Job observed that “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Jabez prayed that he would be free from pain (1 Chronicles 4:10) but the story of our first parents, Adam and Eve, was that pain entered into the world through their rebellion and now shapes our very existence.
Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on many parts of the world, none more so than India. Its effects on the Indian Church have been horrendous. As I write this over 350 Christian leaders are known to have died, and probably the real figure is far, far higher.
No one has been spared – bishops, pastors, evangelists and other church leaders have succumbed, as well as their flocks. Many ministries that have lost their leaders are on the verge of collapse.
In the nightmare of Covid-19, disease is followed by economic devastation and destitution. Analysts have coined the acronym VUCA to describe our present situation, which is characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
Living with VUCA creates anxiety and destroys hope. But we cannot give way to despair. The Church cannot be in retreat. We cannot flee the battlefield.
Every crisis presents an opportunity that we must seize. For God is in control and His purposes for His people and for this world will be fulfilled. A Christian VUCA is therefore necessary.
In a time of suffering, war and pestilence, Habakkuk is told to “write the vision” (Habakkuk 2:2 AV). We cannot live without vision, for vision takes us into another realm: the realm of the Divine. It gives us the purpose of our existence: to fulfil the Divine will. It shows us what God wants and our place in it.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18 AV). We need to look beyond the physical and temporal to the supernatural and eternal.
We need to understand the times. Habakkuk kept questioning the Lord, but long ago the men of Issachar had understanding of the times (1 Chronicles 12:32). Never has this gift been more urgently needed.
Yes, we need science to give to us rational explanations of what is happening but also we desperately need prophets, the men and women of God who will make plain the vision, set it in our context, enabling us to understand what is happening and our part in it.
We need courage not to retreat, not to sink under heavy burdens, not to see only opposition and obstacles in our path. Habakkuk was surrounded by catastrophe but feared only the Lord (Habakkuk 3:2)
We need courage to go forward when all seems hopeless, to go forward with compassion and a heart of love to bring comfort to the afflicted. Paul wrote of the constraining love of Christ which compels us on (2 Corinthians 5:14AV).
All this must lead to action. Habakkuk continued undaunted with his God-given task (Habakkuk 2:1).
Action requires resolve. It means taking the initiative, breaking out of our apathy, deciding what is to be done and doing it. It means seeking God’s will and guidance and then acting according to His calling.
God calls us to a life of faith. We live the life He has called us to and we keep trusting Him. “The righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4 ESV).
Such faith enables us to rejoice in the Lord, even though “the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the sheepfold and no cattle in the stalls” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). We know that ultimately the Lord will be victorious and “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”.
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 Ansgar Scheffold on Unsplash
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