As a nation and as local communities, the last few weeks have shown us what can happen when disaster strikes. The spread of both the reality and the insanity related to the COVID-19 disease has brought the American way to a screeching halt. With almost all sports cancelled or delayed, with schools closed, with local hospitals bracing for impact, and with our relatively comfortable lifestyles dramatically altered, what should we do? While Franklin County has to this point avoided any confirmed cases (as of March 24), these events affect each and every one of us.
Since I pastor a church that includes people in the most vulnerable demographics for this virus, I am certainly keeping up with the reported developments as much as anyone else. Yet I have found the pull to monitor the news constantly to continue to stir up in me the very fears and anxieties that I have counseled others to redirect to the Lord in Heaven. Would you be willing to consider some more heavenly-minded alternatives for yourself, your family, and our community?
First, I would like to encourage all my fellow churches, pastors, and Christians to consider carefully how we conduct ourselves in the midst of a panic-stricken world. Above all things, we must pray, trust, and continue to seek God’s face in worship. As we do the latter, however, we must keep not only our God in mind, but our neighbors as well. Anyone who knows me knows that I am as committed to the public worship of God as anyone, and it grieved my heart deeply to make modifications this past Lord’s Day and minister to most of my congregation from afar. Contrary to the attitude of our society at large, the ministry of God’s Word is an absolutely essential service, especially during this present crisis. Nevertheless, we must walk in wisdom.
Our civil leaders have called for us to take temporary precautions against the spread of this virus. In some cases the measures have been extreme and we all need to pray for our leaders to have both wisdom and restraint as they issue their directives. While this will be very difficult for churches, business, and families, this is not persecution. Governments have a responsibility before God to act in the interest of their people and to work to preserve their lives. Let us pray that God will direct these decisions to that end.
In agreement with a picture I saw in the newspaper last week, I too believe that the blood of Christ is stronger than a virus. I also believe that the one who rules the universe is stronger than gravity, but I do not jump off buildings, and neither did Jesus (Matthew 4:5-7). We must not put the Lord to the test, but instead we need to seek through the Word of God for wisdom. There are times to embrace, and times to refrain from embracing (Ecclesiastes 3:5), there are times to gather and there are times to hide (Isaiah 26:20-21). There are times humbly to defy the government (Acts 5:29), and times humbly to submit (Romans 13:5).
Second, this time calls for careful and scrutinizing reflection. As you meticulously wash your hands and consider who you have been around (which I encourage to be sure), would you be willing to give the same degree of thought to the state of your heart before the holy God? The God of the Bible is jealous for his glory (Exodus 34:13-16), is wide in his mercy (Isaiah 45:22), but also has every right to send judgments upon the face of the earth (Psalm 46:8). When he does, all people—his people in particular—need to respond in humble consideration of how they have lived before the One who sees and knows all things.
We need to recognize that our culture has grown largely insulated against the reality of suffering and death. Sure the ideas are there in movies, and the reality in hospitals and for hospice workers, but for many we are one or two degrees separated from actually observing death. Yet when those winds begin to blow a bit harder than usual, the cold air quickly finds the cracks in our lives and fills our souls with very unwelcome chills. This creates occasion for us to think very seriously about the foundation we have laid for our lives. Upon what are you building the framework of your pursuits? Toward what are you setting the trajectory of your lives?
May I encourage you to reflect? If the worst happens to you, are you ready for that reality that has been appointed unto man? Hebrews 9:27-28 says, “And just as it has been appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” My prayer for any who read these words is that you will use this time, and God will bless this time, either to make you one who is living by a true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, or to encourage you to continue eagerly awaiting his return.
Finally, if you are willing to engage in some serious and honest heart reflection, you will quickly find a problem. If you are anything like me, you will find a heart twisted up with fear, sin, and doubts, along with a history of failures and selfishness, among other things. This, my friends, is the true and natural condition of every single person living on this earth. Recognizing this unseen reality, far more dangerous than any pathogen, demands one drastic action: repentance.
Without discounting this virus in any way, I urge everyone to consider the most serious problem with the human condition, one that carries a 100% fatality rate: sin. Hand sanitizer and social distancing will do nothing to mitigate that threat. Yet there is a far greater antidote, namely the blood of Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1-2). True repentance is not a temporary, fear-motivated turning from vice; instead it is a Holy Spirit enabled heart transformation from darkness to light, even the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).
As troubling as they may be, none of these events have escaped the notice of the sovereign God, nor have they derailed his plan (Psalm 33:11). In fact, they are part of it (Amos 3:6). Like many of you, I have concern about what the future may hold, but I also have absolute certainty in the One who holds the future.
Mike Myers is pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church, part of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (www.opc.org)