I was reminded today of the words of Jesus in John 14:27.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
The world is doing its best to rob us of peace. Our enemy’s working to leave us in a place of infidelity and faithlessness to the promises and commands of the Father. This is simply the reality we face in our daily walk. But when the Provider says to us, Oh you of little faith, do not be anxious! Where is our obedience to his words? When Jesus says, Let not your hearts be troubled, where is our compliance to his commands? Why does peace seem so illusive when difficulty and doubt show up?
The solution is simple, but not easy. As Oswald Chambers put so well, the great cure for infidelity is simply obedience to the Spirit of God.
The source of peace lies in breaking the habits and fears that keep us from full reliance on Jesus. Peace comes from refusing to be swamped by the cares of this world, and in so doing believing this, that the one who trusts Jesus Christ in a definite practical way is freer than anyone else in the world; free from fear, free from worry, and free to go with absolute certainty into daily life, because the responsibility of our lives is not on ourselves, but on God. If we accept this revelation, this word of Jesus, that God is our father and that we can never think of anything he will forget, and that we will never encounter an area that he can’t care for us in, then worry, and fear can be permanently shown the door.
So, then, pilgrim, what should the Christian do in the face of COVID-19? What’s the right response?
As I mused on this. I was also engaged with my family chat group, and my sister Rebekah, a medical student at Colombia University and professional in the medical field in NYC shared this selfless message:
A couple medical schools have planned on pulling their clinical students. If Columbia does so, I’m planning on getting my NY RN license so I can help in the ED or ICU at NYP. All in God’s hands.
My father, in response to her message, chimed in:
This is the kind of response that characterized the early Christians in the face of the plague. Had a big impact.
Indeed, throughout history, the church has proven its ability to rise up and be of substantial light in the chaos and darkness that surrounded it. Early records document Christians, at no small risk to themselves, caring for sick and dying people during extreme pandemic conditions. During the Antonine Plague (165 AD), some five million people died. The plague of Cyprian (251 AD) spread from Africa throughout the known world, killing almost 50% of all who were infected by it. An estimated 5000 people a day died from the plague at it’s height. Can you imagine a 50% mortality rate and the fear that would have caused?
During each pandemic, the results were predictably the same. Government officials and the the social elite would flee the cities to avoid contact with the sick. The poor and needy would be abandoned to die. But it was the Christians who remained behind, taking on the role of caretakers and living examples of Christ’s call in John 13:34-35:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Bishop Dionysus of Corinth wrote this of the Christians at those times:
Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves, and thinking only of one another. Heedless of 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 neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.
As I consider these accounts, I’m humbled. It can be argued that it was the love and dedication displayed by the Christians in caring for their neighbors during times of sickness that had significant social impact; the selfless and Christ-like actions of the believer in the face of death and disease that played no small part in the rapid spread of the Christian faith throughout the known world. This is the example of the Christian. This is the example of the sojourner in the land; the one who knows his true home is a better place.
Friends, we’ve been given a fantastic opportunity in this time. Not that we’ll necessarily be called to take to the streets to care for the sick and dying, but that we’re being given an opportunity to show and reflect Christ’s love for our fellow-man and for our neighbors in Fort Wayne and beyond! Maybe instead of fretting away the hours in doubt and anxiety, we can be brainstorming for ways that the Christian can show Christ’s love through this time! Instead of despairing and worrying we can be equipping each other for good deeds and galvanizing each other to be lights in times of great darkness! Maybe the last thing we should be doing right now is being angry or suspicious with each other, holding each other at arms length, and developing an “every man for himself” mentality! Instead, while we can and should be still practicing due diligence, hygiene and caution, can we find ways to extend love, grace, and care to those around us? Can we be thinking proactively on how to be Jesus’ hands and feet to the world around us? And with all the restrictions and cautions in place perhaps it will take some creative thinking!
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky from the B’nai David-Judea congregation wrote:
The very last thing we need right now is a mindset of mutual distancing. We actually need to be thinking in the exact opposite way. Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another must become a thought as to how we might help that other, should the need arise. Let’s stay safe. And let’s draw one another closer in a way that we’ve never done before.
In truth, I don’t know how to finish this letter. Much is still yet to be revealed. So much is unknown. But we do know some things. We do know we serve a great and mighty God. We do know that our times and days are in his hands. And we do know that our faithful Father has told us to not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let our requests be made known to God. And that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7). So, can we step forward boldly and courageously? Can we trust, and when that trust falters, double down and trust some more? Can we follow the example that Cyprian, in his essay De Mortalitate (On the Plague) describes of the faithful who faced disease before us?
What a grandeur of spirit it is to struggle with all the powers of an unshaken mind against so many onsets of devastation and death! What sublimity, to stand erect amid the desolation of the human race, and not to lie prostrate with those who have no hope in God; but rather to rejoice, and to embrace the benefit of the occasion; that in thus bravely showing forth our faith, and by suffering endured, going forward to Christ by the narrow way that Christ trod, we may receive the reward of His life and faith according to His own judgment!
To be continued…