Daily Light – March 30, 2020

Come What May

Finding Patience and Joy in a Slow Calamity

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

A slow-moving calamity rolled through the ancient world, now more than 2,500 years ago, crawling, at a haunting pace, through one nation after another.

Unlike Pearl Harbor, or a terrorist attack, or a tsunami along the Pacific Rim, this plague caught very few off guard. Every king, every nation, every citizen saw it coming. They heard the reports. They lived under the specter. The world’s greatest city at the time, Nineveh, didn’t fall overnight, but over painful weeks and weeks, even months. Jerusalem came next. Waves of destruction came to the holy city, first in 605 BC, then eight years later in 597, and finally total decimation eleven years later in 586.

What threat paralyzed the world’s great cities not just for hours and days, but for weeks and months, even years? The rising power of Babylon and the slow march of its army from one capital to the next, setting up months-long sieges, and toppling the world’s leading cities as their supply lines ran out and the people began to starve.

And all the more, the coming calamity should have been no surprise to God’s first-covenant people. Even in the middle of the seventh century before Christ, while Assyria was the reigning world power, and Babylon was only slowly on the rise, God’s prophets, like Isaiah, told of the coming disaster decades ahead of time. As did a far less prominent prophet named Habakkuk, who may have an especially striking word for us in our present slow-moving distress.

God Does Not Look on Idly

Unlike any other Hebrew prophet, Habakkuk never turns and speaks directly to the people in his short, three-chapter book. He reports his dialogue with God and God’s surprising work in him, leaving personal application to the reader. The book’s outline is rather simple, as far as Hebrew prophecies go.

First, Habakkuk begins with his seemingly righteous frustrations, perhaps slightly overstated. He asks, “How long, O Lord?” to the rampant wickedness he sees around him, among God’s own people, in an era of spiritual decline (Habakkuk 1:2–4). God responds with a revelation the prophet not at all anticipated (1:5–11). Essentially: Yes, little prophet, my people have become wicked — and I am not looking idly at it. In fact, I am raising up the Babylonians to destroy them.

Habakkuk reels and rocks. He thought he had justice problems before. Now all the more. He responds with a second complaint (1:12–2:1). How can God “idly look at traitors” (Habakkuk 1:13), Babylonians even more wicked than God’s backslidden people? The prophet becomes more defiant: “I will take my stand . . . and look out to see what [God] will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint” (Habakkuk 2:1). He presumes God’s response to his second complaint will not suffice, and he’ll be ready to answer back.

But God’s second response (2:2–20) does silence him. The prophet never registers a third complaint. God will not leave Babylon unpunished. His full justice — his fivefold woe — will be served in his perfect timing. The hand of justice indeed will fall, destroying the prideful and rescuing the righteous who live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).

How Do We Live by Faith?

The core of the book’s message, from the voice of God to the hearts of his people, is live by faith in unprecedented days, come what may. God doesn’t promise the anxious prophet that soon he’ll make things better. In fact, he promises to make things much worse before they get better. Utter devastation will come first, then deliverance. First total ruin, then final rescue.

To the disoriented, panicked prophet, God exposes the folly of human pride, and issues a fresh call to humility and faith, to patiently receive God’s mysterious “work” of judgment (Habakkuk 1:53:2). To trust the divine in the toughest of times, in days of looming trouble. Here we have God’s timeless call to his people in mysterious times, Habakkuk’s and ours: live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).

But what does that mean? “Living by faith” can sound so vague and general. What might it mean for us here on the ground, under the present (and coming) threat?

Will We Wait Quietly?

After he has been silenced, Habakkuk speaks again in chapter 3, but now in prayer, not complaint. He has heard and heeded the divine voice and now celebrates God’s unstoppable power and uncompromised justice. The prophet’s prayer concludes with two “Yet I will” statements. First, he says he will exercise patience. The prideful and unbelieving may ride it out with all sorts of panic and noise, but Habakkuk will wait quietly:

Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
     to come upon people who invade us. (Habakkuk 3:16)

His faith in God’s perfect justice has been renewed. He will adjust the clock of his soul to God’s timetable, not presume the converse. God is not standing idly by, of this we can be sure. He is watching. He is attentive. He sees every movement, every detail. In the end, the world will see that he has done right, never treating any creature with injustice.

And as prone as we are, in our finitude and sin and anxiety, to want to force on God our own timetable for resolution, he calls us to quiet patience, even as painfully slow as the present distress may unfold.

Will We Rejoice?

The second and final “Yet I will . . .” comes in verse 18: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” And the prophet says so precisely with the worst-case scenarios on the table:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
     nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
     and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
     and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
     I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17–18)

In other words, though the supply lines should fail, and the shelves be bare, and the economy tank, and the virus come to our own city, and street, and even home, yet — even then — this newly humbled prophet will rejoice in the Lord. Will we? Not in our supplies. Not in our health. Not in our own security. Not even in the defeat of the enemy. There is one constant, one unassailable surety, one utter security, one haven for true joy in the most challenging of journeys: God himself. He holds himself out to us as he removes our other joys. Will we lean anew into him?

Those puffed up in pride will certainly be destroyed in time, whether sooner or later. But those who welcome God’s humbling hand and bow in faith — in quiet patience and trans-circumstantial joy — will find God himself to be “my strength” in such days (Habakkuk 3:19). So too for us, living by faith in such times will come to expression in patience and joy. But what again might that look like?

Will We Rise in Song?

Among the many ways God may inspire his church in the coming days, we at least have one clue from Habakkuk what such patience and joy sounds like: singing. That’s the stunning and unusual way this short interaction between the prophet and God ends — with the prophet singing praise. That’s why he ends with directions for corporate worship: “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.” These final lines are not only a prayer. They are a song for others to join.

There’s not anything else quite like this in all the prophets. Habakkuk begins with as much feistiness and (what seems like) defiance as we find anywhere else. And yet God graciously moves his soul from protest to praise. Which should be an encouragement to those honest enough to admit to finding this pandemic tripping up the feet of our faith so far.

As we’ve seen, Habakkuk didn’t come into the news gracefully. Yet God met him there, in his pride and defiance and fear. The little prophet foolishly took his stand, and God mercifully brought him to his knees. God humbled him, and the prophet received it, humbling himself. He received the disorienting, inconvenient, painful purposes of God in the coming judgment, and he abandoned his protest, bowed in prayer, and rose in praise.

Will we do the same in the lingering confusion and disorientation of the slow-moving uncertainty we’re living in? Will our protests, however justly conceived, lead to bent knees? And will our prayers lead us to sing?

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

Daily Light – March 29, 2020

Friends:   A friend of mine sent this video to me.  Having watched and listened to the message, I find that I ‘must’ share it with all of you. 

It is a ‘must’ see and hear.   It will bring you clarity, hope, and comfort.  I trust Dr. Jeremiah.   This is a marvelous and wonderful message by Dr. David Jeremiah.  He answers the question, “Is the Coronavirus in Bible Prophecy?

youtu.be/HVailav65Fc(opens in a new tab)

Daily Light – March 28, 2020

Friends: This is a ‘link’ to an old and timeless Christian hymn that was performed by a group of singers who live and work in Nashville, Tennessee. Do to the social distancing requirements of the COVID-19 outbreak, they used their cell phones. They emailed it to a producer and he put it all together to come up with this absolutely AMAZING video/recording. Thank you to Pamela Furr for sharing this with us. (If the link does not allow you to auto load, please copy and paste into your web browser.) Many blessings and prayers sent your way.

https://www.wsmv.com/news/a-group-of-nashville-studio-singers-perform-an-epic-cell/article_2245fbf8-6eb2-11ea-9be3-db6cec04c8f3.html

Daily Light – March 27, 2020

What Courage Might Coronavirus Unleash?

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org 

Over the last several days, fear over the coronavirus has spiked as the number of cases and infected countries has multiplied.

While we are learning more by the hour, there’s so much we still don’t know (and may not know for some time, if ever) about the virus. Which is part of its staggering power: the awful fear of the unknown.

Fear of Fears

Underneath our fears about COVID-19 crawls the pervasive fear of death, which enslaves much of the world, often subtly, for their whole lives (Hebrews 2:15). For such days, C.S. Lewis’s comments on war are every bit as relevant in a pandemic:

What does war [or the coronavirus] do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent; 100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased. It can put several deaths earlier, but I hardly suppose that that is what we fear. . . . Yet war does do something to death. It forces us to remember it. . . . War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. (“Learning in War-Time”)

The reality of death has not changed. What’s changed over the last several weeks, at least for some of us, is that we now are consciously considering what will inevitably happen to each and every one of us. And if we’re willing to hear and receive what God is saying through COVID-19, even an awful, deadly virus might become a strange and bitter mercy.

While Christians, as advocates for life, take the pandemic seriously, and educate ourselves accordingly, and take appropriate precautions, COVID-19 serves as a warning to us all, as well as a reminder and commission for all who love and follow Christ. Will those who have been freed from the fear of death take the risks many in the world will refuse to take, and display our hope among the fearful, infected, and dying?

What Cannot Destroy the Body

Most of the world may be deaf to the divine warning in a global pandemic. But the Lord of heaven, who governs every germ and molecule in the universe, says to anyone with ears to hear,

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

While projected mortality rates are lower than in previous epidemics, like SARS or MERS, the virus has spread much farther and wider, meaning that even while the percentages may look small, many millions may die, especially from the weaker and more vulnerable among us.

The warning in Matthew 10, however, comes with a remarkable promise for those who fear God and find refuge in him. In the very next verses, Jesus says,

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29–31)

While the Center for Disease Control (CDC) races to contain COVID-19, your Father in heaven is attending to every hair on your head. He rules over a worldwide pandemic, and still cares for your every need. If you or I die, in Christ, it will not be because he has forgotten or forsaken us.

Christ Is Better by Far

Anyone who has been given the gift of life has known the fear of death. And anyone who has found the narrow path that leads to true and eternal life has watched Christ turn the fear of death on its head. The apostle Paul, who nearly died many times following in the footsteps of his crucified Lord, declares,

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:21–23)

Times like these test whether we can say the same. It can be easy to say to live is Christ, and to die is gain when living for Christ costs us little and death seems far off. It is another thing to say the same when disease is spreading and we, or someone we love, might die imminently. Is death really good news for those who love Jesus? COVID-19 presents a new and darker canvas on which God says again, Life after death is better, by far, than even the sweetest life on this earth.

Death itself, of course, is not better. It is a horror and enemy to be hated. But with Christ, death also becomes a servant — a door into the thoroughly satisfying and utterly safe presence of Jesus, forever. Death is gain, not because the experience of death is any less likely, or any less miserable, but because of what death gives us — because of Who death gives us. Will we face the uncertainty of these days with courageous love because of what death now means for us?

Free to Risk

Paul knew that death was better, by far, than a few more years on earth. But he also knew what to do with whatever days he had left. “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:23–25). As much as he wanted to be with Jesus, he still poured himself out for the souls around him, working and sacrificing and risking for their progress and joy in believing.

Will the church, at the right moments and with great wisdom, rally to meet the needs around us, and in doing so, serve the progress and joy of others’ faith in Jesus? This kind of courage will not be reckless or dismissive, ignoring wise public precautions. One of the most loving things we can do now is limit and slow the spread of the virus. But this kind of courage also will be ready, in the days to come, to step in where needed when few others will.

David Brooks reminds us that during the Spanish flu pandemic that battered America in 1918 . . . as conditions worsened, health workers in city after city pleaded for volunteers to care for the sick. Few stepped forward. In Philadelphia, the head of emergency aid pleaded for help in taking care of sick children. Nobody answered.

If such times are ahead, Christians, freed from the fear of death, could be the first to step forward. Will we answer if that call comes, if clinics and hospitals, filled and overflowing, cannot care for everyone?

‘I Fear No Loss’

In 1519, when the Black Death reached Zurich, Switzerland, home of pastor and Reformer Ulrich Zwingli, the disease eventually wiped out a third of the population. Zwingli had been on vacation. While everyone else fled the city, however, he courageously dove back in to care for and comfort the sick, and to tell them about the hope he had in Jesus.

As he risked his life, believing Christ still had many in his contaminated city (Acts 18:9–10) and would be with him in the perils (Isaiah 43:1–3Matthew 28:20), he caught the disease and nearly died. But not in vain, and not without hope, for he suffered in the path of Love.

He wrote several poems in the throes of the sickness, with lines like these:

In faith and hope
Earth I resign.
Secure of heaven.
For I am Thine.

And then later, as his symptoms worsened:

He harms me not,
I fear no loss,
For here I lie
Beneath thy cross.

Zwingli’s hope in heaven did not make him reckless or selfish in the face of sickness and death. It filled him with courage and unleashed him to see, and seek to meet, the needs of others. Knowing what was at stake, and what was waiting for him on the other side of death, he accepted the danger, at enormous risk to himself, to care for the suffering, especially those destined for eternal suffering.

May the same be true of us, as Christians move toward, not away from, neighbors in need; as churches open our arms and doors of hospitals become full and overwhelmed; as we embrace the right risks, at the right times, and so fill our fearful cities with the name of Jesus.

Now Is the Time

The gospel is always drowned out more easily in peacetime. What is there to fear? But not in a pandemic. When a cholera outbreak came to London, Charles Spurgeon admonished everyone in Christ,

Now is the time for all of you who love souls. You may see men more alarmed than they are already; and if they should be, mind that you avail yourselves of the opportunity of doing them good. You have the Balm of Gilead; when their wounds smart, pour it in. You know of Him who died to save; tell them of Him. Lift high the cross before their eyes. Tell them that God became man that man might be lifted to God. Tell them of Calvary, and its groans, and cries, and sweat of blood. Tell them of Jesus hanging on the cross to save sinners. Tell them that —

“There is life for a look at the Crucified One.”

Tell them that He is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him. Tell them that He is able to save even at the eleventh hour, and to say to the dying thief, “today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.”

God has prepared good works for us (Ephesians 2:10). He has prepared us for days like these. He plans to show the immeasurable riches of his kindness through simple acts of Christian courage in a world paralyzed and consumed by fear. Father, in the name of Jesus, use your church.

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – March 26, 2020

What South Korean Christians Want You to Know About Coronavirus

Article by Steve Chang and Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra

About a month after the first coronavirus case appeared in South Korea, an infected man attended Shincheonji  Church of Jesus, a cult of more than 300,000 that believes Jesus was reincarnated in its leader. This man ended up infecting thousands—in fact, more than 60 percent of the nearly 8,500 cases in the country have been linked to Shincheonji.

Though South Korea hasn’t required a lockdown, most churches voluntarily had closed their doors by March 1. That decision was emotional, since South Korean churches managed to keep services going even during the Korean War, said Steve Chang, a pastor in Seoul.

Sarah Zylstra asked if he has any advice for American churches. Here’s what he said:

Plan for a New Normal

Think long-term, at least twice as long as you think you need. South Korea was well equipped, with technology and infrastructure, to go online. We did it immediately. But most of us thought it would be temporary. So that’s the first bit of advice—don’t think it will be one or two weeks. It will more likely be two months or more.

Think long-term, at least twice as long as you think you need.

That way, we can begin to think about how best to minister to our people quickly—through online means such as video calls/visitations, group fellowship, prayer meetings, and Bible studies, in addition to Sunday services—rather than wasting time on “let’s wait and see” thinking.

So some of our group meetings that we planned to postpone until things were better, we realized we needed to just start through online means instead.

Look for Opportunities to Do More than Normal

We had the tendency to think of doing less than we’d normally do in the physical worship setting, because we thought, Why would people want to watch a video of a service for more than 20 to 30 minutes?

There’s some truth to that, but we also forgot that they don’t have the option of coming to church. This online thing is all they have. So why not make it the full service that we normally do?

In fact, we may need to do more than normal because people are isolated and can’t get out or get together. For example, our pastor is sending out a daily prayer video through Instagram, which he wouldn’t normally do.

Pay Attention to What God’s Doing in the Church

Our church is emphasizing family worship and spiritual growth, which isn’t something our megachurch can do well without a crisis like this. All the age groups normally split up into age-specific ministries on Sunday. Now, much of the delivery of children’s ministry has to involve parents, which naturally encourages them to minister to their own kids. We’ve also asked members to have family worship while going online, something a big church cannot do physically.

We feel this is an opportunity to be a witness to Christ by helping the most vulnerable. The young adults’ ministry is delivering food and supplies to the elderly in the community.

One member of our Chinese student ministry (an international Chinese student in a local Korean university), who became a believer in our ministry, decided to collect support from his fellow Chinese students to send to the hard-hit city of Daegu. As he gave the money (about $2,000) to his university president to pass on to Daegu city officials, the president was so moved that he added $900 on the spot of his own personal money.

We are seeing poorer members of our church giving beyond what’s normal. For example, one Korean grandmother wanted to donate her rationed face masks to our pastors.

We also think God is using this to encourage our members toward mutual care. The senior pastor asked the church members to practice “113” (like 911 in the United States), which is in 1 day, call 1 person to check up on them and encourage them, and pray for 3 people.

Pay Attention to What God’s Doing Outside the Church

I definitely think people are scared and more open to the gospel. If you have contact with unbelievers in or through the church, this is a great time to minister to them. If you do not have contact already, it will be difficult to meet them. Our college campus outreach has come to a complete halt, for example. We have yet to see how this will lead to more effective gospel ministry, but it is definitely an opportunity.

If you have contact with unbelievers in or through the church, this is a great time to minister to them.

In South Korea, several things are happening in the spiritual landscape. First, as you know, a well-known cult was at the center of this outbreak. It has shocked many Koreans to learn how this group operates and draws unwitting candidates. This is something many Christian leaders have known, but it’s now public. That will slow down the spread of cults in Korea, which are active and dangerous. As much as I cringe at those who boldly claim that God is judging these cults, I can’t help but think that his mercy for the church’s gospel ministry is present in this crisis.

There is also some pruning going on in the Korean church. All the megachurches have shut down. The larger the church, the more critical it was to close their doors. So this is a great opportunity to reflect on what worship “in spirit and in truth” means, and how some larger churches have drifted away from pure, biblical worship. Now that all those big, fancy sanctuaries and productions are dark, we are forced to consider afresh what pleases a holy God.

Finally, being the church without a central meeting place has been excruciating. It’s an odd feeling not to meet your brothers and sisters at least once a week. We miss it terribly and realize how much we took it for granted. But it also forces us to hold on to our oneness in Christ, and to be more intentional about reaching out and praying for our spiritual family.

Steve Chang is professor of New Testament at Torch Trinity Graduate University in Seoul, Korea, and pastors the English-speaking congregation at Hallelujah Church. He is a Korean-American living and serving in Korea since 2001.

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra is senior writer for The Gospel Coalition. She earned her master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

Daily Light – March 25, 2020

A Prayer for Working from Home

A Prayer by Will Sorrell

Almighty God, Giver of Work and Rest,

I awake, and I am with you.
My commute is a trudge from bed to desk,
a stepping over toys and garments,
feet that feel like miles.
Ready my body to face unfamiliar tasks in this familiar place.

My eyes are prone to wander alone.
My ears are prone to hear my flesh over your Spirit.
My lips are prone to curse and lash.
My fingers and back are prone to cramp and complain.
My nose is prone to forget that every breath comes from you.

Let my eyes keep watch with you with care.
Let my ears hear the birds raise their carols to you.
Let my lips be patient on conference calls and voicemails.
Let my fingers and back find relaxation under tension.
Let my nose relish the home-brewed tea and remember.

O omnipotent and omnipresent Carpenter,
you who fashioned the lumber of the land,
you who breathed life into us from the dust,
you who are crafting this world anew,
build in me a confidence that I am your temple.

Make my heart believe that you are intersecting
the heavens and the earth in my very being.

As I rely on technology to traverse the world outside my dwelling,
let your Holy Spirit minister to the souls and bodies I email and call.
Though I am absent in the flesh, make others present with you through me.
Help me to notice the emotions in their eyes on a videoconference.
Help me to give care to the tones and tremors in their voices.
You who made time and space and planted us to live and work within them,
let my love for my coworkers and customers not be bound by proximity,
but rather let my finite self trust in your infinite good pleasure.

O beloved Intercessor who never slumbers or sleeps,
allow my midday rhythms of rest to be an act of prayer.
As I fix food and refill my glass, give me pause to give thanks.
As I sip water to quench my thirst,
as I taste leftovers to satisfy my stomach,
fill my teammates,
my boss,
my clients,
my suppliers,
my acquaintances with good gifts.

As the sun begins to fade and the lull of afternoon approaches,
help me.
Help me to view children as blessings to receive, not as obstacles to overcome.
Help me to have energy to engage, to decide, to create, to innovate.
Help me to persevere unto the end, knowing that you are my strength and song.

Jesus, my Lord and my friend—
hiccups in communication assail me,
deadlines loom dark like the shadows on my floor,
the deafening emptiness of this room threatens my confidence,
and I feel utterly alone.

Jesus, my comfort and my companion—
do not let me continue to consume the bread of anxious toil.
Prepare a table before me in the presence of my fear.
Shepherd me into pastures of faith,
streams of dependence,
and valleys of resting in your everlasting mercy.

When the time comes for me to close the laptop,
turn off the lights,
and exit the email,
empower me to want to do this all again tomorrow.
Help me see what you see in my work.
Help me see you at work.

Just as you have transformed my house into an office,
be faithful now to transform it into a home again.

I beseech you to do these things,
because I need you to do them,
because only you can do them,
and because you are good.

Amen.

Will Sorrell works in commercial banking, hosts Ergonomy Podcast, and researches the intersection of faith, work, mission, and technology. He earned an MDiv from Beeson Divinity School and an MBA from Brock School of Business at Samford University. He puts his research into practice with his beloved church family, Grace Fellowship. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife and Labrador retriever. You can follow him on Twitter.

Daily Light – March 24, 2020

The Coronavirus and the Pony

Article by Paul D. Miller, Professor, Georgetown University

There’s something antiquated about our enforced #coronacation. Like peasants in the 14th century warding off the plague-ridden and the unclean, we have abandoned human contact. Handshakes are out; elbow bumps are in. Our cities are empty, our marketplaces abandoned, our festivals depopulated. My family has survived 9/11, the anthrax attacks, war in Afghanistan, the Beltway Sniper, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, Snowmaggedon, and two earthquakes.

Yet none of those events accomplished what the COVID-19 global pandemic has: civilization has ground to a halt.

I believe there’s a blessing here, much like the little girl who, given a large pile of manure on Christmas, celebrates because a pony must be around somewhere. We’ve been given a pile of manure in the form of a global pandemic. Thousands are dead, thousands more will die, and the living will be poorer and more frightened for years to come. 

Where’s the pony? 

Our Idolatrous Age

I grew up around computers, with access to health care, and never far from a TV, a refrigerator, a supermarket, a car, and a phone. My kids are even more saturated with tech, convenience, and the trappings of post-industrial civilization. The tools of civilization exist to empower us, to make survival a given and convenience affordable. These are good things, and I’m glad we have them.

But tools give us power, and power holds danger. When we have enormously powerful tools constantly at our disposal, that power starts to feel natural. The proximity and ubiquity of tech and convenience breeds a certain attitude: an assumed near-invincibility, a quasi-omniscience. Every problem is solvable, every question answerable. 

The proximity and ubiquity of tech and convenience breeds a certain attitude: an assumed near-invincibility, a quasi-omniscience.

Out of toilet paper? Amazon can bring us more. Not feeling well? There’s a doctor down the road and a health-insurance plan to pay for it. “Dad, can you help with my homework?” Ask Siri and Google.

Ancient Greeks would’ve looked at citizens of postmodernity and called us gods.

Civilization breeds hubris. This feeling of near-invincibility infects how we look at ourselves, at others, at the natural world and, ultimately, at God. Sickened with affluenza, we need one another less, we look at nature as either a problem to solve or a resource to exploit, and we think of God hardly at all. Jesus warned that it’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Simply living inside the bubble of our tech-powered civilization is a form of fabulous, God-blinding wealth.

To be clear, civilization is better than its alternative. I don’t mean to suggest that we should indulge in a luddite rejection of science, technology, and modern convenience. Without science, the pandemic would be several orders of magnitude worse, and I wouldn’t have a laptop on which to type these thoughts.

This feeling of near-invincibility infects how we look at ourselves, at others, at the natural world and, ultimately, at God.

But all good things can become idols. There’s a reason that ultimate idolatry in the Bible is portrayed as a wealthy and powerful city. Great civilizations always involve great concentrations of power and wealth. They are, like Babel, Rome, and Washington, wondrous to behold. They testify to the creativity and ingenuity of their human creators and, however dimly, to the Creator. And like Babel in Genesis and Babylon in Revelation, they too often become the focus of our idolatrous admiration, particularly when we deceive ourselves into believing we are its architects.

Gift of COVID-19

When these great city falls, do we despair among the ruins? Italians under quarantine are singing and playing instruments from their balconies to cheer one another up, to recreate human community. Quarantine helped them need one another. These simple impromptu concerts, these little neighborhood symphonies, are a snapshot of what is possible when civilization deserts us. Instead of despairing among the ruins, we sing, go for a walk, roast marshmallows with the neighbors. 

It’s the feeling of perfect security which is aberrant, disordered, and dangerous, not its opposite.

As C. S. Lewis wrote about living with the atomic bomb, “the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together.” If we’re going to die from the bomb or, in our case, be quarantined or sickened, let us pass the time “praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children . . . not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs,” or germs.

The COVID-19 pandemic can return to us a realization that was normal throughout human history but has become oddly rare: the feeling that life is tenuous; that a simple act of neighbor love is the first, and often last, duty we owe; that civilization is a fragile achievement; and—here is the key—that these feelings are, in fact, normal and good. It’s the feeling of perfect security that is aberrant, disordered, and dangerous, not its opposite. 

If you’ve felt these truths as you read the headlines in recent days—that mix of discomfort, fear, gratitude, and a little bit of exhilaration—there’s your pony. Care for it well.

Paul D. Miller is a professor in the practice of international affairs at Georgetown University and a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.