The 300,000 steps in May challenge
Medical doctor Erik Strandness asks whether this pandemic could put us in touch with spiritual reality.
Coronavirus caught us off guard. Peacefully snoring away in our cultural slumber an alarm went off that we didn’t set, a wake-up call that we didn’t request. Groggy and disoriented we fumble about trying to get our bearings and rearrange our schedule for the day.
We sit down with our Bible and a cup of coffee for our daily quiet time but find the air punctuated by a cacophony of confusion. Not content to internalize His Word for the day we ask God to leap off the pages and explain Himself.
I think part of the problem is that we have been lulled into a false sense of technological security that remedies problems with patches and upgrades. Unfortunately, global tragedy doesn’t come with a delete button and the computer screen of pain doesn’t go to sleep if we ignore it long enough. The coronavirus outbreak has revealed that we may be more culturally complacent than medically unprepared.
What will we learn?
In the end, I think we will learn a lot from this pandemic which will physically prepare us for the next virus, but will this calamity prepare us spiritually? It won’t be the end of the world as we know it, but maybe it could be the beginning of a spiritual awakening?
How does a Christian respond to a global pandemic? Most large-scale tragedies are distant localized events such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods that occur in someone else’s backyard. We see their suffering on TV and are moved to write a relief check in the comfort of our own home.
But things have changed and we now find ourselves in our pajamas, unshowered, unshaved, with a bad case of bed-head listening to the incessant knocking coming from our front porch. Do we pretend we aren’t home or do we answer the door?
Time for a Stretch
In, A Grace Disguised, Jerry Sittser helps us understand how tragedy can expand our souls.
Sorrow is noble and gracious. It enlarges the soul until the soul is capable of mourning and rejoicing simultaneously, of feeling the world’s pain and hoping for the world’s healing at the same time. However painful, sorrow is good for the soul … What I once considered mutually exclusive - sorrow and joy, pain and pleasure, death and life - have become parts of a greater whole. My soul has been stretched.
If we truly want to experience God's overflowing abundance we must make room for it by allowing our soul to be stretched. The groans we utter as it uncomfortably expands may temporarily drown out the singing in heaven, but in the end it will create an earthly space with far better salvation acoustics.
Jesus’ life could hardly be considered abundant by modern cultural standards but through suffering His soul was stretched to globally salvific proportions. His pain made room for our pain and His abundant life became our abundant life. Maybe we would let the belt out on our souls a bit more if we truly believed that soul stretching could be soul saving.
We worship a God who not only suffered and died on our behalf but rose from the dead covered with scars from His earthly ordeal. A God who was tattooed by evil yet wore it like a victory medal. Interestingly, when Thomas wanted proof that Jesus had risen from the dead he didn’t want a demonstration of Jesus’ new-found resurrection powers but rather wanted to see the scars of shared suffering.
We will also retain our scars in heaven so when we walk the streets of the New Jerusalem we will be able to share them with others, they won’t, however, invoke pity, but rather bring to mind epic tales of redeemed suffering. In heaven we won’t be spirits sitting on clouds strumming harps, but rather resurrected bodies sitting around campfires telling scar-y stories.
My Redeemer Lives
God is a redeemer. He doesn’t make bad things go away but transforms them into something good. As a neonatologist, I often have to bring bad news to the parents of my patients. It can be quite depressing because I see no reason why bad things should happen to good people but then I am reminded that we all suffer. The issue is not the inevitable bad but the unexpected good.
I know that my Redeemer lives so in each and every difficult situation I expect to see evidence that he is alive and well. Instead of worrying about God’s apparent absence, I now get excited about what new and interesting ways He will make His presence felt.
We will hear our critics ask us why a good God would allow this pandemic to occur? They will try to pin us to the wall with the problem of evil but we need to point out to them that our God has already been nailed there. The very complaint that they try to prick our conscience with has already been pierced on a cross. What other religion or philosophy can claim that the object of their devotion suffered on their behalf? The Good News is that as we bear our cross we can turn our head and find that He hangs next to us, not bemoaning the hellish situation, but offering us paradise.
The Great Physician
Jesus is not targeted therapy. He is not just another arrow in our therapeutic quiver. Jesus is the Hen that wishes to gather the chicks, the Shepherd that is concerned about the harassed and helpless sheep, the Bottle that collects all our tears of pain without spilling a drop. Jesus isn’t an antiviral but rather the Great Physician. We can fully trust Him because He was also a patient. He has a gentle and humble bedside manner and if we accept His therapeutic regimen we will find rest for our souls. He will begin by sitting us down and wiping every tear from our eyes so that we can clearly see the clinical course that lies ahead and anticipate the promised eternal remission to come where there will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain. (Revelation 21:4)
One of the pillars of precaution is social distancing which can be hard for a community of believers. We know there is power in the Body of Christ but feel helpless as an isolated finger or toe. The Good News is that Holy Spirit blood courses through our veins and while we may not be able to offer our physical presence to the world we can offer healing prayer. We may be limited to congregations of 10 or less but we can be confident that where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20)
Dr. Erik Strandness is a neonatal physician and Christian apologist living in the Pacific Northwest. He has authored three apologetic books and blogs on a regular basis at www.godsscreenplay.com
Unbelievable? presenter Justin Brierley blogs on all things theology, apologetics and ethics.