pandemic

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

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

Last week’s devotional focused on how to deal with isolation. While we are all facing the challenges of social distancing, there is another challenge that is facing many of us: learning to view work biblically during social distancing and stay at home orders.

There are a variety of challenges facing many of us:

  • Some have jobs that are greatly affected by the bans and social distancing (teachers having to create distance learning plans, for example).
  • Some have jobs that ,are not affected directly by the bans and social distancing (essential jobs or jobs that are primarily isolated).
  • Some have jobs that have have not changed drastically in function, but have changed drastically in location (working from home rather and working remotely rather than with employees in an office).
  • Some jobs have either been lost or have had their hours cut drastically.
  • Some jobs have changed in intensity and practice overnight (first responders, nurses and doctors, local, state, and national government, pastors, and counselors).
  • Some parents are now teaching their children at home while dealing with the affects of losing a job (or hours) or trying to manage distance learning and work from home.

I’m not writing this post from the place of an expert. Rather, I’m a fellow traveler on this challenging journey. In the past couple of weeks, my wife and I have had numerous conversations about many of these challenges. We’re dealing with reduced income, distance learning from home for our children, planning a schedule of working from home and the office, and attempting to balance work, family, and school while being in the same house nearly all the time.

While the Bible does not offer a one size fits all approach to every work scenario outlined below, it does offer some principles to guide us. My hope is that the timeless principles of Scripture will shape our perspective on work during these challenging times.

  1. God ordained work before the fall. Look back at Genesis 1:28. Adam and Eve had responsibility for creation (the Cultural Mandate) before they sinned in Genesis 3. God worked for 6 days (Creation) and rested for the seventh day. Work is something good that’s been given to us by God. This principle reminds us that work is a means by which to glorify God.
  2. Biblically, work is not a place to which we go, it is something we do. Not to get too historical, but the Industrial Revolution shifted our concept of work. Until then, many families shared their work responsibilities in a trade. As a result, moms and dads shared the schooling of children, work around the house (farm in some cases), and the trade. It was not until after the Industrial Revolution and really even into the 20th century that going to work (especially for men) became commonplace. This principle has immense implications. See principles 3 and 4.
  3. Work in all of its aspects can be a means of glorifying God (see the wise woman in Proverbs 31). Running a business is not more God-honoring than folding laundry. Teaching children in home education or distance learning is not necessarily less valuable than the work of a lawyer or public official. We incorrectly associate income level or public prestige as a validation of one’s work. Consider that for most of the world, throughout most of history, paychecks have not been the norm. Work consisted of growing crops, raising animals, bartering for items, or trading for a service. While it has always been the case that certain jobs, trades, or careers provided opportunity for more publicity or income, God does not see us through those lenses. They are culturally constructed lenses. This means that doing laundry, cooking dinner, cleaning the garage, mowing the grass, closing a deal, writing a sermon, calling a friend, caring for a family member, reading with a child, teaching a lesson, managing a staff, making a sell (I could go on, but you get the idea), are all means by which we can glorify God.
  4. Whenever you work and whatever you do, you should seek to honor Christ (see Colossians 3:17). Whether you work remotely, have always worked at home, or your job completely changed, embrace whatever job is in front of you today to honor Christ.
  5. Significance, not productivity should define your perspective in all types of work. You might be feeling guilty that you are not able to work as productively by working remotely. You shouldn’t. Productivity tips generally rely on normal, controlled environments. For many of us, our environments are anything but normal. However, we should look for ways to make all of our work significant and meaningful. We should look for ways to be productive and faithful. Yet, we should keep a healthy perspective. While your work output is likely to change, you can still be faithful and significant with what is in front of you.
  6. If (out of necessity) you find yourself working more than normal, remember to find your rest and strength in Christ. Some will be working overtime to manage the challenges of this pandemic (medical personnel, first responders, public officials, etc.). Strength for today and rest for tonight come through Christ. Remember, God rested at the end of the six days of creation. It is easy for the changes in your work environment or the responsibilities in front of you to overwhelm you. Rely on Christ. He is your strength, and he is your rest.
  7. Finally, find your significance in Christ. You cannot look for your significance in your job (or any other work for that matter). If you’ve been laid off, furloughed, closed your business, or shortened your hours, you need to know that God does not perceive you as a failure. Looking at yourself or others through this lends is culturally conditioned. Remember, Christ alone is your significance.

I trust these principles will encourage you. Whatever challenge your facing, know that God loves you and promises to be with you always (Mt. 28:20).

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash