Editor’s Note: The COVID-19 pandemic is currently preventing those who would normally attend church from doing so. The Herald has asked local spiritual leaders to submit written sermons for this new weekly column. Leaders who are interested in submitting sermons should do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
What good can come from this time of the novel coronavirus and social distancing; and this time of serious illness and even death that the coronavirus can bring?
A great professor of theology once said to us fledgling seminary students: God is not the author of evil. So, asking “Why has this evil happened to me?” is an unanswerable question. It is better to ask: “Given this evil circumstance, what good can God bring from it?” Related questions might be: What can we learn from this? How ought we to respond to this pandemic?
One good that has arisen from this time, from my point of view, is a growing awareness of “the common good.” We wear masks, we stay at home, we socially/physically distance ourselves, not only for our own good, but also for the good of others, for the good of the whole community, nation, and even the world. Stopping the spread of this virus is a community endeavor. We are truly in this together!
This small restriction of our individual needs and desires for the sake of the common good reflects, I think, our obedience to the Great Commandment to love God and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Faith communities who heed the current restrictions and guidelines that keep all of us safer are, at the same time, heeding God’s command that we love our neighbor.
Another good that has arisen out of this time of the novel coronavirus is modeled in those people who serve as a “non-anxious” presence among us during this anxiety producing time. Those among us who can resist the temptation of “panic-buying” and of “hoarding” set a good example, for panic-buying and hoarding only hurts our neighbors who also have needs similar to our own. In the place of our anxieties, we can learn more about trusting God to be with us and for us even when the circumstances of our daily lives become difficult, even dangerous. Jesus has taught us: “…strive first for the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”, (Mt. 6:33). We all know from bitter experience that sometimes “bad things do happen to good people”. Nevertheless, if we trust God, things in general have a way of working out for our good. As persons of faith our goal should be “to trust God, and to let go” of our harmful anxieties.
A transforming good that is modeled by persons of faith is their ability to maintain “hope” even as others are losing hope. Some would criticize the hopeful person as dreaming of “pie in the sky” or of “wishful thinking” or even of deluding themselves rather than confronting the hard realities of life in this often tragic world. In response, I point to a statement written by a remarkable commission of Christian thinkers for the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1954. “Our hope is not the projection of our desires upon an unknown future, but the product in us of God’s acts in history and above all, of his act in raising Jesus Christ from the dead.” Though our responsible thinking and doing during this pandemic is important, even critical, our final hope is not in ourselves, nor in our human efforts. Our final hope is in God and God’s will and authority to do for us that which we can not do for ourselves. Our final hope is in God’s gracious will and power to save us.
Pandemics, wars, prejudices and hatreds of every form, and countless other evils abound and will continue to abound in this world. Nevertheless, none of them will ever speak the final word in the existence of those who find their great hope through their faith in the Good News of God in Jesus Christ and his Resurrection from the dead into the life eternal. By the grace of God may we become a people who strive for the “common good”; who serve as a “non-anxious presence” during a time of anxiety; and who find their “final hope” in God. May God bless you and keep you.
~ The Rev. Dr. David Dickerson, Fincastle Presbyterian Church