Is COVID an act of God? Is he using it to punish us? Those questions are hard to dismiss for anyone who believes in God. But they’re also hard to answer in any way that’s productive or satisfying. A huge part of ‘having faith’ is trusting in God’s justice and mercy even as your world is coming unglued. I have wondered if the virus might be an instrument of God’s wrath. For the record I think the answer is no, but that’s not what I want to talk about. The more evocative question – the one we need to contemplate deeply if we want to learn and grow – is: What can I learn from this crisis? What’s the pearl of great price hidden inside all of this trouble and heartache for me and for the people I love? The stress of this weird season is testing me. Am I going to be tolerant of the extra clutter around the house or give in to the urge to make snarky remarks? Am I going to dig deeper to help friends in trouble or cling to every dollar I have until these crazy markets stabilize? Am I going to follow a balanced schedule of praying, writing, walking, reading, resting and connecting with the congregation I love or binge watch Tiger King and The Office as I gnaw on the one pound Belgian chocolate bar I bought at TJ’s?
Here’s what I’ve noticed as I’ve faced these daily challenges. Every time I step into the light by doing the thing I know I should do, I grow. I take a baby step towards the goal of becoming a saint. And the Holy Spirit shows up to strengthen me and cheer me on.
So what am I learning? I’m learning something I’ve known since I was a kid, but that I really don’t take to heart except when life is hard. The Lord uses suffering to purify me and shape me into a person who resembles him. A line from Hebrews keeps echoing in my head: discipline, though unpleasant, “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (12:11). In the life of the Spirit, progress comes through fire and struggle. That’s the pearl of great price concealed within the crisis. Trees grow strong when the storm winds blow; blades become sharp when they’re heated and filed; and we humans grow in character when our comfortable, predictable lives are upended. We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, when our gracious God decides to test us. He allows us to suffer anguish and heartache in this life to prepare us for the life to come. He disciplines us because he loves us.
Some of you reading this have suffered way more than I have. Maybe you’re a student who has exchanged your prom, your graduation ceremony and hang-outs with friends for dreary Zoom sessions in your bedroom? Maybe you’re a medical professional who’s working double shifts in the emergency room, wondering constantly about your own health and that of your family? Maybe you’ve just been furloughed and are waiting for your first unemployment check? Maybe you’re a senior living alone whose family has stopped visiting because they don’t want to give you the virus? If so, it’s not my place to tell you: “Just trust God – everything’s going to be fine.” That’s not what life teaches us. It’s not what
the Bible reveals to us. Things could get worse.
Nor is it my place to say if God is punishing you or the whole human race because of the evil we’ve committed.
But I am confident of this. Hidden within every fiery trial are the seeds of opportunity. And in the midst of this pandemic, we each must decide how we’re going to respond. Are we going to become anxious and depressed about things we can’t change? Or are we going to follow the Spirit’s lead and step into the light?
Don’t worry if you’re not ready to make a herculean leap forward. In this sheltering season baby steps are enough. Baby steps will eventually get you to the place our gracious God wants to take you.