The two things humans typically hold most dear are under attack: our health and our finances. With the coronavirus spreading and the stock market crashing, these are unstable times to be sure. Tension is tight and nerves are frayed. The future seems unpredictable, even to medical professionals and Wall Street gurus.
People’s individual problems and responsibilities also haven’t ceased to exist. I still have friends battling cancer. Parents are still shuttling kids to and from school and sports activities, for now at least. Companies are still operating and serving customers. Babies are still being born. Loved ones are still being buried.
Yet Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He is still the Rock on which we can stand, a firm foundation that will never shift or crack (I Corinthians 3:11, 10:4, Ephesians 2:20).
God has never stopped being in control. The One who counts the hairs on our heads counts the cells in our bodies (Matthew 10:30, Luke 12:7, Psalm 139:1, 13). A new strain of virus or an unstable stock doesn’t surprise Him in the least. God holds our future and has planned all our days (Jeremiah 29:11).
Why does God allow suffering?
If God is in control, then why does He allow these terrible things to happen?
I don’t think anyone can completely understand why God allows tragedy to occur. A natural reaction is for suffering to cause us to trust God less. Paradoxically, though, suffering often produces a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him.
Tim Keller in his book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering says, “You don’t really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”
The purpose of suffering is an age-old question, because it’s always been part of life. Since sin entered humanity in Genesis 3, we have lived in a fallen world that is groaning as though with labor pains, pregnant with disease, decay and disaster (Romans 8:22).
Suffering, like death, is an unavoidable reality. Keller goes on to say, “No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our career — something will inevitably ruin it.”
But what seems like mayhem to us is part of the Maker’s masterplan.
God uses suffering as part of our sanctification process, to become more like Jesus and to exchange self-reliance for God-dependence (Romans 8:29). The irony and joy in suffering is we can actually have fellowship with Christ in a way unmatched by a problem-free life (Romans 8:17, Philippians 3:10, 2 Timothy 1:8).
Suffering can turn sweet as we experience deeper intimacy with Jesus and let Him empower us for life and godliness. Jesus is the great High Priest who can empathize with all our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:14).
Through each of our life experiences, we may get a glimpse into His insight, the one reason in a million for the wreckage suffering can cause. But we won’t fully know this side of heaven. This is the part where we “trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). I wrestle with the likes of Paul in saying, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” (Romans 11:34, I Corinthians 2:11).
But this inability to fully understand God is actually a relief, a wonderful reality that He cannot be fully explained or contained by a circumstance. Our God is working in ways we can’t even ask for or imagine.
The mystery of the way God works beholds His majesty.
While I can’t comprehend the mind of God, I can say with certainty because of His written Word and steadfast character that God will redeem each and every disease and disaster He allows. There is always a redemptive purpose involved when God is at work.
Where God allows suffering to reign temporarily, He is working a greater glory eternally.
He is near the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).
He gives peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7).
He reveals Himself to those who draw near to Him (James 4:8).
He answers those who call out to Him (Psalm 91:15).
He makes His name known amidst the unknown (Psalm 48:3, 106:8).
He restores the years marked by devastation (Joel 2:25).
He causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
I can only imagine the number of people around the world, particularly in places that are antagonistic to Christianity like China and even parts of the United States and Europe, who will hear of the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ because of the coronavirus. This disease will soften hearts to hear the gospel, a Truth that may have seemed irrelevant before.
Jesus weeps with us
While it is difficult to reconcile that a perfect and all-powerful God would allow any kind of suffering, we must understand that - like any good parent - God is willing to allow a short-term pain for a long-term gain. We must remember that the Lord finds no satisfaction in our sorrow; in fact, it greatly troubles Him.
Jesus weeps with us (John 11:35).
But God’s mission to complete the good work He began in us, to fully conform us to Christ and to bring the nations to Him, overrides our momentary comfort (Philippians 1:6).
The same God who allowed Jesus to be nailed to a cross and become the sacrifice for our sins allows comparably light and momentary troubles to achieve an eternal glory that will far outweigh the coronavirus, cancer, the stock market and any other problem that is mildly or majorly disturbing our wellbeing (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Afterall, where people will spend eternity, in heaven or in hell, is what’s ultimately at stake.
Five ways to fight fear with faith
So, how should we combat worry and fear in the midst of a global outbreak?
1. Reach for God
Prayer is our lifeline. It gives us direct access to God through Jesus Christ. God tells us in Scripture, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).
We need our hearts and minds to be guarded by the peace of God. When Scripture says we can pray and bring petitions to God in every situation, it means the situation we find ourselves in today. Nothing is excluded. We can pray with thanksgiving because we can trust God is working out all things for good.
When we feel too overwhelmed to pray, we can trust the Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness, to pray for us in accordance with God’s will (Romans 8:26-27).
2. Rely on Scripture
Wash your hands - yes! But even more so, be washed by the Word of God. There is nothing more real than what God through Scripture has already promised.
He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He is a stronghold in times of trouble (Psalm 9:9). He will return (John 14:3). He is making all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17). He will wipe away every tear from every eye (Revelation 21:5).
There are reportedly 365 verses in Scripture about fear. I haven’t counted them but many a Bible scholar has. I believe God knows our hearts. I believe He knows how fickle and fragile we are. God responds with a promise for each day of the year, to help us walk in His command to not worry or be anxious about anything.
Much like prayer, Scripture sustains and assures us that God is faithful, a very present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1).
3. Rejoice in the Lord
While this may seem completely contrary and out of touch with reality, rejoicing in the Lord is actually reaching out to the bigger, more real story of eternity.
“Weeping may stay overnight, but there is joy in the morning,” writes the Psalmist wisely (Psalm 30:5).
Rejoicing in the Lord - not in the situation - reminds us that the good news of the gospel is still true amidst the bad news of our world.
The gospel is magnified against our messes.
Jesus dying on the cross for our sins and giving us full access to the Father now and in the life to come is always worth rejoicing over. There will never be a greater reason to rejoice.
Most mornings, I wake my girls with a squeaky rendition of the song, “This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made. I will rejoice, I will rejoice and be glad in it, and be glad in it.”
Most mornings, I don’t start off feeling that way. Most days, I feel stiff and tired and a little overwhelmed. Until I spend time with Jesus and let His Word renew my mind and remind me that because I woke up, I have work to do for Him, to be light and salt in a dark and decaying world (Matthew 5:13-14).
And this is the song I want my girls to sing during their day, when a grade comes back low or a friend disappoints or another intruder drill leaves them shaky. I want rejoicing in the Lord to be the soundtrack of their lives.
May our children and the future generation know that the day, no matter how uncertain, is held in the Lord’s strong and capable hands (Colossians 1:17).
It has been said that worship is a war cry. We can sing or hum or write or work, rejoicing in Jesus and defiant to the snares of the enemy. We can choose to let our faith in God govern us, not fear, as we abide in Jesus.
4. Rest in God’s sovereignty
God comforts His people through the prophet Isaiah saying, “Look up and see! Who created these? He brings out the stars by number; He calls all of them by name. Because of His great power and strength, not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40:26).
God is powerful and strong - today. He is bigger than our biggest fear. If you are in Christ, you have the power and strength of Christ (Philippians 4:13).
Before crossing the Jordan river after wondering the wilderness for 40 years, Moses assured the Israelites: “The Lord your God is the one who will cross ahead of you … Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you” (Deuteronomy 31:3, 6).
The Israelites were afraid of the unknown, like so many of us are afraid of this novel virus or a plummeting stock portfolio. But God went before His chosen people, and He goes before us today.
He knows the airplane seat you’ll sit in, the diner you’ll dine in, the freeway you’ll commute on. God is in control, sovereign over every major and minor detail in your life.
The God who created the heavens and the earth is active and overseeing all things right now. He directs our steps. We must look up and gaze at God, the steady horizon in this wave tossed world. We must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, lest we sink. He is our focal point during the labor pains of life.
Because while your body and your bank account may be weak and erratic, God is not.
God can use a pandemic or prosperity to accomplish His vast purposes.
The same God who calls the stars by name knows the name of each and every disease and disaster that threatens to befall us. God isn’t scared or surprised. He is sovereign over all.
The coronavirus is estimated to continue wreaking havoc for approximately 12-18 more months, or until medical experts can develop a vaccine to protect against it. Like the flu, it will still exist but will be more understood and easier to manage. The point is, this isn’t the first and won’t likely be the last global pandemic we see.
We can abide in the peace of Jesus knowing God has ordained all our days (Psalm 139:16). This means He knew the day you’d be born, and He knows the day you’ll die. He even knows how you will die, down to your very last breath.
I’ve often thought about the protection that God gives that I never know or see. While driving a car, passing a contagious person in the grocery story, with my children as they cross the street or go to a friend’s house without my supervision.
God’s protection is infinite and doesn’t depend on me.
Written in my Bible just above Psalm 30 is a reminder of Hurricane Harvey. In August 2017, the city of Houston was devasted by this natural disaster. Homes were lost. Bank accounts were ruptured. Irreplaceable keepsakes were destroyed.
But God’s word proved to be an anchor for many even then.
“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned, King forever. The Lord gives His people strength; the Lord blesses His people with peace” (Psalm 29:10-11).
Strength and peace is what God promises us. During the chaos of the flooding, I had many people ask for Scriptures to cling to and share with their children, family and friends.
God’s word is always a treasure, but the pressure of affliction makes it particularly more brilliant to those in need.
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8, I Peter 1:25).
When all is said and done, only two things will remain: the Word of God and the souls of God’s image bearers.
Our finances will fall away and seem like pennies compared to the riches we have with our inheritance in Christ Jesus. Our health will be restored. There will be no more sickness, no more disease or bodily limitations.
God is still on the throne today, and He will be tomorrow and forever. Rest in His sovereignty.
5. Represent the Cross
If you are a believer in Christ, be a person of peace and not panic. Be marked by the Holy Spirit, not the stress of the world. Live in holiness, not hysteria. This will likely require you to war against your flesh. Pray, plan, prepare and pray some more. This isn't about "doing nothing." Seek the Spirit of God for wisdom and discernment through prayer and Scripture, but don’t panic.
Jesus told us we would have trouble in this world.
“I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
We have been given peace from the Prince of Peace. We have been charged to be courageous amidst chaos. Jesus stands victor over sickness, over financial losses, over stress and fear and anxiety. So we too can stand over these burdens by the solid Rock of our salvation.
This confidence in God will set us apart and glorify our Father in heaven.
Even more than our health and our finances, let’s hold God’s Word and one another most dear. These are the treasures that truly last. These are the ones worth fighting for.
Reach for God through prayer. Rely on Scripture. Rejoice in the Lord. Rest in God’s sovereignty. Represent the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Abide in Jesus and let faith, not fear, lead you in righteousness today. May the peace and grace of God guide us.