The Covid 19 Pandemic has elicited a range of questions from Christians about how and why it came to be. It has been suggested that the virus is a sign of the end times, a call to return to God or even being divine punishment.
Tom Wright- former Bishop of Durham and leading contemporary theologian- has written a short (75 pages) and challenging book at the height of the Lockdown to reflect on the virus and it’s aftermath.
He is clear about the sovereignty of God, declaring that ‘ God can do what ever God wants and if he chooses on special occasions to do, to permit certain things for certain purposes , that is entirely his business and not ours’ Therefore quick, easy explanations are not possible and we should not use what is happening to underline other messages we may already want to proclaim.
Instead, he encourages us to look beyond a single meaning in all that is happening by exploring it through the lens of the overall message of scripture about God’s plan of rescue and restoration of his people that is fulfilled in the establishment of The Kingdom of God through Jesus.
Looking back at the Old Testament, he begins with a call to Lament. He points out that a third of the psalms are psalms of lament in which God’s people cry out to God in despair and seek answers about how much longer their sufferings will last, but within these times of suffering God never deserts his people. These psalms are received by God and he shares in our sorrow and pain but promises that things will be put right. Lament is a right and proper thing to do.
In looking at the gospels, he says ’If God wants to alert us to the things that are wrong in the way we have been running the world (which seems highly likely) they will come to us Jesus shaped’
Wright sees that Jesus does not spend time asking why disaster happens but shares in the suffering, (he weeps at the tomb of Lazarus) and looks ahead to the coming of The Kingdom of God which he is inaugurating; a kingdom which is epitomised in the characteristics of those described in The Beatitudes in Matthew 5.
He goes on to point out that, in Acts 11, the response of the early church in the face of famine was for the wealthier and healthier church of Antioch to provide others in the poorer Jerusalem with practical help and assistance, Contemporary historians noted how shocking this care being expressed across communities was at the time but is the model for modern Christian compassion .
In looking at the Letters of Paul, Tom Wright highlights Romans 8:28: ‘ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.. He says that this verse is usually read as a call for stoic Christian endurance in bad times. But that is to ignore that the Greek word translated as ‘works’ is the root of our word ‘Synergy’. The verse is expressing the fact that God is working WITH those who love him for his purpose which is the saving of his people. God is working in and through us with Jesus to build his Kingdom.
Wright draws the conclusion that the church needs to be ‘a bridgehead’ into the world and not be a place in which to hide away. ‘As Jesus was to Israel, the church should be for the world’. We need to confront our doubts and Lament. We need to recognise that God shares in our sadness and grieves with us. From Him we draw both comfort and hope which enables us through our deeds and prayers to share in Jesus work of restoring God’s people. And that involves seeing signs of new possibilities, new ways of working which ‘we could recognise as forward hints of new creation’ I wonder what they will be!?
I have recently read the little book ‘Where is God in a CoronaVirus World?’ by John C Lennox (Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University) which seeks to answer the question ‘Does the presence of the virus disprove the existence of a loving God?’
Prof. Lennox points out that there are 100million viral types of which only 1% are pathogenic. Viruses are part of God’s creation!!!. The combination of high bacterial growth and viral infections are crucial to our survival and do not carry any objective moral value.
‘Harmful viruses’ encourage the development of anti bodies are part of the mystery of creation.
Their presence however, can be that they can be seen as evidence of a disordered world. The presence of the Corona Virus ‘ is very rapidly demolishing the illusion that we can build perfection on earth -and turning our initially lackasdasical ,even complacent response into real fear, frustration and anger’.
He points out that good things have come out of pain and suffering of previous plagues and epidemics over the centuries in terms of improved medical knowledge and living conditions.
But most importantly, as Christians, we know that God’s plan is to bring ultimate justice and healing into the world. The message of scripture is that the faults of the world will be overruled and that, in the resurrection of Jesus we see the power of God overcoming suffering and bringing the ultimate gift of healing- eternal life. In the mean time the peace and grace of God accompanies us.
What do you think? ‘Where is God in Coronavirus world’ is published by the Good Book Company and is available from Eden.co.uk
Praise! isn’t it what we do at church once a week on a Sunday, something that our minister Graham leads us in?? Maybe for some of us it is and that’s great. But what if there’s more to praise than that. What if it makes sense to praise God every day, in all circumstances, is that not fanatical, or is it something God desires of us. What if praise made a difference to the start of each day, before we step out of bed; walking to the station; sitting at our desk at work; or even when the kids are screaming; you’re feeling really ill, or your best friend has just passed away.
What if praise made a big difference to every situation we find ourselves in, whatever our background, whatever age we are, would we not try it?
Michael Youssef assures us it does and it has been my experience too, even and especially, during these past couple of weeks during a bout of illness. In these lines that follow I have tried to summarise a book packed with gems of how to live life as God intended.
The book begins with a man in a midweek prayer meeting, starting off his prayer with, “O Lord, I will praise You with the instrument of ten strings.” Just about everyone in the room opened at least one eye out of bewilderment . The man continued, “ I praise You with my two eyes – I will look only to You. I will praise You by exalting You with my two ears – I will listen only to Your voice. I will extol You with the work of my two hands – I will work in Your service wherever You direct. I will honour You with my two feet – I will walk in Your statutes, and I will go wherever You lead. I will magnify Your holy name with my tongue – I will testify constantly of Your loving kindness, I will worship You with my heart – I will love only You and I will receive all the unconditional love You pour out in Your mercy, grace and forgiveness. I thank you Lord for the ten stringed instrument that You built into my being. Keep me in tune and play upon me as You will. Ring out the melodies of Your grace. May the harmony of my praise song bring pleasure to You and glory to Your name.”
Our praise is an expression of what is inside of us. If we truly believe in God’s goodness and greatness, we will say great things about Him. Our belief will spill out in praise to Him and about Him.
We all face difficulties in life, sickness, trouble, suffering, pain and difficult people but if we keep thinking only of these issues we soon lose sight of God and slide into pessimism , cynicism and depression. Life loses its luster, joy and excitement. When you get your eyes off your immediate problem and put your focus on God you redirect yourself, your mind, your emotions, and your will towards what God wants to do for you.
God inhabits the praises of his people, So if you are struggling and desperate for a sense of God’s nearness, start praising God and cling to Him in praise of his love, His protection and His faithfulness to you. Praise reinforces the truth of who we are and who God is. The true purpose of your life is to bring glory to God. Nobody can praise God in the way that you can because we are all unique and our experiences of God’s presence and power in our lives will be different. We praise God as an expression of love for Him which produces a deep joy in us and links us to God – a way of networking with heaven.
Satan would much prefer to vaccinate man with a mild case of Christianity so as to protect man from the real disease. If we do a bit of praise we can feel satisfied we have done our bit for God but we miss out on the real intimate relationship we can have with God.
When you get up in the morning you choose what to wear. Same in our spiritual life, we can choose to put on a garment of praise (Isaiah) or spirit of despair. A garment is no good left folded in a drawer or hanging in your closet. You and only you can put it on. You must chose to praise God from a heart that is grateful for God’s provision and love. We can chose to put on the garment of praise and live wrapped in joy or we can refuse to put it on and lead a life of despair, discouragement and fatalism. The choice is ours. This joy that comes from putting on the garment of praise energises us. Isaiah 40 v 31’…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ If you are exhausted at the end of a day, shut yourself in with God and you will certainly be refreshed mentally, emotionally and physically. There is a special strength that is imparted to those who praise the Lord. This kind of strength gives us the power to endure and persevere during tough times.
A mother may say to her child, to get their attention, ‘Look at me’ We are a lot like children and must keep our eyes on God if we truly want to follow His commands and live the life God planned for us to live.
Praise changes our desires too. People who come to God with a personal agenda are like those who go to a house, walk right past their host, head straight for the refrigerator to get out some food, then sit down to eat! We wouldn’t be that rude to our friends and neighbours so how can we be that discourteous to almighty God.
Worship comes from the word worth-ship which means expressing to God the ‘worth’ we place upon our relationship with God. Our praise mirrors our view of God. If you do not see God as bigger than your problems then why bother to praise Him. If you see God as capable of meeting your needs but unwilling to act on your behalf you are likely to praise God with a divided mind and won’t trust Him fully. But if you see God as capable of dealing with your problems and willing to move heaven and earth on your behalf your praise will be enthusiastic and heartfelt. Praise God in every moment and circumstance of life believing he is concerned with the little things as well as the big.
Praise flows from a thankful heart. ‘He who forgets the language of gratitude can never be on speaking terms with happiness!’ The reasons so many feel miserable and misery is because they have forgotten all the things of which we can be thankful for. People scream at a football match but if they scream hallelujahs in church they are thought to be fanatics! The most important things to get excited about are the things God is doing in our midst. Thank God boldly for all He is doing in your life and in the lives of those around you.
Don’t ever doubt God. He is watching over you. Paul wrote from a prison cell, ‘I can do everything through Him who gives me strength’ and ‘My God will meet all my needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus’ Philippians 4 v 13, 19. Surely that’s worth praising God for?!
Empowered by Praise by Michael Youssef. Waterbrook press ISBN 1-57856-551-0