We are living in unprecedented times. COVID-19 is one of the most dramatic and far reaching events in world history thanks to the Internet and global communications.
The world as we knew it stopped! Borders closed, travel was suspended, schools and businesses closed, soccer leagues, the NFL, MLB, the Final Four, concerts, eating out, vacations, and church services all came to a screeching halt. We’ve been “sheltering in place” and listening to pundits explain death ratios, the spread of the virus, and how the US and global economies have plummeted.
From a temporal perspective, you might think it can’t get a whole lot worse than this. Our 24-hour news cycle daily tabulates the pandemic’s carnage—job losses, retirements evaporating, investments faltering, businesses closing, death and sickness of loved ones, and the emotional and relational fallout fueled by fear and panic.
What If …?
It would be absolutely cruel and callous to minimize any of the current challenges and personal tragedy that this pandemic has thrust across the world. But what if there’s another perspective, another narrative that measures and evaluates things through the lens of eternity rather than simply time?
What if there is, in fact, a God who is personal and created all that there is, who loves all people deeply and longs to have a personal and eternal relationship with them? What if his love has extended to such a degree that God the Son would come and die to procure forgiveness and eternal life for whosoever would turn from their selfish independence and self-focused idols to believe in him … Jesus?
And what if violence, corruption, injustice, greed, power-mongering , immorality, and neglect of the poor and marginalized became so great all across the world (even among those who claim to be Jesus followers) that he allowed this evil virus to push the global PAUSE button that caused the world to stop?
What if, from heaven’s perspective, this is a severe mercy—a divine global intervention to get us to STOP, examine ourselves, look up, forsake wickedness, repent of our greed and self-focus, address injustice, help the weak, love the poor, forgive our enemies, and walk in righteousness?
Isn’t this the very admonition God gave through Jeremiah when the corruption and evil of his day had reached its limit?
Who can command things to happen without the Lord’s permission? Does not the Most high send both calamity and good? Then why should we, mere humans, complain when we are punished for our sins? Instead, let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn back to the Lord. Let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven and say we have sinned and rebelled” (Lam. 3:37-42).
What if in an act of severe mercy, our heavenly Father is taking what is meant for evil and using it for good? Like a good parent, he has put us in “time out.” Far from punitive, his desire is to help us take stock, pause, evaluate our lives, our relationships, our idols, and return to him for the life that’s really life. One-by-one he has revealed the false gods in whom we have trusted.
Our faith in the god of Money to provide power, control, and security has betrayed us. Our faith in the god of Hedonism that promised personal fulfillment through the next “amazing experience” at that trendy restaurant, the hottest concert, sporting event, exotic location, or the never-ending cycle of weekend escapes and partying with friends. They have all come to a screeching halt.
And last, but far from least, our faith in the god of Self that seeks to prove our value and significance through our work, our talent, our looks, and our latest accomplishments—all neatly curated on our “look at me” Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn posts. It has been put on hold for most of us. We sit at home and have no choice but to face ourselves for who we really are, minus the props of work, hobbies, and busyness that kept our consciences distracted from pondering the deeper issues of life, purpose, meaning, love, God, and our response to his great mercy and generous offer of real life, both now and forever with him.
C.S. Lewis rightly observed that God whispers to us in our prosperity and shouts to us in our pain. Suffering is indeed his megaphone to a deaf world. In his severe mercy, he seeks to free us from being consumed with ourselves and the trivia we have elevated to importance.
Our faith in the prophets of science, technology, and advanced medicine have been brought to their knees by an invisible microbe. It has spread indiscriminately across the globe like a tsunami wave, unstoppable even as our best and brightest scientists, doctors, and researchers seek a cure.
See Life More Clearly Than Ever Before
What are we to make of all of this? Is this just bad karma? Is it just another thing to get through? Is it just a blip on the screen of world history? Are we to simply follow the media mantras that we hear between our favorite programs: “Let’s think positive, let’s pull together, we’ve been through tough things before and will get through this too?”
I think not! I think in our personal lives and in our corporate experience, there are very specific windows of time when we have the opportunity to see life more clearly than ever before. Death and crisis have a way of pushing the really important things to the forefront.
Solomon said that there is more wisdom in the house of mourning than in the house of feasting. The apostle Paul, writing to a blatantly corrupt and immoral society in Ephesus, pleaded with them to “awake sleeper, and arise from the dead; and Christ will shine on you.”
Many followers of Christ have prayed for many years that God would cause a great move of his Spirit to happen in the world—that God would awaken the whole world to the greatness of his love and the certainty of his return and coming judgment.
In like manner, many of us have prayed that his church would be awakened to our duplicity, our hypocrisy, our hardness of heart, our own immorality, our judgmental attitude, and most importantly the loss of our first love.
God’s discipline and loving, kind, and even severe mercy to bring about repentance always begins with his own children. If this global pandemic is not a wake-up call that shakes his church out of complacency and calls us back to heartfelt personal devotion, forsaking of our idols, and radical acts of sacrifice and love to ALL those in need, then I do not know what will.
Wake-Up Call for the Church
Could this crisis and tragedy be our chance? Could this be the mercy of God pleading and warning his wayward children to “stop being conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we might test and experience what the will of God is, that which is good, well pleasing and perfect”?
Can you imagine the impact, if millions and millions of us followers of Christ in America would respond to this pandemic by forsaking our religiosity, our prejudice, our idols, and return to our “first love,” Jesus, with wholehearted devotion and unswerving obedience to his Word?
Can you imagine the millions of acts of service happening each and every day in the workplace, marriages, and homes as unbelievers witness and experience authentic love and observe lives of integrity in those who claim the name of Jesus? Can you imagine the social transformation as billions of dollars are released to meet needs in local communities and support the poor and marginalized across the nation and the world because believers gave the first and best of their finances to Jesus as an act of worship and love not duty, obligation, or believing it will make them all rich?
Could it happen? Can it happen? Of course it can; it’s happened before! And it’s happened in various windows throughout history, and most often in times of crisis.
Will it happen? Only you can decide that. It’s not a group thing, it’s not a club you join. It’s an individual response. It requires each one of us to take this time to get real with ourselves and honest with God, turn from our own wicked ways, receive God’s great forgiveness, bask in his love, and then worship and obey his word 24/7 every day of the year with everyone we meet.
It’s Christians living like Christians every day, in every way, everywhere, for the glory of God and the good of all mankind. If not now, when?
I have to start with me. You have to start with you.
Let’s do this together!
Chip Ingram is the teaching pastor and CEO of Living on the Edge, an international teaching and discipleship ministry. A pastor for over thirty years, Chip is the author of many books, including Culture Shock, The Real Heaven, The Real God, The Invisible War, and Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships.