its present course. If He does, it will be because we need the reminder of our reliance on Him. When this life is poor, we should think on what is truly and ultimately desirable.

God has promised to eliminate all suffering forever (Rev. 21:1–5). He has a plan for accomplishing that, so when we suffer for a moment, we should realize that it is nothing in comparison to the joy that is in store (Rom. 8:18). And we should also remember that God’s solution to suffering was not to get rid of the cause of suffering. You might think He should have, but you must remember that the cause of suffering is sin, and the cause of sin is human choice. God could have wiped all suffering away by wiping humanity away, but He did not. Instead, He decided to suffer as one of us, and to suffer for all of us, so that we will be saved if we trust in Him.

That is the greatest lesson in times like these. Each of us needs forgiveness because none of us can save himself (Ps. 49:5–15). We must turn to Jesus Christ if we hope to overcome fear and death for eternity. Only He has been victorious over them. The moment we believe in Him, and every moment afterward when we turn to Him, is one in which we experience that victory with Him. We wait for its fulfillment, but we can know that it is coming. There can be no greater comfort than that.

The world needs to hear the message of the gospel right now. Of course, it needs to hear it all the time. But this is a moment when circumstances will have much of the world ready to listen. Those of us who know it is true need to cling to it. And, as it gives us peace, comfort, and confidence, we need to share it. If we can be recognized for what we have and what the world does not, it will be a shining light to draw them to God. Let us take that as seriously as He does, keeping our focus where it belongs no matter what temporary threats we face. Stay safe. Stay sane. Stay positive. And stay committed to the purpose the Lord has for you and for all those who follow Him. That is the best thing we can do when facing what this fallen world has to throw at us.

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