In The Valley Of Coronavirus

In this season of Self-Quarantine, I want to to use part of the 'extra time' I have to write more frequently. To that end, I'll be moving from a monthly to a weekly blog post over the next 15 weeks - every Wednesday(till 1st July).

My most recent post is:

Posted March 3,2020 in Live Style.

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What, for many of us, was just an update of an unfortunate reality for a distance city across the world has quickly become a nightmare for our own cities and hometowns. What began as pure shock has quickly devolved into fear, anxiety, and anger. Theres fear over the virus itself and the damage it has caused and will cause. Theres anxiety over what this means for our jobs, financial security, children, parents, and livelihood. Theres anger towards government officials who did not take this matter seriously enough, quickly enough, and anger towards ourselves for letting this disrupt our mental health as much as it already has. Suffice it to say, the coronavirus and the cultural moment of fear, anxiety, and anger that it has ushered in is far more than we had assumed and far more disruptive than we had expected.

How should Christians respond to the novel coronavirus and the cultural moment of fear, anxiety, and anger? There are three movements that have characterised the Church in times like this, and they are; (1) Enter into the Darkness, (2) Lean unto the Shepherd, and (3) Move toward the Afflicted.

Enter into the Darkness

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep,that you may not grieve as others dowho have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13 ESV)

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 18, the Apostle Paul instructs the Church in regards to what they are to believe about Christians who have died. It is interesting to note that the first thing that Paul acknowledges is that Christians will grieve over the dead. He doesnt deny the reality of grief, but rather he qualifies it. The Christian reflex isnt to run away from the darkness of grief but instead to enter it - and to enter it as those who have hope. The same movement has been a mark of the Church throughout its history in response to the darkness of national tragedies and moments of fear, anxiety, and anger. Jesus Christ himself entered the darkness of grief as he wept over the death of his friend Lazarus - and He did so knowing that in a few moments He would bring Lazarus back to life.

This means that it is ok to daily check your news app for the latest news regarding the virus and to constantly be alert to recommendations by the national government, local government, and all health officials. That is to say, it is ok to enter into the national darkness that the coronavirus has brought. In entering the darkness, there is permission to feel the pain that it contains - the fear, the anxiety, and the anger. After all, to enter the darkness is to acknowledge that we live in a broken world, and to mourn the devastation that is a regular part of this broken world.

What makes this a unique movement for the Church is not just that we enter the darkness, but that we enter the darkness as those who have hope. There is a strange providence to the timing of the coronavirus as Easter approaches. The story of Easter is the ground of the hope that Paul is talking about in 1 Thessalonians 4:13. The story of Easter is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This resurrection is the beginning of a grand renewal project that ends with the renewal of the world - what the bible calls the New Heavens and the New Earth. This is not just hope for the immediate future, in the midst of the novel coronavirus, but is an ultimate hope that redefines time itself. In the end, all wrongs will be made right, all diseases will be banished in the face of complete healing, and all things will be made new. This is the animating force of the Christian hope that drives the Church to enter the darkness - to enter the darkness as those who have hope.

Lean unto the Shepherd

Even though Iwalk through the valley ofthe shadow of death, I willfear no evil, foryou are with me (Psalm 23:4 ESV)

Psalm 23 is a well-known psalm, if not the most well known psalm, and it is well-known for a reason. It pushes against the idea that we can lead ourselves in the right path, it pushes against the idea that we can lead ourselves into abundant life, it pushes against the idea that we can bring rest to our disturbed souls, that we can give ourselves peace in the midst of chaos. The psalm tells us that there are forces far bigger than us; sin, death, and evil, but it doesnt leave us there. It points us to the one far bigger than even them; the Good Shepherd. This is why the psalm is read, preached, and sung at funerals, at sick beds, in the midst of tragedy, pain, betrayal, defeat, and despair. Because in those moments, like this one, we are forced to admit that we were never in control of our lives, and that we are but small creatures in a world plagued with monsters. And yet, the psalm says, there is a shepherd who is bigger than all of them, a shepherd who conquers all of them. A shepherd who will lead you in the right path, who will lead you into life, who will bring rest to your disturbed soul, and who will give you peace in the midst of chaos.Why? Because He is with you.

One of my professors at Covenant Seminary, Dr. Michael Williams, famously says in his Doctrine of God class that the greatest preposition in the bible is with. Better yet, he goes on to say, we can summarise all of Gods promises to His people and His intentions for the world using that one preposition. God is WITH us in the valley of coronavirus and has promised not to leave us.

Why should we entrust ourselves to this Shepherd by leaning unto Him? Because He has entered the ultimate valley of sin and death itself, and in entering the valley took the pain and judgment that it brought so that we, who walk through the brutal valleys of life (from dysfunctional families to coronavirus) can always trust that He will never leave us and indeed is able to conquer all evil.

As I have been processing what it looks like to live Christianly in this moment, I listened to a sermon by Bryan Dunagan, Senior Pastor of Highlands Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas Texas, who, in response to the coronavirus, reminded his congregation that God hasnt stopped being God even in this moment and that the Church can move out with a non-anxious presence because God is still in control and can be trusted. He goes on to say;

You will sleep best, knowing that God does not sleep at all.

Even as we experience feelings of fear, anxiety, and anger, we lean unto the Shepherd and entrust ourselves onto Him. We do this knowing that He is still in control, is still trustworthy, and is still more concerned for our welfare that we could ever be for ourselves. We lean unto the Shepherd who is with us and will never leave us.

Move toward the Afflicted

Blessed be theGod and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies andGod of all comfort,who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:3-4 ESV)

The basic movement of the human heart in light of the fallen brokenness of the world is towards self. However, the movement of the Church from the book of Acts through two thousand years of Christian history has been, and continues to be, towards the other. And in times of epidemics, crisis, and fear; towards the afflicted. The foundation of this movement is the initiating movement of God. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Paul explains that the ability and desire to comfort others stems out of the experience of Gods comfort in our afflictions. In short, because God has comforted us in all afflictions we must comfort others in any affliction. While some will go through this pandemic unscathed, for many the coronavirus will bring many different types of afflictions. Irrespective of the type of affliction, the call is the same; to move toward the afflicted with the comfort of God.

This was the testimony of the Early Church. In his account of the plague of Alexandria, Dionysius writes:

Most of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains.

This sort of commitment to the other is indeed remarkable to read about. However, in light of modern medicine and a deeper knowledge of how diseases spread, what does a movement toward the afflicted look like? A burden to care for the hurting (physically, economically, and spiritually) or social distancing? Both.

The witness of the Christian Church has always been to creatively apply the ethics of the Kingdom of God to the unique context and situation of the present problem. This has looked different in each century, and itll certainly look different in this moment. However, even as the actions may look different, the movement will be the same.

To stay at home in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus is an act of love just as much as is an attentive care to the physical ailments of those who have the disease. Both, in different ways, are movements towards the afflicted. In light of the global nature of this pandemic, with various types of impacts at the local level, the challenge for the church will be to creatively move towards the afflicted in ways that seek their healing and bears witness to the loving attentiveness of God.

In considering these three movements of entering the darkness, leaning unto the Shepherd, and moving toward the afflicted, Im praying that the Church, as it has faithfully done in the past, will continue to bear witness to the movement of God toward the broken hearted and afflicted. I pray that the same will be said of the Church in 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, that was said of the Early Church, as documented by Rodney Stark, in his book The Rise of Christianity:

Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear, and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world. . . . Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. . . . For what they brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture capable of making life in Greco-Roman cities more tolerable.

To cities, towns, and villages filled with overburdened health care services, people in social isolation, and anxious panic in the atmosphere, may Christianity offer a new culture capable of making life in the midst of Coronavirus more tolerable.

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