Over the last few days or so, I’ve begun to get use to a feeling of surrealness.
I went grocery shopping last week. It wasn’t that the store was empty-there was plenty of food. But it certainly was more empty than I’ve ever seen a grocery store. It reminded me of shopping for groceries in other countries, where your shopping list is more like a list of goals; you get what is available.
Then, Friday, my buddy Luke and I turned our church sanctuary into a makeshift video studio, setting the stage for the strangest Sunday morning service I have every experienced. There were 6 of us in the building, and 2 of those 6 were my kids. Instead of preaching to a room full of people from behind a pulpit, I preached to a camera with a teleprompter.
And that feeling of surrealness just carries on: I walk down Maine St and its empty. I grab some takeout from a restaurant and have to wait outside the door if there is someone inside already. And, wherever I go, I have a half gallon bottle of hand sanitizer with me that I stole from the church (don’t tell anyone!).
And, the thing is, I’m not paranoid. I’m not scared of what is happening, I just want to be responsible and try to help “flatten the curve” by “social distancing” and all the other lovely “phrases” we’re hearing these days.
While I’m not afraid, I know that a lot of people are and I think we can all understand why, unless you are one of those idiot spring breakers we see on the news (seriously, I saw an interview clip and began to lose hope in the future of our nation). There are some scary stories out there, including stories of men my age, without preexisting conditions and with small kids at home who are dying of this virus. That’s scary, and sad, and sobering, and I pray for those families and others in similar situations.
But we must remember that God is in control, despite the hardships we see and the pain that many are experiencing. Nothing is happening outside of His control. He isn’t absent, He isn’t far off, and He isn’t just smiting the earth. He is here with us, He grieves with us, and He is continuing to call us into His kingdom. This virus is a result of the fall, of our rebellion against God. It is not a symbol of a vindictive, weak or absent God.
Even in a dark time like this, God is at work. He is doing something. You may have seen the clip of Billy Graham that has been circulating the last couple of days from a sermon on Habakkuk, where God says this:
Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.Habakkuk 1:5
God has a habit of exceeding our expectations. Sometimes we see it, sometimes we don’t. But, when we do see it, it is astounding. He has this ability to drive forward His plan through anything and everything the world throws out there. All the evil, all the pain, all the suffering that this world has to offer, and God simply weaves it into what He is doing to advance His kingdom. And He even works it out for the good of His children!
That doesn’t mean He removes the suffering or makes it easy – the Bible, and history, show that God does not often remove His people when times are hard. But He does call His children to a bigger perspective, one that changes how we view struggles and suffering. Whatever we are going through now is just a blip in the perspective of eternity, and that blip is a part of God continuing to establish His kingdom. As Paul writes:
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…2 Corinthians 4:17
I love that phrase, “light momentary affliction”. It could refer to anything, given the right perspective. Stepping on a Lego could be a “light momentary affliction”. Misplacing your cell phone could be a “light momentary affliction”. Or, suffering great loss, experiencing chronic pain or illness, battling depression or mental illness, or even martyrdom can be a “light momentary affliction” in the greater scope of eternity. And that is the point Paul is making: we need that perspective of eternity, and the hope that comes from having faith in God and His plan.
I really like CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce. It’s a wonderful little novel about residents of hell having a chance to see what heaven is like, and it challenges a lot of assumptions we have about our thinking of sin, heaven and hell. In it, one of his characters says this:
That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say ‘Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences’: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say ‘We have never lived anywhere except Heaven,’ and the Lost, ‘We were always in Hell.’ And both will speak truly.C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
Read that again. There’s a lot to get your brain around.
It speaks to our relationship with sin and suffering. We rarely really come to grips with how pervasive sin is in our lives and in the world as a whole. Sin infects everything (I think theres a Coronavirus analogy in that if you want). But, God’s grace, or “blessedness” if you’d like, works the same way. It spreads, it changes us; it is actually fixing us, remaking us, returning us back to what we were created to be and away from the distorted creatures that sin has turned us into.
Grasp that eternal perspective. Latch on to the hope we have in eternity with Jesus. Allow His peace to spread through you and out into a world in need of peace and comfort right now.