The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
– David, Psalm 27:1
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
– Jesus, Matthew 10:28
I want to offer up a few words of encouragement in light of the current state of affairs in which we find ourselves. The ranks of the fearful are swelling, and they want to know that it’s going to be okay. So let me begin by saying I’m not qualified to offer that kind of comfort just yet, because what do I know about tomorrow except that, in the words of our Lord, it has enough trouble of its own?
After all, who among us knows what tomorrow holds? The exploding virus may very well ravage the aged, and the imploding economy may devastate the young. The future is certainly uncertain, and history is filled with plenty of examples in which the worst-case scenario not only happened, it happened worse than imagined. And I have no word from the Lord that this will not happen again.
Sadly, I tend to be anxious, but only to scold those who are fearful about the future, and buying up all the stuff I wanted to buy. For those also like that, let us bear with our fellows patiently, for we all will suffer, either at the hands of a nasty virus, a withering economy, or our terrified friends and neighbors, who are suffering under our withering criticism. Anger is more powerful and destructive than fear, and being angry with the anxious accomplishes even less good than stockpiling seven years worth of toilet paper and a small sack of flour. Classic case of cart before the horse, but there I go being all judgey again. It happens so naturally.
At least the anxious have something to show for their anxiety. We angry ones just have a truckload of self-righteousness, which is worth even less than toilet paper, because we can’t even clean our bum with it. So there’s that.
The prospect of ruin, be it physical or financial, is really a dreadful thing to have to face, and all the more so for those whose hopes, dreams, and purpose for existence is bound up in the currently collapsing cosmos without any serious prospects in eternity. It seems that fear is exactly the right thing to feel.
Or, we could just wander into the world of make-believe and live in the security of the shadow of a god of our own making:
The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith,Isaiah 41:7
and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil,
saying of the soldering, “It is good”;
and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved.
Look at us go! We’re really doing a marvelous job here aren’t we? Look at your weld, man it’s solid. And those nails are gonna hold real fine. This baby ain’t going anywhere, and neither are we. We’re good.
If we’re offering hope, we better make it good.
Christian, we have no grounds to offer any sort of hope in a dark hour that God will intervene before it gets too bad and make it all better. That’s what you or I would do if we were God, but we’re not. And thank goodness, too. The truth that God might allow us all to live through our worst nightmare is as cold as the granite over my Alice’s grave. I’ve faced the kind of suffering I could not imagine a loving God would run his children through, and I’ve no promise I won’t again, and neither do you.
Disease happens. Death happens. Even to Christians. God promises protection, but it’s not always the kind of protection we’re looking for. You can be killed while firmly planted under God’s umbrella, and I offer the decapitated corpses of John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul as evidence. If you want fresher evidence, look to the skulls of our brothers in Nigeria with bullet holes in them, there’s plenty to see. Maybe look at their raped daughters. Yeah, it’s ugly.
So maybe this virus thing won’t be that bad. Maybe it will, who knows?
If we’re going to offer genuine hope for the fearful, it must be a hope that fits reality, and it’s really hard to know what is real. Is this thing as bad as they say, is it overblown, or is it worse? Who knows? If anyone says “It’s not that bad, so don’t worry,” that only calms fear so long as it’s not actually that bad. If it does get that bad, all credibility is gone, and rightly so.
If we Christians say, “God will protect us from this thing, we’ll be fine!” and God doesn’t protect and we aren’t fine, well, that’s a Christianized comfort fail, and Christians do it so often no wonder the world never takes us too seriously. Christians ought not make promises God doesn’t intend to keep, and we don’t know God’s intentions here. And we can’t weld him up or nail him down in our own image, either.
I hope the worst doesn’t happen. But it might, I don’t know. As of tonight, the greatest inconvenience to my family has been that we ran out of butter for a day, so the toast this morning wasn’t that great until we broke open a beauty of a jar of apple jelly. Not so bad; no reason to panic, and butter is on the way. Still, we’ve lived a nightmare in the not too distant past, and who knows but tomorrow we may again.
But it really is going to be okay
Jesus says we must not be anxious, which is kind of a way of saying “it’s going to be okay.” But it’s not the same as saying, “you won’t feel a thing.”
It’s important to remember that the Christian perspective on matters of life and death sees death as an inevitable rite of passage, a thing we do not seek out, but ultimately need not fear. We love life, defend life, fight for life, but we also hold our own lives with a loose hand, because we have placed them in God’s hands to preserve or destroy as he sees fit. In times of crisis we may be the lads coolly yukking it up with Jesus in a blazing furnace, we may be Job weeping in an ash pit, oozy, itchy, and barely alive, or we may be Job’s children, dead under the rubble. Who knows? I don’t.
It should not surprise us that our unbelieving friends, family, and communities are terrified of death and tend to cope with the fear by ignoring it. Their eyes have been blinded to the glories of being united to Christ in his death and resurrection, their consciences bearing witness that they are under the wrath of the God they will not acknowledge, much less serve. They have no grounds for believing in the redemption of the body. So I can hardly blame them for their current anxiety, not only in regards to the current crises du jour, but also of the next one and the next. Every man will meet a crisis he won’t survive, and deep down, he knows it. The old syllogism predicted and the hemlock proved that Socrates is indeed mortal. Death happens.
Still, there is hope. One man died and came out of the grave never to die again. And he is the distributor of that eternal kind of life that can conquer not only viruses, but death itself.
I’m thankful for the incredible resources our nation has – financial, material, and technological, and particularly for those talented and trained people who are working like crazy at great risk to mitigate the pain we are facing, and I join in praying for their success. I may question the methods and motives from time to time, cheerfully exercising my inalienable right to gripe, but still, all things being equal, I’d rather face COVID-19 in the USA in 2020 than the Black Death in Germany in 1348.
Who knows but we will shortly conquer COVID-19 with a quarantine, a vaccine, or just good old-fashioned toughness. As unlikely as it seems, who knows but we conquer a crumbling economy by throwing truckloads of money out of the back of airplanes. I for one hope so. But there is only one way to conquer death, and that is to flee to Christ for the forgiveness of sin and the promise of life eternal. Then we take up our cross, and die. Daily. He’ll take it from there.
We don’t know what tomorrow holds. I’m inclined to think in the near future we’ll have a good laugh about this over a neighborhood barbecue, making s’mores around a flaming pallet of Charmin, seated on bean bag chairs made of real beans, because what else are we going to do with them all? I hope that’s what happens. But who knows?
This much we know: Jesus is King. To borrow Lewis’ line, the King is not safe, which is going to cost him a lot of popularity points, but still, he’s good. We cannot forget that the same Lord who sends angels to keep watch over us is the Lord who sends the same angels to destroy. He’s not a tame lion. Still, we can trust him.
After all, if the Lord wills, tomorrow we will live and do such and such. But whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
So yes, it’s going to be okay.