Where’s Jesus in COVID-19?

The current global crisis has disoriented our lives, but God is with us, leading the way through.

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Editor's Note: As we face this global pandemic together, the In Touch editorial team will publish a new essay each Friday to help you remember what’s certain in uncertain times.

 

It started with toilet paper disappearing off shelves, and now, months after the COVID-19 pandemic first hit American shores, it seems as though we’re living in some apocalyptic movie. Makeshift hospitals are set up in abandoned parking garages, and Samaritan’s Purse has set one up in Central Park. I email my friends in New York City, asking how they are, if they can breathe the air. There is nothing on our calendars except a few anchoring practices: daily walks, prayer with our church family, a Zoom call with college friends.

We feel our mortality. Anxiety comes creeping in or overwhelms us like a wave. In the West, we feel stripped bare, barren, and disoriented in the heat of this new reality. Our current cultural moment with the COVID-19 pandemic is a wilderness moment for the world.

 

Wilderness moments, while they can look and feel like death, can also be where God meets us. In this particular disorienting season, we may feel abandoned, alone, and forgotten by God. The pandemic feels too big. Even as we go through our own losses, anxiety, or pain, we lament the situations of people experiencing poverty or displacement—people who don’t seem ever to arrive in a “promised land” of their own. What are we Christians to do with so much suffering, injustice, sin, and death?

The wilderness place in the biblical story is never simply a place of abandonment. When Hagar ran from the abuse of her mistress Sarai, it’s in the wilderness that she met the Lord, whom she called “the God who sees me” (Genesis 16:13 NIV). When the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt, it was the wilderness wanderings that tested them and reoriented them toward God. There, they were provided for, even as their resources were limited (Exodus 15-16). In seasons such as the one we’re now in, we find ourselves stripped of many comforts, any false sense of control, and other delusions we have about being autonomous from God. It’s here that we’re offered the chance to get to know a God who uses His power on behalf of His people—a God who hems us in, with cloud and fire.

 

Gospel Power

While we use words like omnipotent to talk about God, we see evidence of the world’s fallenness all around us: Less COVID-19 testing and medical care is available in poorer countries and counties; people who are homeless and incarcerated have little or no recourse to care for themselves; and even those of us with stable employment struggle with anxiety about provisions running out or potential loss of work. What is our world coming to?

Wilderness moments, while they can look and feel like death, can also be where God meets us.

The wilderness reveals to us how gospel power always moves us from orientation, to disorientation, to reorientation. We want to skip the disorienting desert now, so perhaps we distract ourselves with entertainment, or certain foods, because we don’t know how to move through loss, lament, and grief. But disorientation is not the end. In His own wilderness temptation, Jesus was brought up on a high mountain and told to worship Satan—to see power as something to achieve without loss. Like His temptation, ours is always to bypass suffering, to get the good life without pain.

I feel compelled to ask myself some questions:

Can I grow without pain?
Do I believe God uses loss to make me more like His Son?
Is it possible this pandemic might reorient my trust in the power of a good and loving God?

The way I answer these and similar questions has everything to do with how this troubled season will shape me—now and in the months and years to come, with whatever they’ll bring.

 

Invitation Into the Wilderness

Recalling the ancient Israelites, we might wonder if God has brought us out into the wilderness to abandon and kill us (Numbers 20:4). Yet this story shows us God intended the desert as a place to save. In her book A Beautiful Disaster, author Marlena Graves writes, “He brought us out to save us, to show us his power, to offer his comfort, and to put to death whatever is in us that is not of him. ” Being finite, we do not understand how the providence and goodness of God interact with the evil of this virus. But we know that in God's economy nothing is wasted. As with all of the trials we walk through, He makes use of these experiences to sanctify and lead us closer to Himself. The desert will either draw us deeper into the story of a good God or cause us to turn our backs in favor of our own kingdoms of control.

Our temptation is always to bypass suffering, to get the good life without pain.

In times like these, when we’ve been whittled away by this desert, we see that our sense of stability and control was puffed up. We have an invitation: Will we, in the words of Andy Crouch, “expose ourselves to meaningful loss—to become vulnerable, woundable in the world?” Perhaps God can use only woundable things.

Abundant life in Christ is fashioned in barren places. The wilderness—whether literal or figurative—involves a stripping down to only what is essential. It was in this space that Jesus met the temptation of Satan and, in doing so, triumphed over the failed attempts of His people in their own desert temptations. This means that even as we are reoriented towards God, even as we fight the very process (choosing again to numb, escape, or try to control instead), Jesus is more than just an example for us: He triumphed over temptation to glory. He endured the cross. He was raised again to new life—all on our behalf.

This means that when we wake up in a sweat-soaked bed of anxiety, when we resort to numbing ourselves in countless ways, when we feel depressed and powerless at the current global struggle unfolding day by day, we can choose to rest in Christ. Even in this global health pandemic, Jesus—whom we also call Immanuel, meaning “God with us”—lives up to His name.

 

Art by Jonathan Todryk

Related Topics:  Sickness

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13 Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You are a God who sees"; for she said, Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?"

4 Why then have you brought the LORD'S assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here?

1 Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and said, I will sing to the LORD, for He is highly exalted; The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea.

2 The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; This is my God, and I will praise Him; My father's God, and I will extol Him.

3 The LORD is a warrior; The LORD is His name.

4 Pharaoh's chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; And the choicest of his officers are drowned in the Red Sea.

5 The deeps cover them; They went down into the depths like a stone.

6 Your right hand, O LORD, is majestic in power, Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.

7 And in the greatness of Your excellence You overthrow those who rise up against You; You send forth Your burning anger, and it consumes them as chaff.

8 At the blast of Your nostrils the waters were piled up, The flowing waters stood up like a heap; The deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea.

9 The enemy said, `I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My desire shall be gratified against them; I will draw out my sword, my hand will destroy them.'

10 You blew with Your wind, the sea covered them; They sank like lead in the mighty waters.

11 Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?

12 You stretched out Your right hand, The earth swallowed them.

13 In Your lovingkindness You have led the people whom You have redeemed; In Your strength You have guided them to Your holy habitation.

14 The peoples have heard, they tremble; Anguish has gripped the inhabitants of Philistia.

15 Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed; The leaders of Moab, trembling grips them; All the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.

16 Terror and dread fall upon them; By the greatness of Your arm they are motionless as stone; Until Your people pass over, O LORD, Until the people pass over whom You have purchased.

17 You will bring them and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, The place, O LORD, which You have made for Your dwelling, The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established.

18 The LORD shall reign forever and ever."

19 For the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, and the LORD brought back the waters of the sea on them, but the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea.

20 Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing.

21 Miriam answered them, Sing to the LORD, for He is highly exalted; The horse and his rider He has hurled into the sea."

22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water.

23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah.

24 So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, What shall we drink?"

25 Then he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them.

26 And He said, If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer."

27 Then they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the waters.

1 Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt.

2 The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.

3 The sons of Israel said to them, Would that we had died by the LORD'S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."

4 Then the LORD said to Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction.

5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily."

6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the sons of Israel, At evening you will know that the LORD has brought you out of the land of Egypt;

7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, for He hears your grumblings against the LORD; and what are we, that you grumble against us?"

8 Moses said, This will happen when the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening, and bread to the full in the morning; for the LORD hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. And what are we? Your grumblings are not against us but against the LORD."

9 Then Moses said to Aaron, Say to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, `Come near before the LORD, for He has heard your grumblings.'"

10 It came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

11 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

12 I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, `At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'"

13 So it came about at evening that the quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.

14 When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground.

15 When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, What is it?" For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, It is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.

16 This is what the LORD has commanded, `Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent.'"

17 The sons of Israel did so, and some gathered much and some little.

18 When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat.

19 Moses said to them, Let no man leave any of it until morning."

20 But they did not listen to Moses, and some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them.

21 They gathered it morning by morning, every man as much as he should eat; but when the sun grew hot, it would melt.

22 Now on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses,

23 then he said to them, This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning."

24 So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered, and it did not become foul nor was there any worm in it.

25 Moses said, Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field.

26 Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none."

27 It came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none.

28 Then the LORD said to Moses, How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions?

29 See, the LORD has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day."

30 So the people rested on the seventh day.

31 The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey.

32 Then Moses said, This is what the LORD has commanded, `Let an omerful of it be kept throughout your generations, that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.'"

33 Moses said to Aaron, Take a jar and put an omerful of manna in it, and place it before the LORD to be kept throughout your generations."

34 As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the Testimony, to be kept.

35 The sons of Israel ate the manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate the manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.

36 (Now an omer is a tenth of an ephah.)

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