Times of trial always reveal what we truly believe about ourselves, the world and our God, so what will the fires show about who and what we trust?
Sam Keyes, bio-engineering academic and public speaker about the integration of science and faith, noted a particularly notable instance of the church leading the response to a health crisis.
In 1665, bubonic plague was sweeping across Europe with a particularly savage outbreak taking place in the southern region of England. The northern end of England had managed to escape the worst of the disease until the tiny town of Eyam received a deadly delivery. The local tailor had ordered a bale of cloth from London and opened it to discover fleas everywhere.
The town’s pastor, Reverend William Mompesson, immediately knew that their town could be responsible for spreading this virulent plague to the entire countryside and the north of England if they didn’t take decisive action.
He called the people of the town together and urgently exhorted them to consider the good of their fellow men and quarantine themselves. In the 14 months that followed, it’s estimated that less than a quarter of the villagers survived the plague’s ravages, but no one left the village. No one let the disease spread any farther.
“By their sacrifice,” Keyes notes, “they prevented catastrophic loss of life.”
As I read the details of this historical event, I couldn’t help but wonder if the modern church would be able to take this kind of quietly heroic action. Of today’s believers, who would have the inner fortitude to make a similar choice at such high, personal cost?
The Revelation of a Faulty Foundation
Shortly after the first COVID-19 quarantine measures began to roll out, hoarders took to the stores and outrage swept the internet as people began to identify scalpers who were profiteering off of the shortages.
Frankly, there’s no good reason for people steeped in the spirit of the modern age to self-sacrifice. Self-preservation, even at the expense of others, is just our animal instinct. “It’s a natural response to a stressful experience,” said one psychology academic at San Diego State University, explaining that loss of control results in these ‘natural’ behaviors.
Unfortunately, this relativistic morality has also crept into many believers’ practical lives. There’s all the big, bad ‘Sins’ like the Ten Commandments that we could avoid in our sleep (right?) and then all the ‘Sin Lite’ that everyone does and can’t help (you do them too; don’t judge) and finally all those other little things that we admit aren’t good or biblical but aren’t big enough to really count as a problem (probably…let’s not think about it too hard).
Relative sins, relative commands and relative righteousness all implode when a very non-relative disaster plops down in the seat next to us.
If we can justify sins as “not so bad” on an ordinary day, what could possibly stop us from rationalizing hysteria, self-preservation and acts of outright cruelty when the pressure is on and all of society is crashing down around our ears?
Anemic Christianity cannot and will not stand the test of tragedy and disaster.
In these moments, we must have unmovable truths, unshakable promises, moral integrity and clear-cut ethics or else we will find ourselves panicking and running blind along with the rest of the crowd.
Investigating Our Own Fears
“Fear is a revelation,” explained Pastor Tim Dilena, a World Challenge board member. “It reveals to me that I'm focusing in on the wrong thing. I'm seeing waves, not the man who’s in my boat: Jesus.
“If I have a fear issue — fear of flying, fear of a virus, fear of death, fear that I'm going to be single, fear of failure, whatever it may be — then, according to Jesus, I have a faith issue. This is what Jesus is saying. ‘Why are you fearful, you of little faith?’ He's connecting those two.
“In Isaiah chapter 40, he teaches us how to deal with this fear issue. Remember, if it's a fear issue, it's a faith issue; and if it's a faith issue, it is a God issue that we're not seeing God for who he is…. This is Isaiah 40:9. He says, ‘Lift up your voice with a shout. Lift it up. And don't be afraid or fear not, Oh Israel and say to Judah, “Here is your God.”’ Did you see what just happened? And what Isaiah does, friend, in the next 20 to 25 verses is he begins to unpack the greatness of God.
“He says, ‘Are you afraid? Here's your God. Are you in trouble? Here's your God. You don't know what tomorrow holds? Here is your God.’”
The moment we create a sliding scale of morality, we undermine our own understanding of God’s pure holiness. A god who has no set standards isn’t reliable, so suddenly it’s up to us to care for ourselves. Our little god can’t handle this pressure; he wasn’t prepared.
However, if God is much bigger than us and will not do anything that compromises his own integrity as good and life-giving, this is the Lord we may count on for rescue.
Once we have painstakingly made sure that our foundational knowledge of God — his nature, his goodness, his promises — are solid, then we can have the security to think about others and the peace that will allow us to care for others when everyone else is panicking.
Four Truths That Produce Compassion
Sam Keyes insightfully wrote about the moral grit and supernatural generosity that resting in God’s presence gives us. “Ironically, it’s now fashionable to criticize the Christian gospel….Yet it contains four essential truths for meeting a crisis with outward-looking compassion:
We can have perspective on trials, since we know our sovereign God is working for eternal good.
We can treat neighbors with equal value and dignity to ourselves, remembering we’re all created in God’s image.
We can forgive and bless others, even our enemies, as recipients of undeserved forgiveness ourselves.
We can trust sickness and death do not have the final say, because Jesus defeated death.
“These interlocking realities provide a rock-solid foundation for responding collectively to times of crisis, a foundation absent from the spirit of our secular age.”
The truths of God and what he has done for us will give us a different perspective on the world, one that stands apart from the fears of those who have no one else to trust but their own faulty and frail selves.