No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:11
The COVID-19 Pandemic is wreaking havoc across our world. It’s an uncertain time.
And yet for all the pain, the Bible teaches that for Christians, these trials are not wasted or futile. God is at work through it all, teaching us things that we might not otherwise learn (Rom 8:28, Heb 12:5-11).
Here are 6 lessons I’ve been reminded of over the last few weeks:
1) Life in a fallen world is not meant to be comfortable
But we modern westerners aren’t good at ‘uncomfortable’.
Like many westerners, I crave comfort. When I feel sick, I take medicine. When I’m hungry, I eat. If I’m thirsty, I turn my on tap. ‘Push button, fix problem’ is how our modern lives operate.
And so, we’ve grown used to comfort. We expect it. Indeed, we demand it. And when God throws a spanner into our lives – such as a pandemic that disrupts everything – we don’t do so well. We get frustrated. We get scared. We grow anxious, and even panic. We modern people – even Christians – aren’t that good at ‘uncomfortable’.
We forget we’re in a fallen world – a life under God’s curse (Gen 3: 16-19). The world is fundamentally broken. Yes, modern technology has done an amazing job ameliorating much of this brokenness (and that’s not a bad thing). Yet it means we can delude ourselves into thinking life is meant to be comfortable.
But it’s not.
This broken world is not heaven. And never can be. No government, no leader, no technology can ever usher in the new heavens and the new earth. That’s above our pay-grade. Only God can do that.
2) We crave control over our world
But when control eludes us, we panic.
Alongside an expectation of comfort, we modern westerners are under the delusion that life is under our control. After all, the ‘push button, fix problem’ mentality seems to work much of the time. And so, when life spirals out of control, like during this pandemic, what’s our knee-jerk response?
We try and take control back any way we can.
And that’s why so many are panic buying: it’s a way to try and get back control over a life that is out of control. People think if they can control their groceries, then they’ll have more control over their life.
But again, it’s only the appearance of control. Having 3 months’ worth of toilet paper doesn’t change the fact that we’re in a broken world where final control over our lives eludes us.
3) This Pandemic is God’s severe mercy
It forces us to look for meaning and hope beyond this world.
While this pandemic is part of the cursed world we’re living in, it can and is being used by God to achieve His redemptive purposes.
When it comes to Christians, this pandemic is a trial that can shift our gaze from the broken glories of this world, to the undying glories of the resurrected Christ. It can reorient our desires so that instead of yearning for worldly comfort, we seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Matt 6:33).
This pandemic heightens our ‘death awareness’: we become painfully aware of our mortality. Yes, it’s a confronting thought. But if we combine this death-awareness with the gospel of the risen Christ who has overcome death, we can become more captivated by the resurrected life to come (see Phil 1:23; 2 Cor 5:6-8).
When that happens, our white-knuckled demand for worldly comfort is loosened. We then realise – in a fresh way – that true life, meaning and hope isn’t found in a successful career or well-decorated house, but at the foot of the Cross. It’s a hope that will sustain us, whatever this pandemic brings.
4) A Better response than panic and hoarding
Looking out for the needs of others.
If our life is reoriented so that we seek first God’s kingdom, rather than making our own life comfortable, it’s surprising what happens. We’re better able to lift our eyes from our own fears and concerns, and look around to the needs of others.
I’ve experienced this first hand.
Like anyone else, my immediate response to the uncertainty of this pandemic was fear and anxiety. I felt the temptation to turn inward, and buffer my family against outside uncertainties.
But as I read my Bible, and turned my gaze to the risen King Jesus – who has my life and my future in the caring palms of his hands – something happened. By God’s grace, I found the desire to look not just to my own needs, but to the needs of others (Phil 2:4, Gal 6:10). I found the motivation to ask how my neighbours were going, and how I might help them at this time of need.
As a result, we attached some ‘viral kindness’ flyers to some spare toilet rolls. I figured we’re going to run out at some stage anyway, so why not use the toilet rolls to build relationships, and even point people to Christ (Luke 16:9)?
We door knocked our street, offering a free toilet roll to each house. We set up a ‘Whatsapp’ group for our street, to allow people to stay connected, and raise any concerns or offers of help. While it’s early days, we’ve been able to build connections with our neighbours that would have been harder to do otherwise.
5) Be careful who you listen to
The secular media amplifies anxiety and fear.
When it comes to the mainstream media, ‘if it bleeds, it leads’. Bad news stories are what grab our attention, and so the media feeds it to us in droves.
And COVID-19 is the media’s dream as far as bad news stories go. There’s every opportunity – and every reason – to tell negative stories about the impact of COVID-19.
But as I found myself watching the media reporting of COVID-19, I found my anxiety rising. I found my gaze turning away from the risen Lord Jesus, to the challenges and problems (real as they are) that my society is facing, without being able to do anything about it. And that’s a recipe for worry and anxiety, if ever there was one.
So I’ve turned it off. I check the news once a day. And I’ve felt all the better for it!
6) The Pandemic highlights the differences between the Christian and secular responses to suffering
Leaning into suffering, versus avoiding suffering at (almost) all cost.
There’s a key difference between the (typical) secular response to suffering and uncertainty, and the Biblical response:
In the modern secular worldview, suffering (especially life threatening suffering) is to be avoided at all costs. It serves no purpose. On the contrary, such suffering takes away from our life’s purpose, which is to be happy and comfortable.
And so, in this view, avoiding suffering – even if it means hoarding toilet paper at other people’s expense – is a rational response.
But in the Bible’s view, a Christian’s suffering serves a higher purpose. Yes, suffering is painful (the Bible doesn’t deny that). But it’s a key way God achieves His purposes, namely, to make us more like Christ (Jas 1:2-4). That goal gives meaning and purpose to our suffering.
And so, Christians can lean into suffering. We don’t have to fear it. We don’t have to avoid it. Instead, we can use it for the opportunity that it is: to glorify God, and serve others.
And that’s a much better way to respond to the unfolding pandemic around us.