By Martin Morrison
“We need to talk”. When one of your family says that, you know it’s serious. You also know that you are probably in trouble or in the spotlight. Well, it’s time to talk about this pandemic! This COVID-19 that has consumed our lives for the last two months. This Coronavirus that has irretrievably changed our lives and our world.
I know that I am not a prophet or an expert of any kind. I know that right now there is a booming market for gloom! But we do need to talk. It seems abundantly clear that life will not be the same for a very long time. You are waiting for this frustrating lockdown to end, so that you can resume life as before. You long for the normality of your average Saturday with your regular run or walk or game or drink. Your average Sunday at church with the interminable sermon, the lazy braai and afternoon nap. You even miss your average Monday morning blues! Well, the average is no more. It has gone. You need to face the fact. This is not just a pause button that has got stuck and needs fixing. Some of you have heard your doctor say, I have bad news, you have cancer. You will know what this is. This is déjà vu. You know exactly what I am talking about. Everything is now different.
Plagues and sudden deaths used to be a relatively normal occurrence in the lives of people. Before the age of antibiotics and penicillin, life was much more fragile and cheap. Catching the average flu or ‘fever’ as they called it, was genuinely life-threatening in those days. However, modern medicine has protected us from many of these ravages, for which we thank God. He heals through miracles and medicine, but not always. The last massive plague to strike our world exactly 100 years ago was called the Spanish flu, in which over 50 million died. It spread throughout the world, and over 300,000 died in South Africa, which was 6% of our population. 50% of the South African population contracted Spanish Flu. Well, the plague is back. And, as in 1918, there seems to be no vaccine in sight. It must run its course.
What does that mean for you? Well firstly, you need to talk to yourself and tell yourself the truth. It’s not going to go away. Of course, the lockdown will eventually go away. A vaccine may be discovered. But, for us living in South Africa, the socio-economic effects and consequences won’t. It’s for real. It’s not a dream. Face up to it. The past season of life has passed. The next season has started, with or without your consent. The new season may well be better, but it won’t be the same. It will be different.
There’s nothing wrong with crying your tears. The birth of Jesus was accompanied by a massacre of children and tears. Jesus himself wept at the graveside of his friend Lazarus. Jesus’ death was accompanied by cries and tears. This world is not a stranger to tears. On the contrary, the curse has wrought havoc since Adam, and has not yet been lifted. It will be lifted, but not yet. COVID-19 is just another plague added to a long list of plagues that has ravaged this broken world. And it may very well not be the last one.
Secondly, you need to make a very sober and critical decision. How will I respond to this new environment? I may lose a friend, a loved one or even my own life. I may lose my job. I may lose my financial security. I may lose my home. I may need to relocate to another province. I may need to move back with my parents. I may need to move in with my children and grandchildren. I may lose my car. I may lose my independence. You do not know what awaits you in the days and months ahead. The important decision is this. How will I respond? This may sound like amateur psychology, but it’s not. It’s wisdom.
A very conscious choice needs to be made. Either I will be no different from the millions of others who are victims, or I will respond as a Christian. A victim is someone who is always blaming others, always blaming the circumstances, always blaming the authorities, always negative, always complaining that the world is not devoted to making them happy! Rarely will you recognise victimhood in yourself, but you do recognise it in others. They can be very tiresome. You almost wonder if they find some perverse pleasure in rehearsing their woes. Concerning yourself, you will need to ask others whether you sound like a victim. Pray and ask them to tell you the truth.
A Christian however, not only believes in God but believes that God has spoken through the Bible. A Christian has no doubt that a supernatural God has spoken through a supernatural book with a supernatural message. And what the Bible says is true. True truth. God speaks through Paul and says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Please take note. Not some things. Not most things. No, all things. That’s a shock when you consider the pandemic!
A Christian believes what Hebrews teaches us about this world. Hebrews tells us that this world is not our home. This is not our country. We are foreigners living in a foreign country. We are exiles in exile. We are living in tents, awaiting a home in a city whose foundation is designed and built by God (Hebrews 11: 8 – 16). So why are we surprised that we feel like exiles? Why are we surprised that we want to go home? Why are we surprised that a gust of wind is catching the guy ropes and canvas of the tent? Is God not blowing the wind, so that we may loosen our affections to this temporary world and not become too attached to this foreign land?
John Piper, having been diagnosed with cancer, wrote a book called, Don’t Waste your Cancer. For an unbeliever this is an utterly bizarre statement. Yet not for a believer. Later he wrote an article entitled Ten Ways not to Waste Your Cancer. Let me quote, “You will waste your cancer if you do not believe God designed it for you. It will not do to say that God only uses our cancer, but does not design it. What God permits he permits for a reason. And that reason is his design. If God foresees molecular developments becoming cancer, he can stop it or not. If he does not, he has a purpose. Since he is infinitely wise, it is right to call this purpose a design. If you don’t believe God designed your cancer for you, you will waste it”. The principle is the same. Don’t waste the pandemic. One of Piper’s other reasons not to waste your cancer is, You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift. But you will have to read that for yourself!
Again John Piper writes, “The aim of God in our cancer is to knock the props out from under our hearts so that we rely utterly on him. Cancer does not win if you die. It wins if you fail to cherish Christ”.
So what does all of that mean? It means that you need to take yourself by the scruff of your neck and talk to yourself. Preferably do it when no-one else is around! “John, Jane, Nomsa, God has placed me in SA at this time, in this place, for a purpose. I am not here by accident. The pandemic is not here by accident. God has knocked all the props out from under my heart so that I might rely utterly on him. Surely, learning to depend utterly on God is a very good thing for me. About time I’d say!”
Now that God has my full attention and I am depending utterly on him, I need to be very clear that God has a distinct purpose for me at this time, in this place, in this pandemic. The purpose is not a secret or a mystery. No, God has already made it clear that whatever the situation I find myself in, I am to be God’s agent for him and his kingdom. It’s not about me at all! I am called to be real light and real salt, like I have never thought of before. Like Esther, I need to realize that God has called me to be his instrument of Gospel ministry “….for such a time as this” (Esther 4: 14). What an enormous privilege, to be living in South Africa in 2020 in this pandemic! What an enormous privilege to be specially appointed by God to be a source of hope and life as a Christian and not another victim! What an enormous privilege to be another “Esther” and to be God’s ambassador in this foreign land!
Oh yes, and remember that when I seek his righteousness, ironically I will have his joy. And others will see it, and wonder why?
O Lord. Help me to forget myself. Help me to get over myself. Teach me the gift of self-forgetfulness. Help me to remember every day, that I am here to serve God and to serve others. Help me to understand that I am here in SA in 2020 for such a time as this. Help me to show the world what it means to be a Christian and not a victim. Help me to show the world what it actually means to belong to the God of the Bible who is Lord and Saviour and Sovereign, and that he is in total control. Amen.
For further reading: John Piper. Coronavirus and Christ; Don’t Waste your Life; Don’t Waste your Cancer. All available on Amazon Kindle.