Only the Lord knows his purposes. The US has only 4.3% of the world’s population, and yet we have 30% of the coronavirus cases on the planet. NYC alone has more cases and deaths than any other entire country. Currently, we have the most cases of all nations on earth.
This means we’re not handling this well, and our strategies are deeply flawed. Or, we have good strategies that have been proven by other nations, but we’re not following them with consistency. Or, perhaps, we’re simply testing more vigorously than other nations. Which is it?
At the same time, racial conflict has erupted, sparked by the senseless death of a Christian African-American man, George Floyd, killed by a police officer of ill intent. This murder has resurfaced a perennial problem in our nation, an American failure that spans centuries. Perhaps, at this time, with COVID-19 intersecting the resulting racial protests in our major cities, change will come at last.
This is a time to hope in God, to rejoice that he is working in these unexpected circumstances. Trials help us to see what is truly important, what is truly necessary, where our weaknesses lie, and how much we need Jesus in every moment. This is the purpose of hardship. It forces us to change. This is, therefore, a time for rejoicing in the Lord.
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another” (Titus 3:3 NIV).
This was true of us before we came to know and to love Jesus. Malice and hatred colored the actions of many of us racially. And now, during this pandemic and this racial conflict, many of us distrust one another. When we are afraid, self absorbed, and inwardly focused, we don’t see these flaws in ourselves. We must grow.
“BUT when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7 NIV).
We can’t earn God’s favor by righteous deeds. We’re saved only by his mercy, only by his act of drawing us near to cleanse us, to renew us, and to justify us, making us heirs of life everlasting. This hope is where we fix our eyes during times of sickness, death, and social upheaval.
God has a purpose, but it may take years of hard work. And then, if through our own flawed attempts, we don’t succeed, the Lord will triumph. He promises to one day eradicate every form of racism and sickness. One day, there will be no more racial division, sickness, death, crying, or pain:
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9-10 NIV).
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3b-4 NIV).
How we long for that day! But for now, this is a time to change and to learn from one another. We were privileged to watch the memorial service of Ravi Zacharias, who taught many how to share the truth of the gospel with kindness, sincerity, and love. This poem was recited at his service:
For our sake, the life of the apostle Paul demonstrated this clearly for all to see: “For the gospel of grace to be extricated from Jewish tradition, Paul’s life had to be one long agony” (L.B. Cowman, Streams in the Desert).
These words give me hope. I can trace the hand of God throughout my life as he ruthlessly perfects me through hammering and hurting, while bending but never breaking me because he has undertaken good for his sake and my own. His every action and every trial draws me to God, reforms my character, and reshapes me more into Christ’s image.
When all the flaws in our feeble attempts at racial reconciliation have proven to be too little and too late, when all our attempts at containing this coronavirus result in it rebounding, as predicted by epidemiologists commenting on the impact of crowds of unmasked protestors, we will be made to grow. In our lives, at this point in time, for our good, Black Lives Matter intersects COVID-19.[“Black Lives Matter” refers to a statement of fact widely used in social media, clearly stating that black lives absolutely do matter. This is not referring to the organization itself.] When all the flaws in our feeble attempts at racial reconciliation and at containing this coronavirus have proven to be too little and too late, we will be made to grow. #BlackLivesDoMatter #COVID19 Click To Tweet We will be made to grow. In our lives, at this point in time, for our good, #BlackLivesDoMatter #COVID19. Click To Tweet
God has written down his ways and his whys in the Bible, his own Word. These passages are of great encouragement to believers, giving us hope.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5 NIV).
Though we did nothing to deserve God’s grace, he has given it to us in Christ. We boast not in ourselves, for we know how flawed and imperfect we are. No, we boast in the hope of the glory of God. He transforms us.Though we did nothing to deserve God's #grace, he has given it in Christ. We boast not in ourselves, for we know how flawed and imperfect we are. No, we boast in the #hope of the glory of God. He transforms us. Click To Tweet
These sufferings produce what we lack, for we are the most comfortable persons on the planet and the least disciplined. We don’t care for the bodies God has given us, therefore leaving us vulnerable to this disease. Only half of us read our Bibles daily or at least several times a week, while one-fifth of us rarely or at all. Yet, God loves us. He cherishes us. He seeks us.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8 NIV).
Because of his great love for us, at this time, the Lord has given us the task of growing in two areas simultaneously. Passage after passage teaches us how to navigate human relationships, including racism. One tells us:
“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:9-14 NIV).
For this growth, we will need honesty, living as people renewed in the image of Christ, living as God’s people who are holy and dearly loved, and, therefore, showing compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving, forgiving, forgiving, and love.
As believers, because of Jesus, we are forgiven, and we can change, by the work of the Holy Spirit who is within us, convicting us, changing our viewpoints and our behaviors, and sealing us as belonging to God.
The Lord will use all of this for our good, reforming our character, transforming us, and, thus, our nation, as stated in the above poem. We have much to learn of the spiritual and physical disciplines that produce Christlike character.The Lord will use this #pandemic and these racial conflicts for our good. We have much to learn of the spiritual and physical disciplines of Christlike character. #grace #LoveOneAnother Click To Tweet
Will we seize the blessings God has for us? Will we turn to his Word, growing in discipline, in love for others, and in caring for our bodies?
He has granted us an opportunity. Most importantly that we seek him with all of our hearts, that we read his Word with understanding, and that, as a result, we grow in love for him and for others of all races and hues of skin tone, for any and all who come from other tribes than our own.
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:9-10 NIV).
We have been reconciled, saved through the life of Christ and through his death. We boast in what God has done through Jesus. He has done it all!
How should we then live? How do we grow to love others of all races well? How do we seek to hope in God during this pandemic?