Friday 24 April 2020

On Not Being the First to Walk This Path

The below is an excerpt from an email written for the congregation where I am one of the pastors.

Media pundits have kept on using long words like ‘unprecedented’ and ‘unparalleled’ to describe what’s going on at the moment.

That’s true, of course, but only in part. We know from history that humanity has experienced many lethal plagues over the centuries, some killing vast numbers of people. We are not the first ones to walk this path.

In the first four centuries, several major plagues swept through the Roman Empire. In each case, the response of Christians demonstrated the transforming power of Christ in their lives. Pagan priests and philosophers had no satisfying explanations or comfort to offer, but Christians had a perspective which enabled them to face the terrible suffering without fear of death. They saw such epidemics as moments of ‘schooling’ and ‘testing’, when they were to put their trust in God – who might spare them, or who might take them to himself. Christians also knew a God of love and mercy who had called them to be merciful to others. In one case, in Rome, whilst many fled, Christians remained behind – looking after each other and their neighbours, caring for the sick and dying – bringing many people to Christ in the process.

Then, when the Black Death raised its head again in 1527 in Germany, many people fled for their lives in panic. Yet, Martin Luther and his wife Katharina stayed and turned their home into a makeshift hospital, taking in the sick, caring for them, and risking their own lives in the process. Luther’s response was a wonderful mixture of prayerful dependence on God and basic common sense, all flowing out of a solid faith in the Lord and his goodness.

A cholera outbreak in 1854 struck fear into the hearts of Londoners. Only 20 years old at the time and already a pastor, Charles Spurgeon would look back to this plague as a time of learning for himself and for the city – a time when people became more aware of life’s shifting sands. Spurgeon saw the plagues of his day as storms that led many to seek refuge in Christ.

All these examples – and there are many more – remind us that in the midst of the difficulties of this imperfect world, we can be confident that God sets limits to evil and brings good even out of horrible situations. In addition, moments like these have allowed Christians to demonstrate counter-cultural love to others, winning respect, often resulting in people coming to Christ.

As we continue to face the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus for ourselves and our loved ones, friends, and colleagues, we may do so with a boldness based upon God and his promises, trusting in Jesus, who triumphed over death and the grave.

May those of us who have this confidence and hope for ourselves encourage each other, and – as we get opportunity to do so – share it with others.

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