Ideas of Light that Penetrate the Ideas of Darkness (To read this blog in context, readers should start at the earliest date of a series)
Author: Don Hester
At age 71, I am blessed to be healthy and have high energy. For such I am very thankful and I count my blessings. Blessing #1 is my incredible and beautiful wife Jean Marie. Blessings #2 are my amazing children, and now, grandchildren. Blessing #3 is the family that I have been privileged to work for since 1975. I have been president and chief operating officer of a privately owned and operated health services company in So. Indiana for the past 44 years. As of June 2018, I am beginning to fully transition out of my prior capacity with this great company and will remain on-board in a reduced capacity to serve and advise and participate as they need me. My hobbies are bow hunting and physical fitness. My passion and calling is teaching and mentoring. I believe that we are created by a Creator God for design and purpose. It is my passion to share the revelation of His truth to the world.
In Coronavirus and Christ, John Piper invites readers around the world to stand on the solid Rock, who is Jesus Christ, in whom our souls can be sustained by the sovereign God who ordains, governs, and reigns over all things to accomplish his wise and good purposes for those who trust in him. Piper offers six biblical answers to the question, What is God doing through the coronavirus?—reminding us that God is at work in this moment in history. (This work is very timely and is presented in a short work that can be read in just a few minutes). You can download it for free or purchase it at:
Coronavirus and Christ | Desiring GodWhat is God doing through the coronavirus pandemic? He is not silent about what he is doing in the world. He has given us the Scriptures. John Piper listens carefully to God’s word and leads us to six answers.www.desiringgod.org
From chapter 1….
Coronavirus and Christ
A Short Book by John Piper
The God Who Reigns Over Coronavirus
COME TO THE ROCK
I am moved to write because playing the odds is a fragile place to put your hope. Odds like 3 percent versus 10 percent, youth versus old age, compromised health versus no history of disease, rural versus urban, self-isolated versus home meeting with friends. Playing the odds provides little hope. It is not a firm place to stand. There is a better way. There is a better place to stand: a Rock of certainty rather than the sand of probabilities.
WHEN CANCER CAME
I recall being told on December 21, 2005, that I had prostate cancer. For the next several weeks, all the talk was about The God Who Reigns over the Coronavirus odds. Odds with waiting to see. Odds with medications. Odds with homeopathic procedures. Odds with radical surgery. My wife, Noël, and I took these numbers seriously. But in the evening, we would smile at each other and think, Our hope is not in the odds. Our hope is in God.
We did not mean, “It is 100 percent certain God will heal me, while doctors can only give me odds.” The Rock we are talking about is better than that. Yes, better than healing.
Even before the phone call from the doctor telling me I had cancer, God had already reminded me in a remarkable way about the Rock under my feet. After my usual annual exam, the urologist had looked at me and said, “I’d like to do a biopsy.
” Really? I thought. “When?” “Right now, if you have the time.” “I’ll make time.”
While he was going to get the machine, and while I was changing into the typical unflattering blue gown, there was time for me to ponder what was happening. So he thinks I may have cancer. As my future in this world began to change before my eyes, God brought to my mind something I had read recently in the Bible.
Come to the Rock
GOD SPOKE . Now, let’s be clear. I don’t hear voices. At least I never have. My confidence that God speaks is rooted in the fact that the Bible is his word. (More on that in the next chapter.) He has spoken, once for all, and he still speaks in his word. The Bible, rightly understood, is the voice of God.
Here is what he said to me in that urologist’s office as I waited for the biopsy that would confirm that I had cancer. “John Piper, this is not wrath. Live or die, you will be with me.”
That’s my paraphrase. Here’s what he actually said:
God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thess. 5:9–10)
Awake or asleep—that is, live or die—I will be alive with God. How can that be? I am a sinner. I have never lived a day of my life—not one—without falling short of God’s standards of love and holiness. So how can this be? How can God say, “You, John Piper, will be with me—live or die”?
God didn’t even wait for the question before he answered. It’s because of Jesus. Jesus alone. Because of his death, there The God Who Reigns over the Coronavirus 14 will be no wrath toward me. Not because of my perfection. My sins, my guilt, and my punishment fell on my Savior, Jesus Christ. He “died for us.” That’s what his word says. Therefore, I am free from guilt. Free from punishment. Secure in God’s merciful favor. “Live or die,” God said, “you will be with me.”
That is very different from playing the odds with cancer—or with the coronavirus. This is a firm Rock under my feet. It is not fragile. It is not sand. I would like it to be a Rock under your feet.
Article by Scotty Smith, Pastor, Franklin, Tennessee
I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me (Song 7:10).
King Solomon’s life tells the story of how a wise man became a very foolish one. The love in the Song of Songs, so rich with exclusive affection, eventually devolved into 700 wives and 300 concubines. But the words of his Song, authored by a greater hand and heart, call us to survey and savor God’s great love for us in Jesus. And not just his love for us in general, but his love for each one of us in particular.
Though the gospel must not be privatized, it must definitely be personalized. None of us is the point, yet we all matter. And though every text in God’s word has an original setting and meaning, no text is fully understood until the blossom of the passage finds its bouquet in Jesus — including the Song of Songs.
Not Special — but His
To be able to affirm these words, “I am my beloved’s,” is to participate in the heights of christology, the wonder of biblical theology, and the riches of the gospel. The one truly deserving of the title “beloved” is Jesus himself. He is the Son of our Father’s delight (Matthew 3:17) — the one to whom all Scripture points (Luke 24:44), and of whom the Spirit is constantly making much (John 16:14).
To see Jesus revealed in the Bible as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of all things; the Lion of Judah; the Lamb of God; and the Lamp of the New Jerusalem is to fall down in reverent awe. It is to join legions of angels, and all of creation, in proclaiming Jesus’s eternal glory and ineffable majesty (Revelation 4–5). Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory — the exact representation of who he is (Hebrews 1:3). With God the Holy Spirit, Jesus enjoyed the full measure and fellowship of God’s glory before the world began (John 17:5).
But it’s even grander to be able to say, “I am my beloved’s.” I, as in me — not just the spiritual giants who seem much worthier of such an honor and privilege. Am, as in right now — not will be, when I am good enough, holy enough, or glorified in the future. Right now I belong to Jesus as much as I ever will. My beloved’s, not simply our beloved, as in the whole body of Christ. Wonder of wonders — Jesus is my beloved. “The Son of God . . . loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). This doesn’t make me special; it makes me his. Hallelujah!
Our Greater Hosea
Pause for a moment. What do these words and images stir in your heart? Is the gospel primarily a set of theological propositions you defend? Or is he a Person in whom you focus your greatest delight? Where do you go, as Solomon did, when Jesus is not enough? Do you see how allergic you are to God’s grace? Can you grieve the depths of your unbelief? Do you hear Jesus saying to you, in this very moment, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness” (Jeremiah 2:2; cf. Revelation 2:4). Rejoice in the tenacity of his pursuing love.
As Tim and Kathy Keller write in The Meaning of Marriage, Jesus is the spouse we always wanted. All other forms of romance and intimacy must be celebrated and stewarded as pointers to his love, and the fruit of his relationship with us. Every other marriage, except our marriage to Jesus, is temporary — very important, but very temporary.
We are Jesus’s beloved because he, the Beloved one, set his inexhaustible and unwavering affection upon us. We are the Gomers who looked (look) for love, and gave (give) our love, to anyone and anything other than Jesus. Jesus is the great Bridegroom who, on the cross, became the not-loved one, that in him we might know the lavish love of God for us — for you, for me. May we never get over or get used to this bold declaration: “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Love That Surpasses Knowledge
Perhaps even grander still are these incomparable words: “and his desire is for me.” It’s one thing to be certain we will go to heaven the moment we draw our last breath — a glorious hope indeed. It’s altogether wonderful, and essential, to affirm that Jesus is both our full forgiveness and our perfect righteousness. But to know in this very moment, in our heart of hearts, that Jesus — the altogether lovely, pure, and beautiful one — actually desires us, and delights in us!
Oh, my dear friends, what can compare with this glorious state and standing in grace? The gospel may still be true to you, but is it beautiful and real? Does it both take your breath away, and give you breath to worship and serve such a wonderful, merciful Savior as Jesus?
Father, by your Holy Spirit, free us from under-believing the gospel and over-believing our fears, heart-idols, excuses, and shame. Grant us a greater, fresh sighting of the beauty and love of Jesus. Restore to us the joy of your salvation for us. Because we are dull, but because we are yours, “may [we] have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18–19). We pray with renewed gratitude and hope-filled anticipation, in Jesus’s name. Amen.
My heart aches as I think about the recent loss of your beautiful 15-year-old daughter, Hannah. I grieve for you both and the pain you must be experiencing. You are wonderful parents who loved Hannah well and honored Christ in her ongoing care. I am praying you experience the tender, steadfast love of God in this difficult time (Psalm 59:16–17). He is truly sufficient to sustain you and strengthen your weary hearts (Psalm 55:22; 28:7). He is near and is our peace, dear friends.
You wrote to ask me if the Bible provides any hope regarding the eternal destiny of your daughter, since she functioned at a very limited intellectual capacity her entire life. My wife and I have pondered this question over the years. We lost a baby boy before he was born and have thought deeply about our oldest son, Levi, who is almost nine years old but understands and processes the world around him like an infant. I know well the joys and challenges of loving a child who ages in years but continues to function at a very limited cognitive level. Oh how our hearts long for him to know and treasure Christ and be restored from his broken body living in a fallen world.
What happens eternally to a person, whatever his or her age, who possessed a limited lifelong cognitive ability? Whether it is someone like your daughter, or a baby who dies in the womb, or a child who dies in infancy, the question is the same. Each of these people is unable to grasp spiritual truths, does not commit conscious acts of sin, and does not understand the concept and choice between right and wrong. Does God call these precious souls home to heaven to enjoy the pleasures of his glorious presence, or does he destine them to an eternity of pain and suffering in hell, away from his fellowship?
What Does Scripture Say?
You asked a weighty question and, sadly, there are some confusing resources out there trying to offer some measure of hope regarding the salvation of people like your daughter and my son. Some claim a form of special revelation through lack of knowledge, and I have read others who even claim salvation through the faith of a caregiver.
But I want to offer biblical answers, not theoretical ideas. This is no trifle. Let us not build our hope on sentiment, but rather look to the Scriptures. I want to show you why I wholeheartedly believe God saves those who die with limited lifelong cognitive ability.
I cannot simply give you one biblical passage to answer your question. As with many theological questions, the Bible provides an answer in various ways and in various passages. God’s word does not directly address the question you have raised. Yet I believe God’s word is sufficient to provide an answer — one you can hold with conviction, confidence, and comfort in our sovereign, wise, and good God.
Three Truths to Affirm
Let me first clarify three important biblical truths we must affirm and not neglect.
NO ONE IS INNOCENT
No person stands innocent before God. Everyone is conceived and born sinful, worthy of God’s judgment (Psalm 51:5). All human persons are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), “alienated and hostile in mind” (Colossians 1:21), and thus under God’s judgment (John 3:36).
Because of Adam’s original sin, God subjected the entire world to death and futility (Romans 8:20; 1 Corinthians 15:21). Additionally, condemnation justly passed to every individual person who would ever live (Romans 5:12–19). Every human being is therefore desperately in need of redemption in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Salvation belongs to God (Psalm 3:8). From all eternity (2 Timothy 1:9), God in his own purpose and grace determines to save guilty sinners through his Son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5) from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9; 7:9). God foreknows and predestines these individuals (Romans 8:29–30). He chooses them according to the purpose of his will to be holy and blameless before him (Ephesians 1:4–5; Romans 8:29) to the praise of his glorious grace (Ephesians 1:6).
Salvation comes only in and through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. As the apostle Peter so boldly declares, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
GOD SAVES THROUGH FAITH
Throughout the Bible, God gives spiritual faith through cognitive capacities. The Spirit–enabled abilities of spiritually hearing (Romans 10:17), spiritually seeing (2 Corinthians 4:6), and spiritually understanding (1 Corinthians 2:12) the glory of Jesus Christ in the gospel come by way of intellectual capacities. Salvation comes through faith, and faith is always intertwined with a certain level of cognitive understanding.
John Piper writes, “One must see and interpret the human language of the Scriptures in order to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ in them. Which means that the only pathway to the self-authenticating light of the glory of God in Scripture is the path of human observation and human reasoning” (A Peculiar Glory, 271). It is through the understanding of the mind in combination with the affections of the heart that one receives Jesus Christ as saving refuge and ultimate treasure (John 1:12). Thus, verifiable salvation is possible only when the gospel goes forth, and its hearers or readers have the cognitive capacity to comprehend and receive that message (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Without cognitive understanding, faith has no truth to trust.
Two Reasons for Confidence
Now, in light of these truths, here are two biblical reasons why I wholeheartedly believe God saves those who possess lifelong limited cognitive ability and why you can have confidence that your precious Hannah is joyfully experiencing the presence of Jesus.
1. God reserves his wrath for those without excuse.
In Romans 1, Paul writes that God reveals his wrath against those to whom he has made himself “plain” (Romans 1:19), to whom he has “shown” what can be known about himself (Romans 1:19), who have “clearly perceived” his eternal power and divine nature in creation (Romans 1:20), and who have “known” him and yet suppressed his glory and dominion (Romans 1:21). Such people “are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). In other words, God pours his wrath upon people who have the ability to comprehend him and yet suppress him.
Every person is guilty in Adam and lives under God’s eternal wrath. However, Romans 1 implies that God gives those without the cognitive ability to understand him and consciously dishonor him an excuse not to experience his eternal judgment. This excuse exists because those with severely limited intellectual capacities do not have the ability to perceive, understand, and honor. They therefore never consciously dishonor God by perceiving and then rejecting him. A lack in perceiving and understanding corresponds with a lack of certain guilt before God.
Consider also what Jesus says to the Jewish leaders in John 9:41: “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” Again, we see that a lack in perceiving and understanding corresponds with a lack of responsibility before God. At an infant’s funeral sermon several years ago, Piper helpfully commented on this text:
The point for us is that even though we human beings are under the penalty of everlasting judgment and death because of the fall of our race into sin and the sinful nature that we all have, nevertheless God only executes this judgment on those who have the natural capacity to see his glory and understand his will, and refuse to embrace it as their treasure.
I believe he is right. God reserves his punishment for those with the ability to behold his glory and refuse to receive him as Savior.
2. God judges people for conscious individual sin.
Although Adam’s sin is imputed to all human beings (Romans 5:12–14), this sin is not the basis of God’s individual eternal punishment. Scripture teaches that God punishes sinners based on the sins they individually commit. Additionally, God punishes only for sins that people willingly desire and pursue.
Universal human death is evidence of God’s judgment upon all due to Adam’s sin, but only those who willingly commit sin are eternally punished for sin (2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12–15). God’s judgment accords with sins that a person with severely limited cognitive ability is unable to commit (see, for example, the sins listed in Matthew 15:19–20 or Revelation 21:8).
Deuteronomy 1:35–39 reveals that God punishes people for personal, individual sin. In this passage, Moses hearkens back to God’s declarative judgment on the wilderness generation: it is not the children of this generation, those “who today have no knowledge of good or evil,” who will be condemned, but rather their parents (Numbers 14:20–35). God deals differently with people who have limited intellectual abilities than he deals with those who are capable and guilty of conscious sin.
Deuteronomy helpfully reveals that one may be temporarily unable to distinguish right from wrong. Isaiah acknowledges the same reality when he writes, “Before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good . . .” (Isaiah 7:14–16). These passages suggest there is a state when a person is unable to distinguish between right and wrong. As such, God does not hold such people to the same standard he uses for those who willfully disobey. When this state extends throughout one’s entire life, there is no individual sin for God to eternally punish.
For these reasons, no biblical author describes an infant, someone with any form of limited intellectual ability, or even a young child as under God’s judgment after death. Instead, we find hints of the opposite. Job and the preacher in Ecclesiastes, for example, remark that stillborn children are at rest (Job 3:16–17; Ecclesiastes 6:3–5). In context, these statements imply that these infants have not merely escaped the trouble of this world, but have entered into everlasting rest.
Safe in the Arms of Jesus
The Bible provides sound hope regarding the eternal destiny of your daughter. I believe Hannah is with Jesus. I believe you can confidently trust that God saves all who die in infancy, as well as those, like your daughter, who possess a lifelong limited intellectual capacity.
All the glory and thanks be to Jesus alone! It is only through the finished work of Jesus Christ, who defeats the sin of Adam and offers everlasting life, that we confidently rest in the hope that those with lifelong limited cognitive abilities are safe in his arms. And not only safe, but filled with love to Christ. Because heaven is for people who love Jesus, I believe God saved Hannah through faith in Jesus Christ at the moment of her death and the first sight of her Savior.
Hannah was a beautiful young lady. She was fearfully and wonderfully created by Jesus and for Jesus (Psalm 139:14; Colossians 1:16). And now she is joyfully glorifying her God with a perfectly restored body, free from all the effects of living in a sinfully broken world. She is free from hindrances in her mind and heart as she unreservedly lives in the everlasting delight of her glorious God.
Never Stop Sharing
Some might propose that, since God saves all who at the point of death possessed a lifelong limited cognitive capacity, then we don’t need to articulate the gospel to those who we believe fall into that category. What folly! Who are we to determine who does and does not understand the beauty and glory of Christ in his gospel?
I am grateful you continued sharing Jesus with Hannah until the end of her days. That is also something we continually share with our Levi. God alone reigns sovereign over salvation. Our task is simply to be faithful with the message of Christ, never stop sharing the gospel, and pray like crazy that God would graciously ignite a heart of faith, even if we never see evidence on this side of glory. And at the end of each day, we rest in the sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness of our great God.
This is a great time to share the Gospel…to share with others what you have ‘in Christ Jesus’
From my study time this morning…dh
[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in ChristJesus before the ages began. (2 Timothy 1:9)
Being “in Christ Jesus” is life’s ULTIMATE reality. It is breathtaking to be united to Christ….bound to Christ. To be ‘in’ Christ. We are safe ‘in’ Christ.
If you are “in Christ” listen to what it means to you and for you:
In Christ Jesus you were given grace before the world was created. Second Timothy 1:9, “He gave us grace in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
In Christ Jesus you were chosen by God before creation. Ephesians 1:4, “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.”
In Christ Jesus you are loved by God with an inseparable love. Romans 8:38–39, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In Christ Jesus you were redeemed and forgiven for all your sins. Ephesians 1:7, “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.”
In Christ Jesus you are justified before God and the righteousness of God in Christ is imputed to you. Second Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
In Christ Jesus you have become a new creation and a son of God. Second Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Galatians 3:26, “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
I pray that you will never grow weary of exploring and exulting in the inexhaustible privilege of being “in Christ Jesus.”
Luke wrote for us…in chapter 21…what Jesus said
10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.
Matthew wrote for us….in chapter 24….what Jesus said…
3As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
John wrote for us…in chapter 14….what Jesus said
1“Let not your hearts be troubled. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
John wrote for us…in chapter 16….what Jesus said
29His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Friends…if you are ‘in’ Christ…you are in the ONE who has overcome the world….so…go out into all the world and share this good news with people who are afraid and hungry for the truth of the Gospel.
I think we all sense that we’re not ever returning to the normal of, say, November 2019. We’ll remember these days as a defining turning point when beloved friends and relatives suffered and others recovered, when business dreams died and others were born, when families grew distant and others grew tighter than ever before.
At this early point in the quarantine, we’d be foolish to make any cocksure predictions about the aftermath of COVID-19. We don’t even know if the quarantine will lift in June 2020 or June 2021 or anytime in between, and how many thousands will die. So how can we know what God’s doing?
But a friend recently asked me how I expect life and ministry to change in the aftermath of COVID-19. And I’m sure many of you wonder the same thing. I claim no prophetic gifting. I just read and speak with experts much smarter than I am. Based on those interactions I generated five tentative predictions, phrased in seemingly contradictory pairs.
Beware anyone who offers simple answers about the way things will be. Most likely we’ll see arrows pointed in multiple directions, and it’ll be up to future generations to explain us long after we’re gone. Some things will improve. Other things will disappear. Nothing will quite be the same, as we gain new appreciation and new fears. For now, though, I expect we’ll change in these five ways.
1. We’ll lose trust even as we gain solidarity.
Never before has a single issue so quickly leveled the differences between nations, states, and classes. No one is immune—literally. The most famous actors and the most powerful politicians can come down with COVID-19, just like you and I can.
I saw the exact moment when Americans freaked out together about COVID-19. It was the evening of March 11. My wife and I were hosting leaders of small groups in our church. That morning I encouraged my wife to buy food and other supplies, because the coronavirus was about to hit. After the meeting I headed to my home office to catch any news I missed. In just 90 minutes, the NBA had suspended its season, President Trump had delivered a televised national address, and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced that they had contracted COVID-19. Immediately readership at TGC.org doubled. Suddenly millions sensed simultaneously the gravity of the situation. We had to take matters into our own hands. For some reason toilet paper quickly became scarce.
New, more trustworthy authorities will emerge, but not until the rich and famous ration their toilet paper.
That’s what happens when governments, media, and public health agencies around the world have lied or at least botched their initial response. They saw the briefings and still didn’t prepare us. We couldn’t trust them. And since we couldn’t trust our leaders, we sought to look out for ourselves. Nearly three weeks later, in the richest nation in human history, we still can’t get reliable, timely testing. No one can be safe from urban New York City to rural South Dakota. We’re all in this together—separately—because we endanger each other through mere presence, even if we don’t feel sick.
Going forward the richest and the poorest alike will look with jaundiced eyes at authorities—at least those responsible for the initial response. New, more trustworthy authorities will emerge, but not until the rich and famous ration their toilet paper.
2. We’ll depend on the virtual as we love the local.
Many of the rich have grown richer during the spread of COVID-19. The vaunted supply chain of Amazon.com has become a lifeline. Millions have learned to Zoom. Facebook Live rose from the dead. Google delivers our news and YouTube our entertainment.
Smaller local churches may feel like safer alternatives than megachurches that attract many visitors and commuters.
Meanwhile this economic depression will finish off many struggling Main Street retailers, and with them remaining lifelines of tax and advertising revenues for local governments and media. Small businesses with insufficient scale and margins, especially restaurants, will disappear. And yet these small businesses capture our primary affections. We can live without Red Robin; we’ll rally to save our local bakery.
The situation for churches will run somewhat parallel. Bigger churches will hurt, especially with restrictions on large gatherings for the foreseeable future. When will visitors feel safe bringing their children into these unfamiliar environments? But big churches can scale down their programming and staffing as long as necessary. Small churches won’t be so lucky. Many will close due to the broken rhythms of church life, especially since they couldn’t keep up with virtual options during the quarantine. Plus these smaller churches depend disproportionately on the vulnerable elderly, and their working-class members will be the hardest-hit by economic headwinds. A burst of enthusiasm for embodied community and worship would help when we finally gather again. But the survival of many churches will depend on the duration of our shutdown. If the quarantine ends this summer, smaller local churches may feel like safer alternatives than megachurches that attract many visitors and commuters.
3. We’ll gain global perspective with national protections.
From India to Indiana, COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate. We don’t care if the vaccine comes from South Africa or South America. We’re joined in this fight together. If Chinese leaders had operated with global perspective from the beginning, they could have prevented a world of suffering.
Now we’re in an unimaginable scenario where the borders between New England states are closed. The same can be said for the member states of the European Union. We’re unsettled by the sight of tanks in Los Angeles and armored jeeps in Chicago, even if they’re not (yet) enforcing quarantine. From now on the border gates will be able to close, from both directions, on a moment’s notice. Perhaps never again in our lifetime will we enjoy such ease of travel, inside and especially outside national borders.
We’ll grow more sympathetic and aware of global trends and neighbors, even as we worry more about protecting our local ones.
Several years ago in Alabama we suffered from deadly tornados and a crippling, rare snowstorm. Many children and youth had to sleep at school. Commuters were trapped in cars on impassible roads. Now, in response, even a severe weather watch causes cancelations. And I don’t think we’ll go back to normal soon. The trauma is still fresh, though the children have grown up. Likewise, when do you think churches will again feel comfortable sending youth on mission trips to places where COVID-19 could flare, and they could be trapped with few hospitals and uncertain food sources?
We remember how 9/11 changed airport security. Our new normal will include masks and temperature checks, as we see now in Asian megacities. Everyone’s in the same kind of boat, on their own side of the water. We’ll grow more sympathetic and aware of global trends and neighbors, even as we worry more about protecting our local ones.
4. We’ll see spiritual hunger with naturalistic hopes.
Every crisis produces heroes. We can already see them in the medical researchers and caregivers. COVID-19 has reminded us there’s no vulnerability like health. And the collective response will invest our faith in planning, preparation, supply, and treatment, so this can never happen again (it will).
Yet we will never lose this sense of exposure. We’ll never quite shake the trauma of uncertainty or settle into safety. Not even a vaccine will make that feeling come back completely. So we’re left with many spiritual and practical questions: What happens when I die? Why am I so anxious and afraid? Who will take care of me?
Far more spiritual fruit will be born in communities that directly address serious questions of life and death.
Normally in crisis we gather together for assurance in ritual meetings, especially religious ones, which confer shared meaning and purpose. But the coronavirus has pushed religion even further to the margins of the private family at home. Mecca is deserted. The pope stands alone at St. Peter’s. So where will masses seek comfort? Will they return to Rome when the pope has told them, to Protestants’ delight, that it’s ok to confess to God directly?
When COVID-19 has been defeated, will we credit God? Will we rejoice instead in our medical saviors? Or will we return to temporal distractions upon their eventual, exuberant return? I’d love to predict an end to the charlatans whose guarantees of healing and riches are no match for the pandemic. But like the lottery these scams seem impervious to facts as they tap into our predilection for quick fixes. Some churches that aim primarily for spiritual and emotional uplift may rise the tide of immediate post-quarantine excitement. Far more spiritual fruit will be born, however, in communities that directly address serious questions of life and death.
5. We’ll draw closer to families with fewer members.
Some debate erupted earlier this year about whether we’ve overvalued the nuclear family. That argument seems quaint now. The nuclear family is an essential defense and refuge. These are the only people you trust to infect you. COVID-19 may drive many singles toward the protection and camaraderie of marriage. And it may change many life patterns as young adults, forced by closed schools and lost jobs to live at home, fear to venture far away again.
At the same time the toll exacted by the coronavirus on parents will be steep. As parents are infected, without help from neighbors and extended family, who watches the children? Parents are homeschooling while they’re also supposed to be working. And homebound children have lost their outlets for friendship and organized activity. No wonder it’s been said that if the quarantine produces a baby boom it will consist only of firstborn children. Love will deepen in the long run where absence would sooner make the heart grow fonder.
Love will deepen in the long run where absence would sooner make the heart grow fonder.
Economic depression hits young adults worst of all. They can’t find jobs to build their careers. During the last recession the fertility rate fell and never recovered. Children consume scarce emotional and economic resources. An uncertain future makes parents wary of bringing more children into the world. Even as family takes on greater importance, the trend toward smaller families will accelerate. The cultural narrative, however, will hail the family as the place of first affection and last defense
Whether any or all of these predictions come true, we know God has his own agenda, which we can only know in part. Whatever he’s doing, it’s “to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). If God can work good from the cross of Jesus, he can work good from COVID-19. Only God can make known to us the path of life. Only in his presence do we find fullness of joy. At his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11). Nothing, not even COVID-19, can rob us of that promise through union with Christ.
Whatever our God ordains is right. Someday, thanks to Jesus, we’ll even understand how.
Watch Your (Knowledge) Diet in the COVID-19 Crisis
Article by Bret McCracken
The last few weeks have removed any remaining doubt: we are living through an epistemological crisis. Among the many distressing aspects of the COVID-19 global pandemic is the stress of information overload. Everyone has something to say about it. Millions of self-proclaimed experts chime in online, crowding out or contradicting real experts. Our minds are spinning because of this article we read, that tweet thread we saw, or any number of other charts, graphs, scenarios, and projections we’ve picked up on our streams.
Meanwhile, the existing crisis of politicized “news” has worsened. “Alternative facts” proliferate, plenty for every side to marshal for whatever opinion they wish to perpetuate. Incessant commentary and clickbait leave our heads spinning. When something as biologically objective as a virus becomes politicized and subject to one’s own partisan interpretation, it’s obvious just how post- into the post-truth era we’ve come.
In a world like this—with more and more information but less and less wisdom—what are we to do? How can we stay sane, mentally and spiritually healthy, and wise? A few years ago these questions led me to create “The Wisdom Pyramid,” a visual aid inspired by the food pyramid but applied not to food groups but “knowledge groups.” The idea—which I’ve since turned into a book that will be released in early 2021 by Crossway—was to help people build a knowledge diet conducive to wisdom in a world glutted with untrustworthy sources.
A key idea in my wisdom pyramid is that social media should occupy the smallest (as in the “use sparingly” fats/oils/sweets category in the food pyramid) segment of our knowledge diet. The problem is, most of us have made this unhealthy category one of the staples of our diet. And that’s why we don’t know what, if anything, is true or trustworthy. That’s why anxiety and mental illness have been skyrocketing in recent years. Our diets are totally imbalanced.
In this post I want to apply the logic of the wisdom pyramid (see the graphic) to our present COVID-19 moment.
To become wise, our information diet must begin with the Bible. It must be our solid foundation, as well as the grid through which all other sources of wisdom are tested. Instead of starting your day with social media or the news, start it with the Bible. Join TGC in our Read the Bible initiative. Immerse yourself in the eternal wisdom of God’s direct speech to us—the most trustworthy, authoritative, comforting, and illuminating voice to which we could possibly tune our ears. Does the Bible speak specifically about 21st-century pathogens like coronavirus? No. But Scripture is rife with ironclad wisdom for how we can live, love, suffer, and hope in times like this.
Nature is an indispensable source of wisdom and sanity in a world gone mad. There is an objectivity to nature, biology, weather, the seasons, and so forth that is crucial in a world awash in a sea of subjectivism. God’s creation offers perspective and comfort to us because it has much to communicate about his glory (Ps. 19:1), if we only listen. The problem is we are often too plugged in or cut-off from nature in the modern world; hence our declining mental health. Researchers have found that today’s excess of digital stimuli causes our brains to become overwhelmed as they filter and sort through the glut. Being in nature, by contrast, gives us fewer choices, allowing the brain’s attentional system to function better in higher order things like deep thinking and reflection. In our current crisis, then, it’s important to go outside. Get off your computer, put away your phone, and get some fresh air. Go on walks. Garden. Let the joyfully singing birds—oblivious to crashing stock markets and pandemics—teach you lessons Twitter can’t (Job 12:7).
The wisdom of beauty is tied to the wisdom of Sabbath. Both feel superfluous—at best “nice-to-haves” in hectic, intense times. But therein lies their necessity. Beauty slows us down, quiets our busy minds, stills our restless souls. Beauty helps us rest and gives us more tranquil space to contemplate, consider, and synthesize. Don’t neglect beauty in a crisis! Sometimes a far better thing to do than panic shop or aimlessly scroll through Twitter is to just listen to beautiful music. That’s why I created a “Songs of Comfort for Anxious Souls” playlist and a similar list of music videos. Beauty and the arts don’t necessarily help solve a grievous crisis like this, but they can help us cope with it, and in time they will help humanity make sense of it.
In our presentist, distracted, inattentive age, books give us perspective, focus, space to reflect. Reading books—a wide variety, from different eras and places and worldviews, both fiction and nonfiction—keeps our anachronism and self-centeredness in check. They educate us, cultivate in us empathy, help us make connections across disciplines, and open up the world. In times of global crisis the temptation might be to watch CNN constantly. Don’t. Read Augustine’s Confessions instead, or a work of classic fiction. Read books that have stood the test of time, offering wisdom and help to readers across the decades and centuries. Instead of sitting in front of your computer screen during this crisis, sit down under a tree outside and read a book while listening to the birds.
Internet and Social Media
The internet is a massive blessing in many regards, especially in how it connects us even when we are unable to get out of the house! But it’s critical that in the digital age—and especially in times of heightened anxiety, fear, and misinformation—we limit our exposure to the online world. Yes, stay informed about COVID-19 (and especially the official guidance, from national and local authorities, for how you can stem its spread), but don’t immerse yourself in the news any more than you need to. Especially if you struggle with anxiety, stay off Twitter right now. Look to trusted doctors, epidemiologists, and credentialed medical experts before you look to clickbait-seeking bloggers, amateur virologists, and armchair economists. For your short-term sanity and long-term wisdom, please don’t build your epistemological diet around the fleeting ephemera of social media.
For your short-term sanity and long-term wisdom, please don’t build your epistemological diet around the fleeting ephemera of social media.
As our world today has made painfully clear, wisdom is not the result of simply having easier access to more information. It’s not about the amount of information we have, but its quality and reliability. Wisdom is less like a repository for knowledge than a filter for it, like a healthy kidney: retaining what is nutritious as it filters out the waste. A. W. Tozer compares wisdom to a vitamin: “It does not nourish a body in itself, but if not present, nothing will nourish the body.”
There is not yet a vaccine to boost our immunity against COVID-19. But in terms of the many toxins of untruth and epistemological pathogens that make us mentally and spiritually sick, there is an immunity-boosting defense: wisdom. That’s why a healthy, wisdom-building diet of knowledge and information should be a critical priority for Christians in today’s uncertain world.
When I answered the phone that evening, I heard my daughter-in-law’s trembling voice: “I just found out that my sister may have only twenty-four hours left to live.”
She immediately caught a flight to California, hoping to be with her oldest sister one last time. The next morning, I received this text message: “I didn’t make it. She passed away.” Her sister’s passing came just five days after the anniversary of her mom’s death, six years earlier. Of course there were tears. Many tears.
Whether you are enduring the loss of your loved one, facing your parents’ divorce, discovering your husband’s unfaithfulness, abiding your teenager’s hostility, learning about your friend’s betrayal, or experiencing a breakup with the man you thought you’d marry — painful and perplexing circumstances bring forth tears. Naturally, we all desperately wish we could avoid such heartbreak, and we would do anything to prevent this kind of anguish for those we love. But truth be told, we can’t. This is the painful reality of living in a fallen world.
Tears Are Facts of Life
Tears are a fact of life and an expression of the pain we experience. The little book of Ecclesiastes prepares us to interpret our tears. In his famous poem in the third chapter, the author identifies seasons and times marked out for us in this life by our sovereign God, including seasons of sadness: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: . . . a time to weep” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4).
If, for you, it is “a time to weep,” your emotion is not a deficiency of faith: God has appointed your tears, and it is appropriate to cry. While it may seem like you will never be happy again, your crying won’t last forever. Weeping has its time — meaning, it has a beginning and an ending date.
This is not to suggest you will one day be unmoved by what is causing your tears; certain painful experiences will remain with us always. But Ecclesiastes tells us that God also has appointed “a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Or, as the psalmist puts it, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Though it may be hard to believe right now, you will laugh again someday.
Granted, in times of grief, it’s hard to see beyond our tears, hard to imagine past the time of pain to a time of mirth. But more is happening in seasons of sadness than we may realize.
What We Know (and Don’t)
In his infinite wisdom, our Heavenly Father is weaving the painful threads of our life into a grand design; he is making something beautiful from our tears: “He has made everything [even times to weep] beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Rarely, though, do we see the beauty God is creating. Our vision is filled with the devastation of our suffering and questions overflow with our tears. Why me, Lord? Why this? How can anything good come from so much pain?
It is part of our DNA to want to know and understand. We recognize that there is a bigger picture, a wider purpose for our suffering, because “[God] has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We want to figure out what God is doing, but we are stopped short when we discover that God also has placed limitations upon our capacity to comprehend: “yet . . . [man] cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). This ability to perceive, and yet not perceive, is a work of God.
In other words, both our desire to make sense of our tears and our inability to make sense of them have been ordained by God. As J.I. Packer writes, God “has hidden from us almost everything that we should like to know about the providential purposes which he is working out . . . in our own lives.” When we accept that we know something, but cannot know all, we will stop striving to figure everything out. Our angst will subside and a sweet peace will pervade our souls. We can simply cry before our Lord and trust him to create something beautiful for his glory.
Bright Spots in Bleak Seasons
To help us endure times of grief, God provides us with gifts each day, and surprising gifts, at that! “Everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil — this is God’s gift to man” (Ecclesiastes 3:13). Ordinarily, we think of food and drink simply as nourishment for our bodies, but they are more than fuel for living. As John Calvin writes, “If we ponder to what end God created food, we shall find that he meant not only to provide for necessity but also for delight and good cheer.”
During a weeping time for me (and for my whole family), a friend sent us chocolate croissants with Samuel Rutherford’s famous quotation written on the card (only slightly reworded): “When I am in the cellar of affliction, I look for the Lord’s choicest [croissants].” Not only were those the best croissants I have ever eaten, they also brought me cheer in the midst of a bleak season.
At this same time, I was helping one of my daughters launch her small business; not something we would have started if we knew what was coming. But each day as we worked from morning until night — setting up a workspace, ordering supplies, framing artwork, fulfilling orders — we realized that God had provided this endeavor as a helpful distraction from our pain. The simple pleasures of food and drink and work really are wonderful gifts from God in times of weeping.
Time to Weep — and Grow
When we turn to God in our tears, times of weeping also become our times of greatest growth. Ecclesiastes tells us that God uses our appointed season of sorrow to teach us to fear him: “God has done it, so that people fear before him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
While it might seem like we have stalled, or even digressed spiritually in the midst of our tears, the opposite is true. God is at work in our lives to bring about growth in godliness. He appoints “a time to weep” in order to reveal himself to us in deeper ways than we have ever known. He is sovereignly leading us through this valley of tears so that we might come to trust and treasure Jesus Christ above all.
So, to my daughter-in-law and to all who are weeping: look to Christ, your Savior, who walked this earth, wept over sinful, suffering humanity, and went to the cross in our place. No matter how long and hard this painful season, may you find comfort as you recall the truth of Ecclesiastes 3: God is creating beauty, providing you with gifts each day, and teaching you to fear him.
And one day soon, “a time to weep” will be no more. For God himself “will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Carolyn Mahaney is a pastor’s wife and homemaker who has written several books with her daughter, including True Feelings and True Beauty. They are presently writing a book on Ecclesiastes. Carolyn and her husband, CJ, have four children and twelve grandchildren.