‘It’s the end of the world as we know it… and I feel fine.’ The words of R.E.M. in 1987, but I don’t agree. Firstly, it’s not ‘the end of the world’ – this time will pass, we’ll deal with the bruises to our sense of what’s right, our sense of security in this world, and move on. Perhaps the phrase ‘as we know it’ does ring true, especially as we struggle with the prospect of living without some people – we wonder if they will be neighbours, colleagues, familiar faces from our daily routine, or, dare I say it, loved ones who are dearer to us than our own lives – those whom the planet won’t be the same without; those who, for many many years have made life worth living. We can’t imagine life if they are not with us, we don’t want to, and yet our fears take us there.
So no, I don’t feel fine.
This virus feels unfair. But perhaps there is a touch of heaven’s mercy in what’s happening – and please don’t stop reading. We know that we all have to die some time, and for most of us it’s unlikely to be because of the virus. But we are re-evaluating as individuals, taking stock of relationships and life goals, remembering that our relationships with people are what we most value in being human. And if there is a meaning to life, a purpose in being here and a life beyond, we now have time to research it.
Why do I personally believe? I took a step of faith as a teenager, and that faith has grown as I’ve seen many answers to prayer and even come to know God’s presence. My commitment began just months before R.E.M.’s song release, in the summer of 1986. And who is my God? The God of the Bible, seen in Jesus. I don’t do anything without considered thought, and I looked into the claims that Jesus made about himself and the historical evidence that was not written by believers. Because, like the apostle Paul, I think that if we are wrong about him then we of all people are most to be pitied.
Some people would say, ‘If your God is real, why has he allowed this?’ I certainly don’t think he’s responsible, but I suspect he’s permitted it for a time, and he must have his reasons. I know that in Jesus we find a true picture of his mercy and compassion. Could we see something of his guiding parental hand in this virus? Like when we put out a hand to prevent a small child from falling off their trike? Could we say that when our time’s up, it’s up? If there is life beyond, as I believe, this life builds us towards it. As a Christian, I have trusted him with my life, and that is incredibly freeing. I believe that a transaction has happened with him – I’ve recognized that I do bad things, that I’m far from perfect, and that I’m designed to communicate with him, to receive his help, to engage with him – what many Christians call ‘being in a relationship with him’, which may sound cliched to you, but it’s hard to find words that come close to explaining this in any other way. I’ve entrusted my life to him, because he’s given up everything for me, and I’m going to walk with him, even when I question what he’s doing, or think I have a better idea of how he should be running things. In reality I think I probably don’t – I don’t get to say what happens to me, whether on a small scale or large, or what happens to my nation, or even the world, but I do get to choose how I will live out each day. Whether in kindness or anger, in looking for the good or in frustrated rebellion. I know that I can expect to be given the answers one day, and his purposes are bigger than mine, his ways ‘far beyond anything’ that I can comprehend (Isaiah 58 v.8). For now I need to take one day at a time – pray for my loved ones, pray for those who are ill right now, pray for him to be intervening in the lives of individuals, and playing my part in looking out for people and staying in touch, even if most of this will be done virtually.
Jesus felt pain – this is very hard to dispute. He grieved when Lazarus had died and was deeply shaken as the reality of what we face as humans hit him. But he didn’t stop there – he brought Lazarus back from the dead, which set things moving for his own arrest, mock trial and crucifixion. Thankfully it didn’t end there – so the Bible tells us, and so my experience of him assures me. There is so much evidence about who the historical Jesus is, that if you are even remotely intrigued, some investigation into this would be beneficial, especially if our country goes into any sort of lockdown.
How will our days be different in the short term? We know that schools may close. Work routines may change, or even be put on a long pause. My university teaching will perhaps be done virtually, and the groups I run for Kent Adult Education have many retired members, so in the short term I think those are under threat. But if we find ourselves at home more, there is fun to be had. I plan to work hard on my current book that is not quite half-written, but may be nearly finished if this virus drags on. We will all be finding creative outlets, old and new. If we’re not in isolation, we can enjoy nature, and even if we are, we can feed the birds and enjoy the arrival of spring. (Today we heard skylarks above us as we walked the dogs, though we couldn’t see them. The sound took me beyond myself, reminding me that spiritually there is another dimension that we need to tune into more.) Of course, we’ll enjoy extra time with family, if they live with us. I know that for my own mental well-being I need to limit my time reading news online, and channel my fears into prayers.
This era may feel like a very long weekend or a prison sentence, depending on the outlook we choose to take. But to not be fearful is a decision – we can replace desperation with engagement with him. ‘Anxiety is meditation on the wrong thing,’ says Pastor Matt Brown of Sandals Church (see link). We can get through this – and with God’s help it will be a whole lot easier.
Please get in touch with me if you want to ask any questions or hear more. You might like to read my book, Gospel Voices, a series of short stories based on Christian truth.
(Today I’ve also watched an amazing live stream from Rivers Crossing Community Church on 15th March, 2020. Link here.)
Books I recommend:
Who Moved the Stone by Frank Morrison
The Evidence for the Resurrection by Norman Anderson
The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Dr Gary Habermas