Coronavirus 2020: some thoughts

Retired FIEC pastor Ian McNaughton offers some thoughts on the present crisis:

The pandemic is here. The immunologists have been expecting one for years and now we are all feeling its effects personally, socially, economically, nationally and spiritually. Health and economics are the topics of the hour; jobs are being lost and families bereaved; the country is reeling with fear.

However, there is another more serious issue: now that churches have had to close their doors the nation has lost its access to the Word of God on the high street. No longer can troubled souls walk into their nearest place of worship in the hope of hearing something that will speak to their anxieties. It is true that thousands of churches moved their services online this past Sunday and, in one sense, it could be said that the Word of God was never more accessible to the population: anyone with internet access could have logged in and heard the gospel. Some may have done so having never previously had the courage to cross the threshold of their local church, and we must pray that the Lord will direct many seeking people to do so in future weeks.

But the fact remains that the doors of physical meeting places have now all shut (rightly so, in line with government and health authorities’ guidelines). At a time when people most need to hear the gospel, many will find it harder to do so. It might be described as a “famine of the Word of God”.

Something similar occurred in Old Testament Israel in the 8th century BC. The prophet Amos declared:

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
    “when I will send a famine through the land –
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
    but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11)

At that time God was judging his people for their oppression of the poor and rejection of God’s law. And thus the very thing that they had despised – the gracious words of a heavenly Father to his children – would no longer be available to them.

Are we seeing a similar providential judgment upon us as a nation today?

However, all hope is not lost; Amos 9 includes a prophecy (vv11-12) that God would one day restore glory and strength to his people as part of an international ingathering. And in Acts 15 the apostle James sees this promise being fulfilled in the rapidly expanding gospel mission that included not just the remnant of faithful Jews but Gentiles as well (vv12-18). The growth of the Christian church has continued ever since.

This virus and pandemic is not fate, but God’s providential hand – and the timing is his alone.

“There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
        a time to be born and a time to die…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a)

How should we respond?

Firstly, we should make the most of the time and opportunities given to us. We must redeem whatever days we may have because “the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). Remember, Christ is drawing the world and its powers to his judgment seat at his Second Coming (1 Thess. 5:1-5). Then there will be no more time to evangelise or preach for the days of mercy will be over. Because we belong to Christ, our time is not our own. Do we know people who need to hear the gospel? Are there those we could be helping? Take back time lost by exercising faith and love to do good works (Titus 3:8). We all live on borrowed time and in a fallen universe; everything is to be done for the glory of God and in the light of eternity. Use your self-isolation to read God’s Word and good Christian books and websites.

Secondly, we all must pray well. With the peak of the pandemic still some weeks away people have not yet faced up to spiritual issues, but they will soon enough. Some will harden their hearts and, like Pharaoh in the Old Testament, curse God (Exodus 5:2). But some will be softened by grace and seek to be free from the fear of death and the judgment to come (Hebrews 2:14-15). I believe that God will soften hearts through this global event. A major spiritual awakening is now a present-day possibility because a foundation of the fear of God and death is being laid again by his providence. Churches should not only to pray for revival but prepare to engage in extra evangelism and more prayer once the pandemic eases. We should seek God’s mercy and preach the cross of Jesus Christ to the lost:

“How beautiful are the feet of
Those who preach the gospel of peace,
Who bring glad tidings of good things.” (Romans 10:15b)

Thirdly, it is a time for all of God’s people to personally trust him as well as pray. We are to trust our Father in heaven not just some times, or most times, but now is the time to resolve to do so, at all times:

“Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 63:8).

 

Ian S McNaughton is a retired FIEC pastor


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