As I write, a disaster has just occurred in the state of Michigan USA, in which intensive rain caused catastrophic dam failures and wide-scale flooding. A youth pastor from a Michigan church was interviewed on television expressing his bewilderment – first he had been ordered to stay at home because of the coronavirus, now he had been ordered to leave his home because of the floods. On his face were written stress and anxiety, as the pastor opened his heart and spoke of how the disaster was challenging his faith and causing him to wonder what God’s purposes in it were.
This youth pastor can be replicated many times over in our world, which seems to be ravaged by natural disasters on an unprecedented scale – drought and floods, typhoons and cyclones, locusts and coronavirus. These have caused untold hardship and suffering, and countless deaths, leaving peoples across the world in a chronic state of anxiety. The UK’s Office for National Statistics reports that three-quarters of British people are in a state of anxiety and worry, and no doubt it is similar in many other countries.
People are anxious about the future. They are uncertain what to do now to avoid catching or passing on Covid-19. Fears about the virus quickly changed many everyday behaviours. It only takes three to six weeks for a new way of behaving to become a habit. After that, it becomes difficult to go back to the previous way of doing things. Anxiety can also make us overreact even to small risks. Having been told that families must lockdown together in their own homes to save lives, they are now told they must go out to work and send their children to school, causing stress and confusion. Economic predictions are extremely grim. Uncertainty breeds fear, and fear breeds anxiety and worry.
How are we as Christians to respond? Like the Michigan youth pastor, some may ask honest and searching questions of our faith. But our situation should not lead us to waver in our theological understanding or falter in our spiritual commitment. Surely, it should it lead us to reaffirm our trust in our wise and loving God, who knows the end from the beginning? Surely it should lead us to depend on His divine providence, in the assurance that our heavenly Father knows best?
Let us remind ourselves of the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ about the fragility of the flowers and the transience of the grass of the field “which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire” (Matthew 6:30). We are here today but will we be here tomorrow? For older people or those with certain illnesses, Covid-19 brings the real possibility of unexpected death. We have only today. None of us can be sure of tomorrow. But this is not something to bemoan. Rather, it is a wonderful opportunity for us to learn to trust in God above all else, to place our lives into His hands and acknowledge that our Father knows best. Christians in parts of the world where life is often cut short by sickness, accident, violence or simple hardship often have a stronger, simpler faith, tested as it is in their daily lives on a regular basis.
The Michigan youth pastor also wondered what God is saying to the world in these times of coronavirus. That is a difficult question to answer; perhaps we can only say that the Lord holds the world in His hands, He directs the course of the nations and ultimately His divine purpose will be fulfilled.
So in this time of crisis, Christians should grow in their faith and trust as they depend on God. Rather than letting worry rule our lives, we should acknowledge that God is in control and turn to him in humble prayer and repentance. Three thousand years ago, the Lord told King Solomon very specifically what God’s people should do in time of sent extreme weather, locusts and disease:
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo is the International Director of Barnabas Fund and the Executive Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life.
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash
For Other Articles by Dr Patrick Sookhdeo – Our Eternal Hope