The initial romance of our collective quarantine has worn off. What seemed at first like an exciting adventure has turned into monotonous drudgery. Each day now has a certain groundhog-day feel to it, with very little variety and no immediate relief in sight. The kids are getting on our nerves. The eccentricities of that special someone are beginning to drive us nuts. We’re starting to wonder if maybe absence really would make the heart grow fonder. We’re full of questions, but there just aren’t many answers available right now.
One pastor summed up our predicament in two short sentences: “We don’t know,” and “Lord, have mercy.”
What’s God up to?
Jesus taught that not even a sparrow falls from its nest without the Father’s knowledge (Matt 10:29). This whole mess surely is not some cosmic accident. Nor is God out to get us. He makes the sun rise on evil people and good people, Jesus says, and he sends rain for the unjust as well as the just (Matt 5:45). This virus, too, falls within the boundaries of his good and gracious will. Yet his will remains inscrutable to us mere mortals.
So don’t try and figure out God’s attitude toward you by reading the tea leaves of the times. He already showed you his heart when he gave his Son to death for you and raised him up to life again. At the cross he revealed his will for all the world to see: God is love. Not death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation—including a coronavirus—will ever be able to separate us from his love in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:38–39).
The rough spots
Despite his love for us, God never promised us a rose garden. In fact, just the opposite. Jesus warned us: “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Like Humpty Dumpty, the world has taken a bad fall from its initial perfection. Yet even in this fallen world all things work together for good for God’s beloved children. Hardship, suffering, sickness, and even death serve to draw us ever closer to the God who is at his best when things are at their worst. In life’s tight spots, you can learn dependence on your Father in heaven, who made us all and ransomed you with the blood of his dear Son. He gives daily bread to all creation, yet so easily we forget to give him thanks for everything we need to support this body and life. Even the hairs of your head are all numbered, and you are of far more value than many sparrows, whose plight is pitied by the Father in heaven (Matt 10:30–31).
How long this plague will last, no one really knows. But you can be sure that God will use it, too, for your good. By hardships and perils God seeks to draw you ever closer to himself. As gold is purified through fire, he seeks to cleanse your faith of impurities so you can see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly.
Refined by fire
In these days of plague, look for how the contaminates in your life are being laid bare and stripped away. Are you noticing yourself longing for closer ties with people near and dear to you? Are you discovering that things you once considered necessities were expendable after all? Are you learning to prize once more the simple things you never made time for before?
What important lessons is your church learning in this situation? As peripheral and secondary trappings have been stripped away, is it dawning on your fellow congregants that only one thing is actually needful? Sitting with Jesus, giving rapt attention to his word and prayer, is far more important than the frenzied scurrying around we’ve come to expect in American church life.
“In this [salvation] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 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.” (1 Peter 1:6–7)
We’re slow learners. But God has captured our attention in this pandemic. By his grace, may our households and churches alike emerge cleansed and refined for joyful service to Christ’s glory and honor.
This guest post was written by Harold L. Senkbeil, author of The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Lexham Press, 2019).