As I write, we are right smack in the heart of a national and global emergency. It is difficult in this cultural moment to have any conversation, no matter how brief, without the conversation turning to the virus, its spread and symptoms, social distancing, economic impacts, or political fallout. Restaurants and other public gathering places are closed, grocery stores are rationing toilet paper and disinfectants, and Real Life has suspended services for the first time in our history (short though that history may be). I hope and pray that as you read this, we are on the downward slope of the curve, and things are beginning to normalize. Though the current “stay at home” order from the governor extends beyond Easter Sunday, I pray that we will soon be gathered together as one family to celebrate our risen Savior and the eternal life He has purchased for those who believe. This has been and will be a great trial for all of us—the nation, the church, and us as individuals. Long after the virus has been controlled, the reverberations of it will ring through our national and global economy. When the restrictions of public gatherings and recommendations of social distancing are lifted, we will not suddenly return to what we considered normal. We cannot; we will not be the same, for the trial will inevitably change us. Trials always do. The great question is: how will it change us? Dire situations can often leave us feeling helpless, like a cork violently tossed by a wild sea, with no control over our own destiny. Indeed, we do not control our circumstances, but we most certainly do control our responses. We make choices in light of our changing conditions and surroundings, and those choices have consequences that lead to certain outcomes. Whether in great turmoil or peace and prosperity, our choices determine our destiny. This truth echoes throughout the Scriptures. We see it from beginning to end, as every choice from Adam’s sin in the Garden to the evil one’s continued rebellion at the end of days carries with it inevitable ramifications. Choices have consequences…always. The human choice to sin plunged all of Creation into darkness, into a cursed state, the effects of which have shaped history, even to the current plague. While none of us controls what happens outside of us, we do control the thoughts that are inside of us. The Lord calls us to take charge of our thoughts (as in 2 Corinthians 10:5), rather than to simply let them run wild as if we had no control of what we think. By controlling the thoughts that dominate our minds, we are choosing how the events of life will shape us. For example: The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you. Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds! (Psalm 9:9-10) Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…. (Romans 5:3-4) Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4) For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…. (2 Corinthians 4:17) When we choose to focus our minds on the fact that God is a stronghold in times of trouble and does not forsake us, it makes sense to sing His praises and rejoice in Him. Naturally, rejoicing in the midst of trouble is difficult, but no matter what circumstances we face, it is God’s will for us to rejoice in Him through them. Because we recognize the greatness and goodness of God, we are able to trust that He is producing something far greater in and for us through whatever momentary afflictions we may face. We do not rejoice because trouble itself is good, but because God is good, and is using the trouble to develop our character to accurately reflect Christ. We do not celebrate Coronavirus as a good thing in itself, but neither are we overwhelmed by it. We recognize it as a “natural evil” and a destructive force; we take measures to stop its spread and to serve those in need. We do, however, rejoice in the knowledge that amid the pandemic, God is humbling us, giving us an opportunity to live out what we say we believe and to learn to trust Him more fully. All of this is for God’s greater glory and our ultimate good, as it allows us to become more like Christ. May we choose to embrace all that God is doing amid this modern plague, as we increasingly reflect the reality of Christ through our relationships with one another and with a lost world that needs desperately to know Christ.
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