Editorial comment: As you read this piece, consider how you have found these words to be true in your life, or how you’ve found them true in the life of another believer or our church. Then email me at [email protected] I’d be so glad to hear and might circle around in a few months with a follow-up post.
A few months ago I didn’t know the first thing about the coronavirus. Now, everyone knows the first thing about it. It’s bad. Let’s start there.
There are some real ways in which this whole thing is bad for us. It’s a killing machine, especially for our older population. That’s bad. We can’t gather and that’s bad. The economy is halting and that will be bad in ways that we are only starting to understand. Yesterday at 5 p.m., one of our members let me know he was not available Friday night. A friend was getting married. By 6 p.m., he followed up to let me know the wedding was canceled. Just try to imagine being that couple.
But then there is that famous promise we have been given. The reference, Romans 8:28, is as famous as the verse: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Those are unqualified words. In fact, they are abundantly clarified words. “All things” here include all the “sufferings of this present time” (8:18), all the “futility” and “groaning” of this present creation (18:20, 22)—even “tribulation,” “distress,” “persecution,” “famine,” “nakedness,” “danger,” and “sword” (18:35).
We must not minimize the pain here. Our Lord never does that. But let us not miss the good in the midst of that pain. For our encouragement in hardship, and our prayers over the coming weeks and months, here are five reflections.
First, the coronavirus will be good for our faith.
I have observed you on social media, and we have talked here and there. Some of you might have bought too much toilet paper—that’s between you and God—but my read is that your hope is settled because your faith is genuine. There’s a reason for that. Peter tells us that we have been born again unto a living hope, and that our various trials serve a specific purpose: “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1Pet. 1:3, 7). This trial, friends, will prove our faith and it will purify our faith. This trial will not let us be tricked into placing our hope in this perishable, defiled, and fading world. That’s a good thing.
Second, the coronavirus will be good for our Sunday gatherings.
Wait, didn’t we cancel our Sunday gathering? We’re hosting an online service (more on that tomorrow), but yes. Isn’t anything short of being together a big loss? Absolutely. But I’m seeing an upside: surely we will grow to value being together all the more. May we be all the more convinced that the church is not the platform on Sundays, but a people; not something to consume, but something we’re connected to. We are not customers on Sunday morning; we are partners in the gospel (Phil. 1:5).
We’re a strong singing church, but maybe we’ll give God more glory for commanding us to sing to one another (Col. 3:16). We’ll keep reading the Bible at home, but maybe we’ll see even more clearly God’s wisdom in his words to pastors, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1Tim. 4:13). Hearing the Word is always a good thing. Hearing it in public is his plan for us. Our purpose in meeting digitally on Sunday isn’t an attempt to deliver on all that God intends for us in meeting. Some of that grace, yes. But it’s also to make sure we taste church in order to truly miss church.
Third, the coronavirus will be good for our relationships with one another.
But aren’t we supposed to practice “social distancing”? Absolutely. If the Lord is kind, this is one way we’ll save ourselves from the rates of infection and death that we’ve seen in Italy. It’s why we’ve discontinued our Sunday gathering for a time, and it’s why we canceled all of our other programming. All of that is a matter of love for neighbor. Here’s the upshot: now we’ll get to see just how much we love one another.
We have good plans and programs at Heritage. I think we’re deliberate about what we do and why and how. But if our well-laid plans can also make us spiritually lazy, then we’re about to get a workout. If our programs can lead us to equate busyness with fruitfulness, then we’re about to bear some fruit together. And that will be good for us. Be encouraged when our younger members go shopping for our older members, and when we labor to stay connected in ways that prove that really we do care. I don’t see why we can’t come out of this a closer family, even having been apart for a time.
Fourth, the coronavirus will be good for our pocketbooks.
A friend recently commented, “I’m concerned for our older population. A surprising threat to their health is the time they have on their hands to read the news and watch their portfolios.” I made my way to the local hibachi place for lunch a day or so ago. The owners—a sweet young couple, now familiar faces—were waving from inside. The sign on the door thanked us for our patronage, but said they were closed, at least for the time being. Even events like T4G and SXSW had to cancel their huge events. They had event insurance, but that insurance didn’t cover pandemics. Everyone is affected. It is already devastating.
Oh how Paul’s words are ringing in our ears right now: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1Tim. 6:17–19). Riches fly away. But that’s hard to believe until it happens. It will be a good thing if we can come out ahead with real treasure and true life.
Fifth, the coronavirus will be good for our neighbors.
I plan to write a bit more on this at a later time, but I can’t leave our witness off of this list. We have an opportunity here to show our community the glory of Jesus, and that can happen in two ways. The first way is less obvious and less appreciated, but it is central to Jesus’s strategy for the spread of his name. Remember what Jesus prayed, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (Jn. 17:22, 23). How will our neighbors in Greer and Taylors and Greenville see the glory of Jesus? In the love and unity of the church. But, of course, secondly, we show the glory of Jesus through our good works, which includes doing good toward our neighbor (Matt. 5:16). I’ve already heard of one young mom spending her afternoon calling all her older neighbors to ask if they needed help. That was so good to hear.
So, the coronavirus is bad. Everyone agrees. But we’re the people who know not only the first and the last thing about this bug, but everything in between. And there are some good things going on there.