How A Pandemic Blesses the 21st Century Church
When hard times hit us, we usually don’t think of it as a blessing. We want it gone. We want to be done with it and back to the good times. If we grow accustomed to good years of plenty, the hard times seem to hit harder and our desire for the good times is only greater. That is the situation we find ourselves today.
We have had it good, almost too good. Historically, we live in an unprecedented time of plenty. Our family tree was much smaller the last time our people faced widespread persecution because of their faith, or famine because of tough years and corrupt governments, and we still haven’t seen in our current situation what they saw.
Comparatively, the government-enforced isolation we face today is not bad. We are not barred from sharing our faith through social media or sharing encouragement with fellow believers over the phone. Food is not rationed at government depots, and we are not under threat of execution or enemy attacks. We still have it good. The problem we face today is simply life different from the norm. It’s not bad, it’s just different.
However, to be forced to live differently has consequences. The routine of life has changed drastically, and many plans have changed or cancelled. For Christians, this means the fellowship of the church looks quite different than usual; we cannot meet together in person for instruction, encouragement, and worship. Change creates many problems for church life, but it likewise creates avenues for great blessings.
Connects us with past saints
The first blessing we receive is an experiential connection with Christians from the past. Modern Christians easily feel disconnected from past Christians because our technology has created avenues to access online almost everything Christians of the past found within the walls of their church.
Not only that, but past Christians suffered more calamity in half of their short lives than modern Christians experience in their entire life. This is where the disconnect happens most frequently. When we read the writings of past saints, we are usually reading something written amid crisis. Think of the popular Pilgrims Progress, written within dark and damp prison walls. It was written in a time when two thousand pastors in England were ejected from their pulpits because they would not preach what the government wanted. Or take Augustine’s great work, The City of God, written as Rome fell; as the bastion for early Christianity was sacked. Augustine brought clarity to a dreary situation, encouraging believers that although the cities of man fall, the city of God remains forever.
Today, facing our own crisis, we hear saints of the past differently; perhaps more in their mother tongue than before. In a small way, we feel what they felt and we are connected to them by more than their words.
Gives opportunity for serving others
The second blessing we receive is a special opportunity to care for one another. When brothers and sisters are quarantined or forced to isolate, we care for them in simple ways by getting their groceries, sending encouraging texts or phone calls, and doing things for them they otherwise would do. What, for the Christian, is a perpetual attitude of service can now be concentrated in a way that shines brightly to an undistracted world.
Reorganizes our priorities and shows us what we take for granted
Priorities are largely based on immediate surroundings, so when trials affect the whole of life, things that once held high priority might hold no priority. We realize in these times that we don’t need everything we thought we needed to live a good and happy life.
The blessing we receive is contentment with the bare necessities of food and shelter. This contentment shakes loose our attitude of taking things for granted, leaving us with a renewed sense of gratitude; and for those who embrace this gratitude, the pain of patience-learning is reduced to nil. For Christians, this is the attitude of godliness: “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we can take nothing out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8).
Corrects bad theology
The great blessing of a global pandemic for Christians is the correction of errant theology. There are many reasons why unbiblical theology corrupts the church. Perhaps scholars desire a new perspective on theology to appear wise to their contemporaries, or Christians become lazy in their thinking, or distracted by their present concerns, or incapable of defending their faith. Many reasons cause unbiblical theology, but troubling times do a world of good in stopping such nonsense.
In Psalm 119, David dedicates a section of his delight in God’s Word to God’s method of using trials to correct our understanding of His Word and also His will. “Before I was afflicted I went astray,” writes David, “But now I keep Your word” (Psalm 119:67). Following this, he says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes” (119:71). Our trials prove to bless us when an increased understanding of the Scriptures and our conformity thereunto follows.
In times of peace and safety, it is quite easy to settle for a domesticated God—a God who looks similar to us. He is loving and kind, nice to everyone and full of goodness. When trials come to our immediate situation, our personal understanding of God is not threatened to the point where we have to rethink it, but when a global crisis hits, then we are forced to rethink our entire understanding of God. Not only does a global pandemic affect us personally, but it also affects everyone everywhere, and therein begs us to reconsider our ‘nice’ God. In a global crisis, we need an undomesticated God—a God who can control and suppress great evil. Otherwise, we have no hope in God.
In our current crisis, we are in need of an undomesticated God. We are in need of a God who is greater than us, who is outside of us, who is unlike us. We need the God of whom Paul writes, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).
May we be filled with gratitude towards God for all His eternal blessings to us in our present crisis.