One of my favorite books is Perelandra by C.S. Lewis. At one point, the main character, Ransom, is climbing up a cliff face in absolute darkness. Lewis writes, "Doubtless, if anyone had seen him he would have appeared at one moment to take mad risks and at another to indulge in excessive caution." I can think of no better expression of my feelings navigating COVID – 19. Are we unwise? Too cautious? What will this do to church unity? Will we stay connected? How will this affect individual incomes? Will kids finish school? And (trying sincerely not to sound cynical), what about the offering? One decision ripples through with multiple, unintended consequences. Are we doing any good? Is it worth all these hourly people out of work? What good is this doing? Can anything good come out of it?
Yes, we all know the biblically correct answer. On one hand, I know that he can be glorified in anything. On the other hand, I wonder about ticks and especially stink bugs. COVID – 19 is like a tick/stink bug cross breed. What is God’s purpose to this virus and our reaction to it? Generally in the Bible, plagues are caused by three things: direct wrath of God, cyclical uprising of disease, and/or overall effects from the Fall. So, how do we respond?
For any plague, natural disaster, pestilence, or invasion, there is one way to respond: Turn to God.
I’m dubious of a contemporary revelation that our virus is God’s wrath. It may be. It may just be the normal flu cycle that circulates through generations. But, it is certainly like all illness (and indeed death) from our sin. Creation groans. The cause remains irrelevant. Even if we knew the cause, does it answer the question, “What good is this?” No, not really. For any plague, natural disaster, pestilence, or invasion, there is one way to respond: Turn to God.
Easily said, but what does that mean, “Turn to God”? There are multiple ways.
- Pray and Repent. We stray from God’s light in our lives. We are called to live in a new nature in Christ, but garbage creeps in. It is healthy to ask God to seek our hearts, confess our sin (general and specific), and repent. Daniel did this in Daniel 9. Verse three reads, “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” Even if we did not have the virus, this is healthy.
- Adopt a “nevertheless” attitude. I love the little book of Habakkuk. He demands to know what God is doing. God tells him, but this outrages the prophet all the more. God assures him. Habakkuk concludes in summary, “Nevertheless, I will praise him. Even though our nation will be overrun by Chaldean hordes, I will bow to him.” Read Hab. 3:17-19. God is not required to answer to us. However, there is great joy in following him nevertheless.
- Accept the lessons he teaches. Teachers at all levels can become unteachable. They become so comfortable in their field of study that they cease to learn. Arrogance rules their hearts. The same can be true for those in the faith for many years. We drift from our first love. We major on the minors and forget…
- Love God (greatest commandment)
- Lover others (second greatest commandment).
- Show mercy.
- Value relationships.
- Spread the Gospel.
- Remember from where you’ve fallen.
- Be humble.
- Tell the truth.
- Be generous.
- Be led by the Spirit.
- Read the Word.
We likely recognized many of these principles in our church’s missions or values statements. We must remain constant learners. James says we will have trials to make us grow, “2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Hebrews 12:11 reminds us, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
I’ve just experienced this myself. As a bi-vocational pastor, I get busy and forget the important. One of our concerns as a church body is losing connection by going online. I struggle with so much secrecy in our community along with 50% attendance rates. How do I justify and allow an online “experience”? Sunday morning is not the sum total of church, but it provides a gathering spot in life. But, we have no choice. We decided that we need to use our phones as, well, phones. While I’m encouraging everyone at my church campus to make calls, I called each family. I took notes and prayer requests. Now, I’m embarrassed. It’s been so long since I felt so close to these people. I’m ashamed that it took a world wide virus to help me see that. Sorry world… my bad.
What good is it? Just for our church, we are rallying to each other and not spinning apart. Who knows what this virus will bring? God is in the redemption business. Good Friday looked pretty bleak, but it led to Easter Sunday morning and an empty tomb. I don’t know how, when, and in what form, but I plan to look back on these days with thankfulness. That’s Good. That’s God.
Joe Olkowski is campus pastor at Zion Church of Petroleum Valley in Karns City, Pennsylvania since 2007. He graduated from Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He and his wife Trish love ministering in a rural setting. He's a bi-vocational pastor by working in local high schools as a substitute teacher. Joe & Trish have three adult children.