It is my hope that this will be the last time I feel a burden to write on the subject that has occupied a significant amount of our thoughts and prayers in recent weeks. I am certain that most of us desire to soon leave behind the present distress¹ brought about by this novel coronavirus, though it really is a “light affliction” for most Christians in the Western world. No doubt each of us will look at life a little differently after this unusual experience, and may God give us the grace to have eternal matters impressed upon our souls to a greater extent, from now until the Lord Jesus comes for us.
There are a few things that weigh on my mind and heart with respect to how my fellow Christians and I are responding to the difficulties and fears we may be facing, and my desire is to share these concerns, especially with my North American brothers and sisters in Christ. This passage in Hebrews 12 is a word to my conscience, and may it encourage us all while it rebukes us as needed:
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him. For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth . . . Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
The paragraphs that follow may seem somewhat disjointed, but I submit them for your consideration and introspection.
There is in each of us a self-preservation instinct, and if allowed to dominate our thoughts, it can lead to fearfulness or even panic. Those of us who know the Lord Jesus Christ have the greatest reason not to fear death for ourselves, for our Savior has risen from among the dead, and that is our future portion as well. May that bring peace to our hearts and minds. A high official in a large state, who confesses Christ as his Savior and is 70 years old, recently made some comments with regard to his frame of mind in the matter of the risks of contracting the dreaded virus, and here is one of them: “There are more important things than living.” While his thoughts may have been running more along the line of being willing to sacrifice his health for the benefit of a younger generation on this earth, it is encouraging to know the reason why he would be willing to take that risk for the good of others: that is, his faith in Christ.
Fear left unchecked tends to make men suspicious and even resentful toward others, and that can be seen around us in some who have gone to the extent of reporting their neighbors for violating quickly-changing regulations. The book of Proverbs speaks unfavorably of talebearers, for they separate close friends and cause strife.² A certain class of transgressions by our neighbors ought to be left unreported, according to other verses in Proverbs, and I have no doubt that the spirit of self-righteous legalism that would cause trouble for an unwary neighbor is not becoming to a Christian, and would be destructive to fellowship among brethren. Trusting our brothers and sisters in Christ with our health and safety is the flip side of laying down our lives for them.
There is a tendency in all of us to frame our discussions with our emotions, especially when lives, livelihoods, and our families are at issue. However, emotional argumentation and discussion tend to obscure the broader scope of issues and the actions that flow in response to those issues. What can happen among believers is that discussions which unduly emphasize the emotional aspects of a crisis may cause us to miss the bigger picture of the claims of God on our activity and our work, and may dim our eyes to facts and historical perspective. If someone should say, “People who act in such and such a manner seem to have no concern about whether an older person dies because of it”, then he or she really ought to step back a little and take the time to see where that kind of emotional reasoning can lead. A reasoned and factual appeal based on love for God and love for others, with emotional rhetoric kept in check, can accomplish much among friends.
I am concerned that Christians may become contented with staying home from church meetings, resorting to an even greater extent to technology to meet their need for Christian encouragement and camaraderie. It is to be commended when believers give evidence of desiring to meet together in the name of the Lord Jesus during this time of widespread apprehension as well as restrictions on gatherings, while being careful to avoid becoming scofflaws for the sake of the testimony of the Lord, and while taking into account good hygiene and the sensitivities of others. Perhaps God has brought this upon American Christians in part as a test of the bonds of love and fellowship between them, and so that we might discern in our own hearts how much we miss the physical presence of our brethren, so highly valued and encouraged in the scriptures. Any isolationist tendencies that we might naturally have are clearly not from the new man or of the Spirit within us, and we can find testimony to that throughout the New Testament.
Another concern that arises in my mind is how quickly many governments have restricted meetings of Christians almost to the point of suppression, while allowing establishments such as liquor stores and abortion clinics to remain open without similar draconian restrictions on the number of employees and clients are under one roof in those places. Many Christians accept this simply as from the Lord, at least for now under potentially risky circumstances, but I sense a real need for us to be vigilant in this regard. The “prince of this world” seizes on any opportunity, even on the circumstances of a contagion introduced by God in judgment or for testing His own, to move in the minds of the powerful to bring about situations for the purpose of distracting believers from discerning his destructive ends, including the further fragmentation of the Christian testimony. Some prohibitions against or restrictions on gathering in other places over the last century began seemingly innocently enough, because of some real or manufactured crisis, or for the greater good of society, and then were found to be simply another way for Satan to oppress the saints of God. How important to pray for “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (I Timothy 2:1-2).
Perhaps on the other side of the portentous anomaly of an authoritarian limitation of church meetings is the danger of involving oneself too much in the matter of the response of secular authorities to this crisis. To a great extent, we ought to be content to leave the responses of the authorities and policy makers with the Lord, although there is no reason why appeal to them for understanding or relief would be wrong. Now, having a concern about the welfare of our fellowmen throughout the world, even beyond the relative few who will suffer from this illness, is right and good. But there is peril in emphasizing too much the physical or material well-being of mankind, for that has the potential of leading one down the road of giving up the truth of the gospel of God’s grace for a defective “social gospel.”
I must remember that “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men” (Daniel 4), and that God our Father is allowing this minor difficulty for many of us, and sorrow and economic suffering for so many more, for His own glory, difficult as that may be for us to understand now. So while we may justifiably watch with interest the statistics or the politics or the policy moves that unfold before our eyes almost in real time, it is needful that we who are believers keep the Lord Jesus before our eyes by faith, as we wait for Him to come for us at any moment.
“Occupy till I come”.³ “Surely, I come quickly!”
¹ I Corinthians 7:26
² Proverbs 16:28; 26:20
³ Luke 19:13; Revelation 22:20