I, like many of you, have been under quarantine due to the coronavirus. In relation to the virus, I've read the statistics, ignored the statistics, analyzed the statistics, chosen not to read any information, and everything in between. In relation to my Christian faith, I've studied God's word, read about the history of the Jewish people prior to the Messiah coming to earth, and unpacked countless historical articles on the origins of the church and how it has changed over time. It has been fascinating, challenging, and eye-opening to say the least. Some paths have lead me down distractive and potentially destructive directions. Others have given me a new perspective on that in which we have blindly accepted as "normal" in our culture. I thought I would ultimately write a blog about all that I have learned in order to bring this historical and studied thesis to any readers that too wanted to better understand the basis on which we have built modern day Christian churches and practices.
I thought I would draw a concise and beautiful supposition between the Hebraic calendar, Jewish traditions, early Christians teachings in the home, Constantine's reign and declaration of Christianity as Rome's religion, and Protestant reformation during Martin Luther's time. Over the past 2 weeks, I have felt more scholarly than I did during my time in grad school. It was as if, the Holy Spirit was consistently sitting next to me pointing me towards one thing only to lead me to the next thing and ultimately on an endless journey of historical facts, misguided interpretations, and the space in which I thought (and still think) God allowed the coronavirus to result in a revival for many. All of this studying and deep-diving into what I believe and why I believe it has been enlightening. Conversations with others has brought me to deeper thought-provoking ideas. All of this has ultimately been guided by two commonly asked questions amongst many Christ followers and those that do not believe in him at all, "What in the world is God teaching us through the coronavirus?" Furthermore, "If God is love Himself and all together good, why does the coronavirus and the after shocks of its' destruction feel so bad?"
I've read article after article and watched video after video trying to gain perspective. Some I refuted others I agreed with. I found many to be encouraging, convicting, and thought-provoking. I found others to be self-focused and laced with unbiblical teachings. All of them pushed me towards aiming to answer the questions myself through understanding God's word and the studious attempts of packing thousands of years of history into a few weeks worth of meditation and application.
Until I realized.
We can look to God's word (as we should) in order to see parallels of how He approaches both the wickedness and righteousness of those in the world. We can find "signs" that all of which is happening to us points towards the end of the world. We can see ourselves as Israel, both simultaneously wicked and faithful in certain individuals, and see that God allows and is sovereign over suffering ultimately for our good and His glory. We can unpack verses like that in 2 Chronicles 7:14 "if they pray to me and repent and turn away from the evil they have been doing, then I will hear them in heaven, forgive their sins, and make their land prosperous again," and all have differing opinions on its application to our lives after Christ's death and resurrection today. We can do all of these things. We should do many of these things. We should dive deeper into who God is and what the Bible says during both times like these and then thereafter. But my attempts to do all of that have lead me every time to the same two places. Two places that bring me comfort while rightfully pointing me to the reverence of God that we all should live out of.
God is God and we are not.
All things, both historical and Biblical, point towards our desperate need for a Savior. The Savior. Jesus Christ.
God operates on a different playing field. We as people operate on our finite knowledge of the here and now. We can study the past in order to look towards the present and future, but we ultimately can never know all things. God is operating with an Almanac of all time. Past, present, future, and ultimately eternity. We are operating with brains that are incredibly powerful but ultimately finite. They will eventually be no more. If there's one thing I think we can all agree upon during this coronavirus pandemic, it is that we all face eventual death. Now, you may be asking, how is all of this supposed to comfort me and put me in reverence of God? The answer is in Jesus Christ.
All things in the Old Testament point towards the coming of Him and our desperate need for Him. The laws in which Israel lived under served as both prophecy and metaphors for the coming Messiah. The exhausting and lengthy rituals, festivals, feasts, sacrifices, practices, and prayers of the Jewish people were in placement of the Savior Jesus that was to come. The covenant relationship between God and his bride of Israel pointed towards the covenant relationship between Jesus's sacrificial death and his bride of Christian believers (or the Church). The numerous times in which Israel rebelled and turned from God only to be met with the grace of a "watchmen" (Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea.. etc) in order to warn them of their deserving judgement to come spoke yes of the breaking of covenant laws but predominantly God's eternal desire to change hearts and souls. The physical temple in which God dwelled amongst His people pointed towards the gift of the Holy Spirit which now dwells in all who place their trust, hope, and salvation in Christ Jesus.
After the death of Christ, the rebellion and devastation of the fallenness of man continued then and now. Some of the changes of the way in which church operates, use of false gospels as exploitation and abuse of others, attempts at misconstruing or re-describing the character of God and ultimately Christ over thousands of years, point towards how even when we try and get it right... we often get it wrong. There are numerous historical accounts of the finite character of humans who have done abominable things like Israel in the name of "gospel" and sometimes in defiance of it. Plagues, destruction of the earth's climate, genocides, rape, famine, poverty, murder. All of it points not towards the character of God but the character of men. When we look to God wondering and questioning His character and why He would allow such suffering and pain, we ultimately are looking at the wrong place. I'm not saying we should not look to him, cry out to him, and beg him for his divine intervention and wisdom. Those are great things to do. Rather, I am saying as we look at the evil and many adversities around us, ultimately we are seeing not a reflection of who God is but a reflection of the wickedness that lives inside all of us. We can question as to how God can be just in the midst of what just simply feels awful. But if we question God's ability to be just in the middle of the world-wide communal suffering that is the coronavirus, we are asking him to be just over everything... that includes you. This feels really hard. Writing this isn't fun for me. Until I remember who it is that we can cling to when we see where all sins rightfully lead.
Jesus is God in the flesh. God doesn't look at the history of suffering and evil and turn His infinitely holy face from it as He could. Rather, He, Himself, came to earth. This wasn't an afterthought to His plan. This was His plan from the beginning. He added the attribute of man onto himself for 33 years in the midst of what was exile for those that believed in Him at the time. He came to earth in a time where lepers were considered utterly detestable and prostitutes were seen as being unworthy of even being in close juxtaposition of those that thought they followed the Jewish laws perfectly. He came at a time where death by crucifixion was not only permitted but often used on those who committed murder, theft, piracy, rebellion of a slave against their master, sedition against Rome.. just to name a few. Jesus, who existed with God for all time, came to earth in the form of a man not just to teach many the truth of the gospel but to take on the penalty of sin and death; to abolish the law that Israel failed at upholding over and over again. God himself, in his infinite knowledge of all the evil that would take place on the earth, knew Jesus would willingly join it only to willingly leave it through death on the cross and resurrection and ascension into Heaven. God didn't look at what Adam and Eve did and shuffle around in His playbook trying to formulate a plan B for the sin that was now in the earth. God clothed them in their shame, rebuked Satan, and foreshadowed to the Savior Jesus to come. Speaking to the serpent, God said, "And I will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman (Eve.. who began the lineage leading to Christ), and between your offspring (all that is evil) and hers; he (Jesus) will crush your (Satan) head, and you (Satan) will strike his (Jesus) heel." (Genesis 3:15). God's plan of Christ was definitive from the beginning. With full knowledge of Israel's many rebellions, Rome's persecutions, numerous genocides, and evil that continues to exist now today, God planned for Jesus to come down from Heaven to enter into the wickedness of the world.
Eloquently put in Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement by Donald Macleod,
“Christ does not merely offer the sacrifice; he becomes the sacrifice. He is not simply one who dies with the rest of us or pleads that we be spared the death sentence. He is the one who dies in order that we be spared this death. He drinks the cup so that we should not drink it; is cursed so that we should not be cursed; is forsaken so that we should not be forsaken; is condemned so that we should not be condemned.”
As I’ve been studying much of the Old Testament, the Lord lead me to a time spent in Ezekiel. As I wrestled with the many visions of Ezekiel and all that God was saying to him, my heart uncovered a simple but yet beautiful immutable characteristic of God. Even though those Ezekiel was talking to were under the law, God had Ezekiel tell Israel over and over that he was after transforming their hearts and souls. In Ezekiel 36:36, God says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."
Yes, throughout the entire book of Ezekiel, God mentioned the laws they weren’t upholding. He spoke of them to Ezekiel many times. But ultimately he was after their hearts. Through Christ as our eternal Passover lamb, we are no longer under the laws, but it is the same God who is after our hearts. He is after the transformation of our hearts knowing that as our hearts are transformed through HIS grace and HIS goodness ultimately our lives start to reflect Him more and more. Nothing through what we do but all through what Christ has already done.
So, how and why is this all good news during the unprecedented times of the coronavirus? Because it is the same good news that existed before it and will exist after it. We are saved by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone. We can spend this season that will eventually pass trying to understand what God is doing or even prophesying as to what is happening or will happen, but ultimately at the core of what He is doing remains the same. In His immutable, omnipresent, infinitely holy self he continues to desire the transformation of our hearts. The God that existed with Ezekiel and Hosea desiring for Israel's hearts to turn from themselves, their wickedness, and idols is the same God who desires the same for us now. It is not by anything in which we in our own abilities can do in order for this to happen. This is why we have Christ. He bore the cross meant for all sinners who put their trust in him. The whole cost. God didn't just provide someone to take our places. He went even further. He became the One.
So when you look around you both now in the middle of a pandemic and during the future sufferings you may endure, I pray you look beyond yourself. Beyond your circumstances and to the hope that extends beyond the here and now. The hope in Jesus Christ who left the pure, holy, and unnending love of God and became the one for those who place their trust and salvation in him. There isn't a magic formula of actions in order to get into heaven. And honestly, I thank God for that. It is through Christ alone. The plan that existed before you were born and will continue to exist for all time. I pray you look outside yourself and others and to Calvary. The love of God that didn't shrink away knowing the wickedness that existed and was to come, but instead provided salvation not outside but within himself is the same God that exists in the midst of our pain and suffering today.
I look to the world that is full of the dry bones referenced in Ezekiel and I pray this is your heart's response after reading this.
‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ (Ezekiel 37:1-14)
Knowing that when you place your hope in Christ, Paul's words will be true for you, for all time after the season of the pandemic.
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)
He is the good news. God's love for you isn't because of our ability to love Him back in the same way. His love for us is extended through the death of a perfect Jesus who prayed for his adversaries before He spoke the unchanging words, "It is finished." Place your hope and trust not in the changing environment around us but in the unchanging work of Christ on that old rugged cross.
He loves you so much.