One week ago today, George Floyd was killed while under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. At the very least, Floyd’s death was unjust (he was being arrested for a counterfeit bill). At the worst, it was an act of racial violence. Since his death last Monday, protests (peaceful) and riots (violent) erupted across our country.

Let’s acknowledge a few things before moving forward. Most police officers are not racist. Most officers put their lives on the line serving all the people in their communities. Most protestors are not vandals. Most of the recent protests are peaceful and not violent. Where racial violence and destructive behaviors occur they should be met with the force of law. Anarchy does not offer solutions.

Our country was already at an emotional and psychological boiling point with the disruption caused by Covid-19. In recent years, racial tensions have continued to grow as a result of unjust acts and/or highly publicized violent responses by white police officers against black suspects. Or as in the case that happened earlier this year in Georgia, white citizens taking the life of a black man.

It is not my aim in this article to jump to conclusions or offer sweeping judgments. I don’t have the details. I’m also a white man in a predominantly white rural town. My local context is very different than many places in our country right now. But as I watch the protests and the violence and the claims of injustice facing our land, it is right to claim the gospel and gospel-centered living as the solution our world needs.

In the last several months, Christians have been balancing the tension of being Christians and citizens. Do we push back against government bans of worship services that we may think limit our First Amendment rights? Do we act as citizens seeking the welfare of our fellow man by abiding by these statutes? This tension is not easy.

A cursory look at Bible sheds light on how those who follow God can keep their convictions and work toward the betterment of society. Joseph worked for the benefit of Egypt. Daniel served for the welfare of Babylon. Paul commanded submission to the Roman government.

The implication in Scripture is that followers of Jesus are to work for a better city and society by adopting a biblical worldview, loving each other and our neighbors, and working for justice and righteousness even in the midst of a pagan culture.

The Minor Prophets in the Old Testament decried injustice and idolatry. As followers of Jesus, we must do the same. The gospel of Jesus Christ offers us a paradigm for responding to racism, injustice, and the broken world around us.

The gospel is universal. It is good news for all people, everywhere. Racism has no place in the body of Christ, and we must work against all its tenets in our world. God created mankind in his image: the imago Dei found in Genesis 1:28. The Kingdom of Christ is universal. The church described in Revelation 5 contains people from every tribe, language, people, and nation. The doctrine of the imago Dei and the extent of the gospel teach us that we must uphold the inherent dignity of every person and view them as individuals Jesus died to redeem.

The gospel is the very picture of injustice and justice. Jesus suffered greater injustice than any other person who has ever lived. He was perfect, yet faced criminal charges. He was innocent, yet sentenced to death. Jesus identifies with the marginalized and those who experience injustice. But also on the cross Jesus faced justice: God’s justice against our sin. Because God sent Jesus to the cross to pay the penalty for our sin, we can experience the grace and mercy of a loving God. Christ’s salvation delivered on the cross demands that we as Christians seek justice, righteousness, peace, mercy, and grace for those around us.

The gospel is the only solution to a broken world. Hate. Racism. Violence. Murder. Looting. Vandalism. Abortion. Injustice. War. Dishonesty. These are just a few of the realities in our broken world. As followers of Christ, we do not have to be content with the status quo. Because we have experienced the gospel that changed us, we can embrace a gospel-centered lifestyle. We can and must work toward a better world. But to whatever extent the gospel succeeds in our lives, our homes, and our cities, our world will still remain broken. Only the return of Christ to set up his permanent kingdom will fix the broken world that we see around us.

We need the Deliverer to rescue us from all our sins. As I was listening to this old song written by Rich Mullins, sung by Rick Elias, I was reminded that Jesus alone is our Answer, our Hope, and the only One who can fix what we’ve broken.

To quote John in Revelation 22:20, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Father, you are Lord and Creator. You are holy and sovereign. We pray to you because you alone hear. You alone can intervene in our circumstances. You alone are able to bring about salvation, peace, and healing.

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:14

As your people, we humble ourselves, pray, seek your face, and repent. When we look around our nation and world, we are heartbroken at the fallen condition of mankind. We see wickedness, despair, immorality, violence, and hate. We long for awakening. We long for sinners to come to know you. But we realize that revival must begin with us. Reveal to us our sins that we may confess them. Grant us repentance that we may turn to you.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!

Psalm 51:1-2

Have mercy on us your people. When we look in our sinful hearts, we find idols: things to which we give attention and adoration besides you (1 John 5:21). Use these days to reveal our idols that we may turn from them and to you with our whole hearts. We deserve judgment for our sin, but we plead your mercy.


You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you.

Isaiah 26:3

Father, we are weak. As your people, we should walk by faith, not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). But we find ourselves nervous, anxious, afraid. Forgive us for being overwhelmed by our circumstances and controlled by our fears. Teach us to keep our minds on you, to trust in you, and experience your peace.

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Teach us to bring our anxieties to you in prayer with thanksgiving. Father, you want to hear us as your children. You want us to have your peace and presence. May we learn to pray in thankfulness and experience your peace.

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

John 17:16-19

Thank you Father that you have changed us. Thank you that we have your Spirit living within us and our hope and future is eternal. Nevertheless, we find ourselves living in a world fractured by what is false and divided by disinformation. Sanctify us in your truth. You have sent us into this world to influence and impact. To fulfill your purposes, we need what is timeless: your truth and your Word. May we focus this day on your Word and your will.

praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Ephesians 6:18-20

Father, may we walk daily in a demeanor of prayer. May we persevere, praying when we feel like it and when we don’t. May we intercede for others. May we have boldness to declare the truth of the gospel that will redeem lost souls. The only hope for your people is revival and renewal in your Word and by your Spirit. The only hope for our nation and world is the gospel of your Son. Revive us your people that we may boldly proclaim Jesus to a lost world. In your glory and grace, grant revival to your people and awakening to our land.

Amen.

PhPhoto by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be preaching a series entitled “Patterns of Prayer.” If you’re interested, you can find our worship services on Vimeo, YouTube, or on our church FaceBook page. One of the main reasons I’m preaching a series on prayer is that I feel inadequate in my prayer life.

When comparing my prayer life to those of great Christians of the past: Martin Luther who prayed for 2-3 hours a day, Hudson Taylor who awoke at 4 am nearly every day to pray, or George Müller who cared for orphans literally by prayer, it feels as if I fall very short of what I should be.

Maybe you feel this way as well. Maybe you are tempted to look at the biblical heroes and lament your shortcomings. Noah built an ark and rescued man and animals, Moses led 2 million Hebrews out of Egypt, David slew a giant, Paul traveled the world preaching the gospel. If we succumb to the temptation to compare our Christian lives to the spiritual heroics of biblical characters, we recognize what we lack and how we fall short.

But is this the way we are to think? Should we compare ourselves to the biblical heroes of the past? What does the Bible teach us about self-perceptions and reality?

It is easy sometimes to view the Bible through a romantic lens. By romantic I mean the viewpoint of romanticism that elevates characters and events to some idealized perspective. While sometimes unintentional, we promote this interpretive strategy when we put the biblical characters on pedestals and make them our models. No doubt we can learn much from the faith and obedience of the characters in the Bible, but we must not romanticize our perspective of them.

They were human. They needed forgiveness and redemption. Noah got drunk, Abraham lied, Jacob deceived, Moses murdered, David committed adultery, Peter denied, Paul and Barnabas divided. I could go on, but you get the idea. Bible characters were sinful as well, and the viewpoint the Bible takes on its characters is instructive for us.

The realism of the Bible is that God does not excuse sin, but neither is he finished with us when He finds sin in us. and for this we should be thankful.

Francis Schaeffer, No Little People, 31.

Here’s the reality. Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and every other biblical character besides Jesus were sinners who needed grace and forgiveness. God used these men and women in spite of their faults because God is full of grace and mercy.

Take a look at the Bible. Look for the flaws and sins of the biblical heroes. It won’t take you long to find them. This is not to excuse or minimize sin. The cross is God’s statement about how he hates sin. But only Jesus has ever been perfect.

God is not waiting on you to be perfect before he uses you. This is good news. You and I are sinners and will continue to sin. We need the grace of God, but we can also be used greatly by God.

You’re going to fail. So am I. Paul told his Philippian readers to “walk worthy of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). But sometimes my steps, thoughts, words, and actions will not be very gospel worthy. Neither will yours.

The good news is that we have the gospel. If we walk in a state of humility where we confess our sins quickly, God will forgive us. The true test of Christian living is not perfection, but rather letting God bear his gospel fruit in our lives.

Here are some realistic expectations that I trust will encourage you:

  • Anticipate your sinful nature. You and I will make mistakes, act unwisely, or sin. Even being redeemed, we remain imperfect. For example, this stress-laden pandemic has induced short tempers and anxious thoughts. While our behavior might be sinful, it does not have to be disqualifying.
  • Remember the gospel. The Bible reveals that God is holy, we are sinful, and Christ came to redeem us from sin. The solution to our sinfulness is not better behavior, but rather a better Savior.
  • Ask for forgiveness. Our response to our sinful behaviors should not be to minimize them, but to confront them. We confront them by confessing them to Christ. When we confess, God promises to forgive and cleanse.
  • Walk in the Spirit. As we grow in our faith, we might overcome some sinful behaviors, but we will never reach perfection until heaven. Yet we can mature. We will mature and find strength in weakness and faith in fear by walking in the Spirit. Walking in the Spirit is obeying God’s Word, communing with him in prayer, and worshiping him in praise.

Don’t expect perfection of yourself (or others for that matter). Only Jesus is perfect. That’s why we have the gospel. But do seek the comfort offered through the real teachings of the Bible: God knows our sinful nature. He provided Jesus for our forgiveness. He promises to forgive and use us.

Hope you are encouraged by these biblical and realistic expectations.

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash.

My two sons (9 and 6) love adventure stories just as much as I do. Pretending to be heroes, they wield (plastic) swords, defeat bad guys, and travel on heroic journeys.

At some point, though, we grow up. While we might never lose our sense of adventure or our joy in a good story, our age and responsibilities necessitate adult thinking. 

Often this means we set aside our pursuit of adventure and risk-taking for the everyday. After all, it’s the job that pays the bills, not the fantasies of books, video games, and make-believe.  

In the last several weeks, I’ve been rethinking this perspective. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been reading, studying, learning, and listening to all you can about COVID-19. 

Not only does the current pandemic feed our minds for personal information, but if you’re in any field of leadership, it’s also a necessity. We need to be informed and aware of what’s going on to make well-informed decisions. 

In this article, I’m intentionally trying to write a different perspective. I’d ask a bit of grace as well. 

When you read the perspective that follows, I’m not trying to minimize the hurt and suffering faced by so many. Rather, I’m offering a view that interprets the pandemic as a difficulty to overcome—a dangerous adventure. 

Here are just a few ways adventure stories can remind us how to get through this pandemic. 

WE’RE ON A JOURNEY WE DIDN’T ASK FOR OR SEEK OUT.

Think of the stories of Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, or Luke Skywalker. None of us in leadership (Christian leadership in particular) sought out these leadership challenges. 

We didn’t create the environment for these stay-at-home orders, social distancing, or online church, but we find ourselves on this journey. 

We can’t change our situations. We’re responsible for what we do with what is in front of us, not for what we can’t control. 

THE SUCCESS OF THE HERO’S JOURNEY OFTEN DEPENDS ON THE DETAILS

I love a good turn in a story where a seemingly minor detail plays an important role in the entire plotline (Harry’s invisibility cloak, Indiana Jones’ whip, or Aragorn’s sword). 

Friends, we’ve been placed in an imperfect situation as imperfect people. We’re going to make mistakes and probably make wrong decisions. I already have. 

Without adding too much pressure, we must remember the details matter. Now, don’t stress out. I’m not suggesting our online media needs to be perfect or trying to add worry about imperfect communication strategies. 

I mean something more basic. The details that’ll get us through are these: spending time in the Word and prayer, listening to others, taking time to make a phone call, or pausing in your busyness to take a stressed-out child on a walk. 

When all is said and done, successful journeys often turn on the ability of the leaders to remember the details that matter. 

WE NEED OTHERS TO MAKE IT THROUGH. 

Luke Skywalker had Han Solo, Frodo had the fellowship for part of his journey and Samwise for all of it, and Harry had Ron and Hermione. 

But isolation is a real challenge these days. 

As a pastor, I’m heartbroken over the many who are suffering the negative effects of isolation and loneliness. And at another level, I’m saddened for leaders who are without any support or aid. 

Friends, you won’t make it through this alone. You need someone who’ll say, “You don’t have to be Jesus.” 

You need church leaders who’ll say, “Pastor, I’m praying for you. Tell me what you need, and I’ll do it.” 

You need others around you that you can depend on. In Philippians 2, Paul bragged on Timothy and Epaphroditus, two men who helped him make it through. 

I’m convinced that when all is said and done, those with a strong support system will be those who make it through healthy and strong. 

WE HAVE TO RECOGNIZE THAT OUR STRENGTH IS OUTSIDE OF US

Luke had the force, Harry had his mother’s love, and Frodo had Gandalf the wizard. Please refrain from your theological critiques. I’m not equating the outside influences in these stories with God. 

However, what I think is instructive is that popular psychology, liberal theology, and humanistic philosophy want us to look within ourselves to find our strength. But in nearly every great story, the hero has outside help. 

This says something. I’m preaching to the choir here, but we won’t make it through this pandemic without God. 

Your church members won’t make it without God: those who are delaying funerals, those who can’t visit aging parents in nursing homes, those who find working from home while educating children nearly impossible, those who can’t provide for their families because they lost their job and unemployment hasn’t come through yet, and on and on. 

You get it. We need the help of the only One truly outside the situation. 

And gloriously, the gospel teaches that Jesus came into our situation to experience our sufferings, to become our Savior, and to offer us hope. 

Christian leadership in this pandemic is an adventure. Thankfully, our Savior is the Hero who’s already faced His journey victorious, and His strength is there for us to make it through. 

Originally published here through Lifeway Facts and Trends.

Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

I’ve always loved sports and since my childhood, I’ve pulled for the UNC Tarheels. My love for UNC made me a Michael Jordan fan. A few weeks ago, ESPN launched a documentary from the 1998 Chicago Bulls team entitled “The Last Dance.” Recently, I’ve watched several of the episodes. The Bulls’ dynasty over that period of time was nearly unstoppable. The documentary makes for a fascinating behind the scenes look at Michael Jordan, one of sports’ most recognizable faces.

During the 1990s there was no one alive more recognizable worldwide than Michael Jordan. He was the best basketball player in the world. He was rich, famous, influential. But two scenes in recent episodes highlight the biblical reality that these things are full of vanity. In one scene Jordan is reclining on a sofa in a hotel room lamenting his fame. The hotel room was his respite from the fawning crowds and incessant media attention. In another episode, Jordan wished that he never be considered a role model because it was a no-win situation.

Fame, wealth, and influence are poor masters.

Jordan’s perspective is illustrative of another wealthy, powerful man who had reached the zenith of human potential, King Solomon.

Here are just a few samples of Solomon’s musings on vanity.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
    vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
    at which he toils under the sun?

Ecclesiastes 1:2-3

18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun?23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 2:18-23

Solomon recognized what the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s reveal: winning, working hard, and being wealthy are vain if pursued as an end. In listening to the reflection of players and coaches from the documentary, there is a distinct lack of joy. Winning could not overcome internal drama. Being the best did not ultimately satisfy the ego. Being under everyone’s microscope was too much pressure.

This documentary and Solomon’s writings are instructive for us today. While likely on a much smaller scale than either example, we too are caught up in vain pursuits. The pandemic we are experiencing spotlights our own vanities.

  • As an end in itself, work is vanity.
  • As an end in itself, wealth is vanity.
  • As an end in itself, leisure is vanity.
  • As an end in itself, pleasure is vanity.

In a matter of weeks, a once stable economy in the most wealthy nation on earth has been decimated. In a matter of weeks, work has forever been changed, wealth lost, leisure activities removed, and pleasure forfeited. If those things are what you have been pursuing, then you must know now that they make terrible masters.

Solomon’s reflections in Ecclesiastes highlight the highest potential of human experience. And humanities’ highest reach apart from God is always vanity.

As we reflect on our spiritual lives inside of our current situation, here are some evaluation questions:

  • Am I pursuing God or have I been replacing God for some smaller thing(s)?
  • Have work, pleasure, success, wealth, or anything lesser been my primary goals? If so, these lesser things are idols keeping me from experiencing the glory of God.
  • Do I desire God and the experience of revival more than I long for normality or the restoration of what I’ve lost?
  • What can I do today to pursue God singularly?

In recent weeks, I’ve written on the subject of praying for revival. Currently, I’m preaching a series entitled “Patterns of Prayer.” God has been teaching me that when I pursue lesser things, I often ignore Him. Today’s meditation and the upcoming sermons (Wednesday, from Philippians 3:1-11 and Sunday, from 2 Chronicles 7:14) highlight my own struggle to singularly pursue God.

I long for revival. I long for God. I pray that God will reveal my vain pursuits that I may seek only him. Will you join me in this pursuit of God?

Solomon’s final word in Ecclesiastes is an appropriate conclusion:

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

This week is set aside for the pursuit of God. We are setting aside Tuesday to pray and fast for revival. Thursday is the national day of prayer. Hopefully, this week will be filled with prayer and repentance. To be revived is to experience the renewing spirit of God in our lives. Revival is for God’s people. Revival is a work of God. We cannot manufacture it. It is not a formula. The revivals and awakenings of the past came from the hand of God. 

Revival is always God’s initiative. In the Old Testament as well as through Christian history, God commanded holiness. When his people strayed from his expectation, God chastised and judged. God’s chastisement brought conviction. Then God’s people prayed. They prayed for a movement of God—revival and awakening. Praying for God to work parallels the preaching of God’s truth. The preaching of truth and the praying of God’s people are complementary. Revivals and awakenings need both. 

An important text in the book of Jeremiah reveals this. Jeremiah is the “weeping prophet.” It is evident that Jeremiah struggled with negative thoughts and maybe even depression. This should not surprise us as God gave Jeremiah an assignment to preach truth to a people destined to reject it. His ministry was largely ineffective. In Jeremiah 14, God told Jeremiah that Judah would face the sword, famine, and pestilence because they had rejected God and his laws. God promised they would mourn and weep in their experience of judgment. 

This conversation between Jeremiah and God let to a lament from Jeremiah about the false prophets predicting peace. Of course the people wanted to listen to the false prophets rather than the disturbing truths of God’s judgment. God spoke to Jeremiah,


“You shall say to them this word: ‘Let my eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease for the virgin daughter of my people is shattered with a great wound, with a grievous blow.” 

Jeremiah 14:17

It is apparent here that God is the one weeping for his people. The chapter ends on a depressing note. While God’s people had every opportunity to see their sin and repent, they did not. They were too enamored with their sins and too willing to listen to the false prophets. 

May we heed God’s voice in our circumstances and embrace an attitude of repentance and prayer. 

As we make time this week to pray for revival, let us remember several important truths. 

  1. God desires our repentance more than we do. Jeremiah describes God as one who weeps. Jesus wept in Gethsemane’s garden before the crucifixion. God does not will the destruction of any, but desires their salvation. God wants his church to hear him. God wants his church to remove idols and distractions. God wants the repentance of his people. God wants the salvation of sinners. And if God uses pestilence and disease (as he has before) to bring his people to a place of repentance and prayer, then so be it. 
  2. We need God more desperately than we think. Our part in seeking revival is prayer and repentance. A biblical view of prayer recognizes utter dependence on God. When we pray, we are acknowledging our inability and coming to God in humility. We need God. When we pray, God has already promised to answer. Our current pandemic is an opportunity to repent of sin and turn to God. 
  3. Those around us need God’s truth more urgently than we can imagine. Need is interesting concept. As humans, we need certain things—air, water, food, shelter, love. Life depends on these needs being met. Much of what we say we need is really a want. But in the awakenings of the past, sinners became aware that forgiveness only come from God. Sinners need God’s truth. They need the truth about God’s holiness, their sinfulness, Christ’s sacrifice and the offer of forgiveness available if they will trust him. 

As you make time to pray for revival this week (see the information posts here and here), keep these truths in mind. These previous posts also provide some prayer content for your times of prayer this week. 

In concluding this post, let Andrew Murray offer some encouragement on the subject of God hearing us in prayer. 

“My God will hear me. What a blessed prospect!” I see that all the failures of my past life have been due to the lack of this Fatih. My failure, especially in the work of intercession, has had its deepest root in this—I did not live in the full faith of the blessed assurance, “My God will hear me!” Praise God! I begin to see it—I believe it. All can be different. Or, rather, I see Him; I believe Him. “My God will hear me!” Yes, me, even me! Commonplace and insignificant though I be, filling but a very little place, so that I will hardly be missed when I go—even I have access to this Infinite God, with the confidence that He hears me. One with Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, I dare to say, “I will pray for others, for I am sure my God will listen to me: ‘My God will hear me!’” What a blessed prospect before me—every earthly and spiritual anxiety is exchanged for the peace of God, who cares for all and hears prayer. What a blessed prospect in my work—to know that even when the answer is long in coming, and there is a call for much patient, persevering prayer, the truth remains infallibly sure—“My God will hear me!” 

Andrew Murray, The Ministry of Intercession, 123-4.

When you pray this week, be confident that God will hear you. We pray in the name of Christ and under his provision. Because Christ died for your sins, you can pray and be certain that God will hear you. So pray confidently for revival and awakening knowing that God will hear. 

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

In the last few weeks, our society has been confronted with a pandemic affecting every part of life. Reactions have been multifaceted. The barrage of coverage on the news has created a panic that is palpable. Every continent and hundreds of countries are responding to the Covid-19 virus. Over and over again, we’ve heard politicians, pundits, and even preachers put a positive spin on the situation, “We’ll get through it.” “We’ll come back stronger than ever.” While negative news and panic-inducing content sell stories and buy clicks, I think we all want to gravitate toward the hopeful and positive. But we must be careful that positivity does not equal hubris. 

In fact, the hubris that claims we will be victorious is not at all uncommon to human nature. Human history has witnessed individuals who think they are more than they really are. But we are especially prone to humanistic hubris in the 21st century. Overestimating human capabilities while minimizing humanity’s uniqueness is a product of a postmodern worldview. 

In his classic, The God Who Is ThereFrancis Schaeffer correctly points out that modern and postmodern worldviews which reject God also reject moral absolutes. We are living in a world today without moral absolutes and with a misguided view of humanity. In a contemporary view of humanity (derived from evolutionary naturalism), man is merely an evolved animal. While man might be one more rung up the food chain, he does not possess inherent morality. Another misguided notion about man is that he is the pinnacle of existence (humanism). Man is capable of great things—solving pandemics, creating cures, and conquering the world. In this view, man is supremely capable, but when man takes too much credit, he is destined for a fall. See the handwringing and panic present in the reality that we have not solved this pandemic yet. 

In a biblical worldview, man is neither an evolved animal nor the pinnacle of existence. Rather, man is an image bearer of God. Indeed, man is uniquely special in creation because we bear God’s image, but we are also depraved and sinful. A biblical perspective on mankind should inform our response to this pandemic. 

An interesting source to contrast these postmodern perspectives with a biblical worldview comes from the novel, La Peste (The Plague) written by postmodern philosopher Albert Camus in the mid-twentieth century. The novel describes a fictional account of a European town quarantined by the Bubonic Plague. Camus narrates the story through the lens of Dr. Rieux who spent months caring for the citizens of the town and pronouncing their deaths due to the plague.

The Plague is a timely case study during the Covid-19 pandemic. Thankfully, this current pandemic does not appear to have the same mortality rate as the Bubonic Plague of past centuries. We should also be grateful that modern medicine has not only nearly eradicated the plague, but we have hope that it will do the same with Covid-19. Nevertheless, the story warrants consideration. 

Here is an eerily timely quote from the book:

Thus the first thing that plague brought to our town was exile. And the narrator is convinced that he can set down here, as holding good for all, the feeling he personally had and to which many of his friends confessed. It was undoubtedly the feeling of exile, that sensation of a void within which never left us, that irrational longing to hark back to the past or else to speed up the march of time, and those keen shafts of memory that stung like fire. Sometimes we toyed with our imagination, composing ourselves to wait for a ring at the bell announcing somebody’s return, or for the sound of a familiar footstep on the stairs; but, though we might deliberately stay at home at the hour when a traveler coming by the evening train would normally have arrived, and though we might contrive to forget for the moment that no trains were running, that game of make-believe, for obvious reasons, could not last. Always a moment came when we had to face the fact that no trains were coming in. And then we realized that the separation was destined to continue, we had no choice but to come to terms with the days ahead. In short, we returned to our prison-house, we had nothing left us but the past, and even if some were tempted to live in the future, they had speedily to abandon the idea anyhow, as soon as could be, once they felt the wounds that the imagination inflicts on those who yield themselves to it.

Albert Camus, La Peste

The story offers a deeply troubling view of man and of God that I believe is instructive for our situation. In my opinion, we have adopted some of the hubris and helplessness highlighted in the novel—to our detriment. 

The view of man showing compassion for his neighbors is commendable. We are witnessing that same bent today through acts of generosity, care for the sick, personal sacrifices, and even the simple act of staying home to mitigate the spread of a virus. However in the final analysis, Camus leaves us wanting. Man is helpless in the face of the plague (the many who died in the story). Man is kind to neighbors (Dr. Rieux and many others), yet with a decidedly melancholy outlook. Paneloux, the Catholic preacher in the story, held a different view. He claimed the virus was God’s will, and required a response of total submission to God to the “disdain of our human personality.” Little humility or comfort were displayed in Paneloux’s sermons. The end of the book leaves one feeling depressed at the lack of meaning and explanation for suffering. This is where postmodernism leaves us. Man is either helpless (Rieux) or full of hubris (Paneloux).,

The view of God in the story is more troubling. Rieux, along with other main characters, either avoid discussion of God or admit agnosticism. Paneloux’s God is not merely sovereign, but directing the plague as judgment. While a surface reading might find this view somewhat consistent with Scripture, there is theological difficulty when claiming that God directs human suffering and death. For Paneloux, God willed the plague and thus the individual deaths experienced. The other characters could not stomach this view. And that is the point. God, according to Camus’ interpretation of Christianity is more akin to the controlling Allah in Islam, than the loving Father of biblical Christianity. 

Francis Schaeffer evaluated Camus’ arguments.

The Christian never faces the dilemma pose in Camus’ book La Peste. It is simply not true that he either has to side with the doctor against God by fighting the plague or join with the priest on God’s side and thus be much less than human by not fighting the plague. If this were an either-or choice in life, it would indeed be terrible. But the Christian is not confined to such a choice… Jesus, standing in front of the tomb of Lazarus, was angry at death and the abnormality of the world—the destruction and distress caused by sin. In Camus’ words, Christ hated the plague. He claimed to be God, and He could hate the plague without hating Himself as God. A Christian can fight what is wrong in the world with compassion and know that as he hates these things, God hates them too. God hates them to the high price of the death of Christ.

Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 117

So we do not have to remain shackled by the contemporary views of man or God. God is sovereign, yes, but he hates the destructive nature of sin. God hates this virus that is taking lives. He hates not only this virus, but wars, violence, prejudice, drunk-driving, suicide, addiction, and any other form of suffering or evil that robs man of life. We can witness God’s anger at the fallen condition of man at the cross. God weeps with the loved ones who bury their dead. 

In a biblical worldview, man is not helpless, but neither is he sovereign. We can do our part. Social distancing may be a passive act, but it may quite literally save lives. And this is pleasing to God who gives life. We may also be active in caring for the sick or in comforting the hurting or in providing support for the economically devastated. This is proper and loving for the Christian. 

Postmodernism, as Camus espoused, has birthed many philosophical and theological offshoots. Many of the pundits, politicians, newscasters, and philosophers are bound up in false views of God. Either he does not exist or he does not care, or he cares, but can do nothing. This god is meaningless. 

But the One True God is not meaningless. The One True God exists, is sovereign, and loves mankind. God’s grand act of love (for humanity) and hate (for sin) on the cross provides a lens through which the Christian can view this pandemic.

  • We should weep with the bereaved.
  • We should care for the sick.
  • We should pray for a treatment and a cure.
  • We should seek wisdom for society’s reopening.
  • We should be generous.
  • We should love each other.
  • We should not think we are in control.
  • We should be humble and seek the God who is.

God is now during the pandemic, and he will be when it is over. He will be forevermore. And his existence and love offer us hope at the end of this pandemic: a hope not out of hubris, but out of humility. 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash