Jerry Bridges once wrote, “We need...to hear the gospel every day of our Christian lives.” A daily dose of gospel truth could not be more timely than right now—during the dog days of this pandemic. So, let’s tap the brakes—just for a moment. I know things feel crazy and a bit overwhelming, but that makes this an ideal time to stop, breathe and create space for contemplation. Are you with me? Now allow your mind to ponder some of the ways the gospel speaks to the disrupting realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. For starters, here are nine reflections.
1. When the impact of COVID-19 feels like we are under God’s punishment, we can remember the price Christ paid at the cross. Though we, as unholy lawbreakers, deserved God’s judgment, Jesus paid the just penalty for our sin. We owed it, he paid it. Now we are no longer under God’s wrath (Rom. 1:18; 2:5–8; Eph. 2:2–3; 1 Thess. 1:10), but instead we receive daily, undeserved blessings in Christ (Ps. 103:10; Eph. 1:3). Pandemics and pestilence are symptoms of a broken, decaying world that groans for the coming Savior. But they are not personal punishments for believers. God will not unleash a judgment upon his people that has already been satisfied and vindicated at Calvary.
2. When we feel our life’s fragility and vulnerability, we can rest in Christ’s unchanging refuge. Because Christ rose triumphant from the grave, we have a risen Savior who intercedes for us, the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, a Heavenly Father who governs our lives, and the church as a shelter in this world.
Pandemics are not random, but a new locus where God works in us and through us. Because of Jesus, we wake up each day to new mercies (Lam. 3:22–23) and as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). So, we can rejoice, whatever our circumstances (Ps. 136:1–26; Phil. 4:4). In God, we’re promised stable refuge in the midst of today’s crisis (Psalm 91:1–16; Phil. 4:7) as well as endurance for the future (John 17:1–26; Jude 24).
3. When we’re tempted to feel defeated, we can remember the sympathy of the Savior. When we are home-bound, powerless, fearful, and economically helpless, the gospel reminds us that we have something more satisfying than our nervous struggle with unbelief; we have a Savior—one who is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses, who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Even though the pandemic is delivering a hard blow, Christ’s love never fails, his blood covers where we are faithless and his sympathy delivers more than our self-doubt. Jesus rose from the dead, ascended to the Father, and as our great high priest, he is praying for you right now (Heb. 7:25).
4. When the pandemic foments loneliness, we can remember God’s promise never to leave us. When we self-quarantine or practice six-feet-between-us social distancing, it’s easy to feel a growing alienation. But Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) so that we would never be abandoned. He who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). He experienced exile—ejected from the Father’s presence—so that we might never be alone. Though we may feel alienated, disoriented and isolated, God has welcomed us into his family forever (John 14:18; Gal. 4:6). The resurrected Savior secured the right to make this guarantee, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
5. When worry threatens to become supreme in on minds, the gospel gives us freedom to take our anxious thoughts captive. Meditation determines direction. At Golgotha, the power of ungodly and destructive thinking was broken. We can now set our minds on better things (2 Cor 10:4-5; Col. 3:2). We can swap out fearful speculation with superior, worshipful thoughts about God (Phil. 4:8).
6. When our self-worth is attacked by job loss or rearranged roles, income, or rhythms, our identity is still secure in Christ. God knows all (Ps. 139:1–4), and he evaluates you lovingly and graciously in light of his success upon the cross (Col. 1:11–12). Through Christ, God has claimed you, and he calls you his child (Gal 4:7). This pandemic may lead to a divine redirection, but it is not the end of your story (John 21:15–19).
7. When we’re tempted by what-ifs, the gospel asks, “What now?” Crises like this pandemic can cause us to look back with longing or regrets: What if I planned better to shelter my money? What if I’d secured a more stable job? What if I’d been more careful to wash my hands? Such what-ifs shrink the soul under the withering heat of godless thinking. The gospel fixes us instead in the reality of a providential God who is working all things for our good (Rom. 8:28). It moves us to think of the present rather than the past and to ask, “What should I do now to please God?” (Col. 1:10; Heb. 13:16) and “what does this experience make possible for mission?”
8. When the pandemic reveals our selfishness, the gospel restructures our affections. Because Jesus died and rose for us, we have the power to break free from a life consumed by self. Jesus’s self-giving life teaches us that life is more than me. In Christ, and as part of the church, others’ interests are now my own (Phil. 2:4). Pandemics do not collapse Christians. No, we can see the coronavirus as an opportunity to show Christ’s love and good works to our neighbors (Mark 12:31; James 2:14–17). Because he first loved us, we can love our family, our church, and the world as ourselves.
9. Finally, when the coronavirus reveals our world’s superficial veneer, we can rejoice, for this world is not our home. Sometimes we’re infatuated with this life—our homes, cars, entertainment. A pandemic can fracture that. But that’s good, because our dwelling here is only temporary (2 Peter 3:13). We have no abiding city here (Heb. 13:14), but Christ’s completed work has earned us a place with God forever (John 19:30). When you arrive safely home in the new heavens and new earth, you will see this pandemic—and all other great evils—through the eyes of eternity, and you’ll stand amazed at how God used them all for his glory (Is. 65:17; Rev. 21:1–7).
Our hearts are heavy with news of how COVID-19 is impacting our world. Jesus doesn’t promise us an answer to every question, nor does He promise to take away our suffering, griefs, and pains in this life. But Jesus does offer us something eternal today—the comfort of gospel reality in which he offers us his love and presence, his rest and refuge, a secure identity and the certainty of his promises. Sure, pandemics are hard. But Jesus is greater. And it’s in the darkest moments of life where the gospel shines brightest.