Over the last months we have had a front-row seat watching the western assumption of safety and control crumble under the threat of a pandemic:
- People climbing over each other for everyday commodities like toilet paper and hoarding essentials with no regard for their neighbour
- Entire industries shut down leaving millions not knowing when or if they will receive their next paycheque
- Restrictions on gatherings (and the ensuing confusion as to the application of the declared rules concerning them)
- The creation of the term “social distancing” and the encouragement of a “snitch” culture
Our fears and anxieties are only heightened by the barrage of media surrounding Covid-19. This crisis has revealed something about us as humans that has been hard to notice behind the backdrop of garage-front homes and the ubiquity of social media. The CEO of a large international company recently wrote that:
“The response to this crisis has been extraordinary (not) as much as it has required from our society as for what it has revealed of us as a people. Far from causing division and discord, this crisis and the social distancing it has required, has allowed us to witness something profound and moving about ourselves: our fond and deeply felt wish to be connected with one another.” ––Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines
We crave personal connection in the flesh. It has been said that God never wastes a tragedy. Or in our case, God never wastes a crisis. That is why we must understand that God’s way of working in this world at this time is his church. It’s his plan A and there is no plan B. So, what do we, the church, do in a time like this? There are several things we need to consider that have far reaching implications.
A Call to Embodied Community
As restrictions continue to change and a new normal takes shape, the church has to adapt. Scripture is clear that we can’t simply ignore what the government mandates. Many small groups have wisely turned to technological tools like Facebook or Zoom to practice social distancing. This is a good immediate solution to quickly adapt. However, these tools can only be part of the response to this crisis.
These platforms cannot handle the weight of our need for incarnational relationships. Studies continue to show us that although we are the most connected generation in world history, we are also the loneliest. How can we be so connected and yet so lonely at the same time? Social media gives us the promise of community but never actually delivers. This crisis is serving as a real reminder that relationships (especially gospel-empowered, Christ-centred relationships) must be incarnational.
As believers, we experience the embodied ministry of Jesus through his Spirit every day. We will never mine the depths of Emmanuel, God with us, in the flesh. God came to us in the flesh and lived with us. Online platforms cannot be a complete substitute for the flesh and blood of his body on earth, the church.
The church is not the only one who needs the embodied life of Jesus in his church. Our culture needs the presence of Jesus in everyday life as well. They need his presence through his people. They don’t need another YouTube channel, podcast or well-crafted apologetic argument for belief. They need Jesus.
Jesus came and took on flesh. Then he left in order to give us something better. He gave us himself, everywhere, in every believer, in every place, never to leave. Our culture needs to see Jesus manifesting himself through his body, the church.
In fact, this could be the greatest moment for the church in our time, to show that everything our culture has been reaching for is not found in the institution of the church, but in and through his body, the church.
Don’t Waste This Crisis
We said earlier that God never wastes a crisis. But more than that, he is never in crisis. He is Lord of them, he allows them and often brings them. Our sensitivities against understanding a God like this leaves us with a conundrum. How can this possibly be? I will not attempt to answer that here. My point here is to say, don’t waste this crisis but in faith make the best use of the time even in the midst of this crisis:
(1) Build life-giving habits that will outlast the crisis: If you find yourself with extra time, be diligent in using the extra time to know God. There’s so much content out there that you could spend all of your day binging on Netflix. I would challenge you to at least match the time you spend streaming content with reading God’s Word or some great books about our God. I don’t define myself as a book person, but I know the value of it. You may find that your new habits will give you readiness with an answer when people ask you the reason for the hope that is in you. One author recently wrote that the more he got to know Jesus, the less he could question what God was doing. Take advantage of this time to build new means of grace into your life.
(2) Be aware of the needs of others: Look to care for your faith community, your immediate neighbours, and your networks of influence. The words “I’ll pray for you” seem vapid and empty to those with real tangible needs. People do need us to intercede for them in prayer, but God has also put us in the lives of others with specific means to meet the tangible needs of others. Jeff Vanderstelt often says that “What God does in us and to us he also intends to do through us.”
People are shut-in, isolated and afraid. Simple acts such as grabbing groceries for a senior, making a meal for a family in isolation, or just dropping off some gift cards from your local grocery store to a neighbour in need go a long way. Jesus, who came to save us from our sins, cared to meet the practical needs of those around him––whether it was making wine at a wedding feast, providing a bounty of fish to meet the needs of his would-be disciples, or providing money to pay taxes, Jesus took the time to care and meet the real tangible needs of those around him.
It was more than just being kind. Every time Jesus met a need, healed the sick, or met with and loved the unlovely, he revealed to us a little bit of what it meant for the Kingdom of God to come. When we meet the tangible or emotional needs of others, the Kingdom of God is put on display. The kingdom of God has come and is coming in the hearts of all those who believe. As this Kingdom comes, it will have noticeable effects everywhere it pushes away the kingdom of darkness. Jesus said that we should let our light shine that others, who, after seeing our good deeds, would glorify our Father. Isn’t that what we want?
(3) Safely be with others in person: Wisdom and caution must be exercised in each situation. We don’t want to bring risk to others, but we need to remember that we can’t remain away from each other forever. Take advantage of any platform where you can see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices. But, when it is safe and possible, be together––in the flesh.
We were made to do real life with real people. It’s part of being created in God’s image. We see this right from creation and throughout all human history. Consider how God’s interaction with man has always been things we can see, hear, and touch. In the beginning, men had a tangible relationship with God. They walked with him in the cool of the day. Then throughout the Old Testament, incarnational ministry happened as God came to Moses, Isaac, Jacob and many others. He spoke to them, appeared to them through Christophanies and Theophanies, wrestled with them, manifested his presence in signs and wonders (ie. burning bush, pillars of fire and light, deliverance in Egypt, etc). The point is that God came to them. Then, at the right time the unthinkable happened, God came to man again––this time he came himself, took on flesh, the form of a servant.
Even more unthinkable was that this hopeful Messiah died, rose again––but then left again. Just like God, he keeps doing the unthinkable by coming to us again, this time living in us and with us. So now he is always with those whom he loves. Being present with someone is a kind of provision that cannot be substituted. The digital platforms we leverage cannot alone fulfill our need for incarnational life.
In light of all that has been going on, we, the church has what we need to continue our calling. We follow our Captain Jesus into what is unknown to us because he has already been there. These times are unprecedented for our generation, but they are not without precedent in human history. The church lived through times much worse and survived. Through these times, God revived his church, displayed his glory to the world through his church, and provided light in the darkness. Let God lead you into his will and the joy of his presence. Let perfect love cast out fear and may you live intentionally for his glory and the joy of all people.