The coronavirus has us traveling the middle road of faith—confident in God to save and yet faithful to God in responsible service.
It happened so fast. One day it was comfortably far away, the next day was complete lockdown. Such a novel way of life brought on us by the novel coronavirus—and so quickly. And it’s made us think.
Separating church and state
We’ve had to consider our relationship with the government as it told us to suspend gathering. Gathering together in God’s house is the very rhythm of our faith-lives. In one way, this seemed like an unjust order we should rise up and defy. And yet under these strange circumstances, this was no persecution, no targeting of our faith. This was the government, God’s servant to do us good, doing what it thought best for people’s health. So, while not happy to give up worshiping together, we still happily comply—whether we personally think the government was making the right call or not.
Could complying right now and giving up assembling perhaps be used as precedent to try wrongly to close our doors in the future? Certainly. But worries about tomorrow are no reason to break the Fourth Commandment today. Consider the patriarch Joseph. Joseph’s shrewd actions preparing Egypt for the famine saved many lives, but they also centralized power under Pharaoh—perhaps the same power a later Pharaoh used to oppress God’s people. God had Joseph do the right thing to save lives. We are asked to do the same thing now. And we can trust that God will take care of delivering his people from persecution in the future, just like he did in Egypt.
Balancing physical and spiritual needs
When health concerns raise the question of canceling services, we feel physical and spiritual needs being pitted against each other. Knowing the spiritual is more important, we may feel that means we should meet, whatever the cost to physical life.
But the God who saves both soul and body does not pit soul and body against each other. He loves both. We should love both too. Love for the other person as a whole person, soul and body, recognizes their greatest need might not be the first one for me to address. If someone is starving, I give them a sandwich before I give them God’s Word. If someone is quite sick, I ask them to stay home from church that week. And if there’s a very serious threat of spreading disease, I suspend gathering and, until we can meet again, look for other ways to serve people’s greatest needs, the spiritual ones.
Finding the middle road of faith
This situation has also had us trying to find where the middle road of faith is. In one ditch, a foolhardy caricature of confidence in God’s providence wrongly tells us precautions are unnecessary. In the other ditch, panic or self-reliance wrongly tells us our times are in our own latex-gloved hands.
The middle road of faith recognizes it is God alone who protects us from danger. All our confidence for our health and safety lies in him, not ourselves. Yet at the same time this middle road of faith recognizes we have a Fifth-Commandment responsibility to do what we can to protect the bodies and lives of our neighbors and ourselves. When we do this, God cares for people through us, as though he were wearing us as masks—even as we wear literal masks on our faces!
This same middle road of faith—confident in God to save and yet faithful to God in responsible service—is needed in approaching the financial difficulties caused by the pandemic. There are some real question marks for both family and congregational budgets. And so, taking the middle road, we continue trusting God’s providing care while at the same time looking carefully at our resources and doing what we can to take care of our families, neighbors, and congregations.
Remembering God’s promises
Things change so rapidly. Due to the steps involved in printing a magazine, I wrote this article on April 12. By the time you read it this summer, what will have become of this health crisis? Will things be back to normal or will things be much worse? I have no idea. Supposedly we’re at the pandemic’s peak today. So has it all gone away, or are we still in crisis mode? So much changed so quickly when the virus arrived. So much could have changed in so many ways since I have written this.
But April 12 wasn’t just the day I wrote this article. April 12 was also Easter. And whatever day it is for you now, Easter promises us that as much as other things might change, there’s something that doesn’t: Jesus still lives, still loves, still rules, still forgives, still protects, still provides. He’s still Jesus.
Author: Aaron Jensen
Volume 107, Number 7
Issue: July 2020