“Some of us will die,” is a weird way to start a blog post for Premier Christianity. It feels gloomy, to say the least. But not that shocking – which is, in itself, shocking. A huge statement made ordinary by extraordinary circumstances.
That people we know personally will die – people in our churches, people reading this right now – seems beyond doubt. It’s a horrifying inevitability. And yet I write this with nervousness. Because if you're reading this, the chances are, you're a Christian. A label that could mean any number of things depending on your theology, culture and personal walk with the Lord. Christians are often very different in the way we view a crisis like this. And I’m not sure we’ve really done the work, as a united Body of Christ, to deal with that diversity.
And I know what you might be thinking: Duh, Jonty, this is nothing new. We have sisters and brothers who disagree on everything from Adult baptism, Brexit and Capitalism to Xenophobia, Youth ministry and Zomething beginning with Z. And you’re right. But this is different. This crisis gets right to the heart of our witness, not just to how Christians should behave, but who we think God is. And if we don’t moderate the way we talk about it, we could do real damage.
Why God allows disaster and suffering has already been asked and answered so many times. But more than that, we need to think about what we think and how we talk about God’s healing and protection.
Someone called me out recently because the senior pastor of my church said, confidently and in faith, that they would not be catching Coronavirus, because they had faith in Jesus and his promises of protection. My friend had found this irresponsible and potentially damaging. What kind of message does that send to Christians listening, about taking seriously the best advice around protecting ourselves (an important subject addressed well on this blog)? And worse: what will it do to the faith of their followers if they do succumb to Covid-19? What will it tell the congregants who will fall ill, about God and his love for them?
Personally, I feel that the statement was made in the context of trying to calm unhelpful panic, but I think I might not have put things that way. I might have said: “Even if I get the virus, God is good and God is sovereign and I still trust his will for me,” but hindsight is, like this year of Corona, 2020.
While I once might confidently have asserted that if my faith was strong enough I would be protected and/or healed, today I couldn’t be so confident. And while I would definitely still say: “Pray!”, I couldn’t in good conscience say: “Pray and God will definitely save you from this disease.” And it’s because of that opening sentence. People will die. People of faith, people who put their trust in the Lord, will lose people they love or will die themselves. This is true in a time of Covid-19 and it has always been true. God never promised to save you from every illness, he promised to be with you always, and he's promised that even death will not be able to separate you from his love and presence.
Unthinking statements from virtual pulpits and memes like these that presume how God is going to act may, despite the best motives, keep people from Jesus.
So, when we express our solid faith in God the deliverer, we might remember that, for whatever reason, some will not be delivered from this illness. When we make statements about his goodness and power to heal, let us remember that each one of us will eventually not be healed, so we should not look down on those who reconcile themselves to this in ways that look like lack of faith to us.
And if we’re in the other camp, the ones who shy away from ultra-faith-filled language and thinking, can we also moderate our tone? Can we not jump to say: “God will not heal, God will not intervene,” or other things that without context might make people feel we are alone in this world, abandoned by God? Because, despite our discomfort, he does heal. He does answer. And he does, mysteriously, promise to help us.
If we can find the grace not just to tolerate our fellow Christians as they differ from us, but to recognise that relationship with God looks different sometimes, precisely because it is relationship, perhaps we will emerge more unified as a Church from this ordeal. And perhaps our faith and witness will be stronger too.
Jonty Langley is a writer, former DJ and recovering philosophy major. By day he works at a Christian mission agency, by night he argues with people on the internet. He also hosts the Beer Christianity podcast. Find it on Twitter: @beerxianity
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