Like the rest of the world, I’m wrestling with the emotions of this historical moment we are living through. I ride the waves of encouragement and despair, parsing the data, looking for voices I can trust, trying to find some glimpses of hope as the global war on Coronavirus rages all around us.
The disease got real personal real fast. A huge contingent of the missions organization we work most closely with was simultaneously exposed to the disease at a leadership meeting. I have a friend on a ventilator fighting for his life, another in ICU, and countless others in quarantine.
Simultaneously, I’m watching friends who have spent decades saving, risking, and building their businesses close up shop wondering if they will ever open again. Others have been furloughed or laid off, some from long-standing positions.
These are God-fearing, Jesus following, generous, faithful men and women. Doesn’t God provide some kind of blanket protection for Christians in times like these? Well, yes and no.
Already But Not Yet
While Christians are part of a new order – the “already” of Jesus Kingdom ushered in by His death and resurrection – we still live in the “not yet” of this broken sinful world. When the world shakes, we feel it shake, too.
So what makes the Christian experience different in terrifying times like this? I think it’s two really important things. I’ll try and illustrate with a story.
A few years ago, my wife had to have an MRI. She’s not super fond of medical tests of any kind (remind me to tell you some fun stories later), but being stuffed into a claustrophobic machine for an hour took the anxiety level to new heights.
Thankfully, the tech allowed me to go in with her. I was able to sit next to the machine and hold her hand as the remainder of her upper body disappeared inside the metal tube. At times, she would clamp down hard on my fingers as the waves of emotion rolled over her. Yet she always knew I was right there. I wasn’t letting go.
And yet it wasn’t just my presence that made the difference. You see, a few years earlier I walked through the very same experience – the unknown health scare, the doctor’s appointments and countless tests, and the uncontrollable anxiety of feeling swallowed up inside that MRI “coffin.”
I knew what she was going through. I wasn’t some unsympathetic outside observer. My words of comfort came from shared experience.
God With Us
Admittedly, the analogy seems really weak when we hold it up to Jesus. But here’s the truth:
Jesus is with us in our suffering.
God never promised us a life free of difficulty. In fact, He promised the opposite.: “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). However, He did promise that He would never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5). Whatever you’re facing in this season, Jesus is with you. He’s not some distant God peering down on this broken world from His far-off home. He’s in this mess with us.
Jesus understands our suffering.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Every bit of what you and I experience, Jesus has experienced fully. “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3). The God who made us became one of us; He knows our fears, our anxiety, our sorrows, our tears.
So what makes the Christian experience different in times like these? It’s not that we don’t suffer in this sin-sick world. It’s not that our friends and family don’t get sick or even die. It’s not that we’re never forced to close our businesses or deal with job-loss. Christians suffer, too, but we don’t suffer as those without Hope.
Our God knows our suffering and is with us in our suffering, and that changes everything.