COVID & Controversies: A Christian Response in Times of Social Turmoil and Pressure
Wow, we’re living in turbulent times across our planet – civil unrest in South Africa, floods in Germany and India, fires in America, ransomware attacks on global businesses, political unrest between China and Australia, and all this amid a global corona virus pandemic which is claiming the lives of vulnerable people. Riots on Saturday 24 July at Sydney Town Hall (‘Worldwide Rally for Freedom’) reflect again the pressure some Australian residents are feeling after successive lockdowns in major cities around Australia and throughout the world. It is during these times we can all feel pressure, stress, and uncertainty – and with this – heightened emotions such as anxiety and fear. With another month of lockdowns being announced today, for greater Sydney and its surrounds, I believe it is important to recognise the plainly obvious – “people are experiencing a level of uncertainly, pressure, and disruption together with fear and anxiety”. With disruption, our sense of safety is challenged, and every human requires safety alongside their physical needs to live well.
“Safety” is a primal need (food, shelter, employment, family, health, and agency – western countries will be better positioned in these times and therefore have a greater responsibility to help globally), and when people feel unsafe and emotions are heightened, individuals start to take control of their lives the way they see fit. Some people have more resources in times like COVID and may have a greater sense of safety. In our communities though, we inherently trust our elected politicians to take care of the broader safety concerns for the community at large. Some of the behaviour and protesting we’re seeing at the moment is coming from people who feel unsafe and have little control over their lives.
As people who profess faith in Christ Jesus of Nazareth and the Scriptures, how should we represent God and His Kingdom amid such times? How do we attain safety and certainty for ourselves, our loved ones, and our community? I strongly appeal to our faith in Christ in this moment as an anchor for our souls. I want to reframe what’s going on globally and locally and center us on a positive and godly response to decisions governments are making, while respecting people’s individual conscience on matters of politics, the ethics and health benefits of vaccination, and legal protests.
As Christians we have been saved from the spirit of this world though at times, we can risk slipping back into it. In times of crisis, we risk slipping into competing worldly attitudes of suspicion, mistrust, and anarchy if we don’t exercise a measured response to crisis with wisdom and grace. In order to respond as Christ in this world, we need to understand what we belong to when we receive Christ. Importantly, we belong to a new Kingdom with new attitudes.
“For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins”Col. 1:13 NLT
Jesus also says,
“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world”Jn. 18:36 NLT
“The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you”Lk. 17:20-21
Therefore, when our spirits are ‘born again’ through faith in Christ we become part of God’s family and a spiritual Kingdom. Jesus teaches us new attitudes which his followers are to display – faith, mercy, humility, gentleness, kindness, patience, goodness, perseverance, wisdom, and peace (Mt. 5:1-11; Gal. 5:22-23; 2Pe. 1:5-7). This Kingdom of Christ is also non-retaliatory in nature. We are called to persevere under pressure, to see the best in others whilst being shrewd, turn the other cheek, and not live by the sword. These ideals and values define Christians of all generations and in this sense, we become light and salt in the earth, bringing flavour and perspective amid worldly confusion (Mt. 5:13-16). The Apostle Paul says (and remember he’s writing from a government prison!),
“Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless”Phil. 2:14-16 NLT
As a Christian then, can I really announce “my rights” when a virus is ravaging the planet? As a Christian can I really entertain the most fringe theories on suspicion alone? As Christians, we don’t live with our ‘head in the sand’ either and ignore injustice, poverty, or the needs of our global community, but we do need to make sure our spirit and attitudes are not tainted by confused worldly ideals of suspicion, mistrust, and confusion. Remember what Paul says,
“With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him”.Eph. 4:17-18 NLT
When emotions run high, in righteous anger we think we are representing something good when actually we’ve got God and His agenda all wrong! Do I think all governments and big business decisions represent the core values of our faith and the best interests of humanity? (corruption is not just ‘out there’ beyond us, it is in our own hearts too in big and small ways) No, but does that mean I should resort to retaliatory and subversive actions? No, it should not. In fact Paul says,
“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity”1Ti. 2:1-2 NLT
“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished”Ro. 13:1-2 NLT
Christ Jesus was not naïve or idealistic. Jesus saw this world as a fallen realm because of sin. Concurrent with this ‘fallen reality’ is God’s great love for the lost human family who are offered salvation and regeneration through the redemptive work of the cross. Jesus understood people and sin when he said,
“For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you”Mk. 7:21-23 NLT
Jesus also understood the world which we now live, and in which successive generations of his followers will live,
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world”Jn. 16:33 NLT
Again Jesus says,
“Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves”Mt. 10:16 NLT
The world is not always a just and amicable place (it is a domain of spiritual darkness Col. 1:13), but as Christians we are called to be shrewd and innocent in the world. We are called to bring light and salt to the relationships and communities God has placed us in (Acts 17:26) and to be His ambassadors (2Co. 5:20 – we represent a King). This occurs in the midst of evil – corruption, greed, self-interest, pride, and personal gain. Though we are called to pursue justice and mercy, to stand up for the widow, the orphan and the oppressed, we must do so with humility and love (like Christ) and ultimately trust the Lord has our lives and loved ones in the palm of his hand. Justice will not always be realised in our communities and lives. However, the Lord says, “vengeance is mine” (Ro. 12:17-21).
I understand it is so hard on us all – successive lockdowns, time away from our families and friends, the toll on our mental health, and the impact on businesses and income for working families. I do believe our Australian governments (Federal, State, and Local) are doing their best to bring us all through this in the best way possible. It is quite possible – long term – we will need to learn to live with the virus like the common influenza, but until then this short term approach is the government’s best effort amid a health crisis to get us through to the ‘other side’ – however that looks. I do believe Gladys Berejiklian when she said today at 11:30am, “we’re committed to seeing people living as freely as possible”. I think we should act in good faith on this comment and allow governments to regain some advantage over the virus, before we press our “rights” to gather in assembly and to legal protest. As the public we need to persevere and show faith.
I want to anchor us in another spiritual reality – the sovereignty of God. Our God is not only the creator of the universe and all life but the One who sustains all life right now.
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas and built it on the ocean depths”Ps. 24:1-2 NLT
Paul also reveals,
“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together”Col. 1:15-17 NLT
Our faith in a sovereign God is characteristic of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, to be in His Kingdom, and to bring godly attitudes and solutions as children of God in times of trouble. Let’s choose faith and wisdom today as we respond to adversity, not suspicion, fear, and anarchy. Let’s move in love and not be the first to claim, “our rights”. Let’s focus our attention and be purposeful in trusting our sovereign God; the one who has sent Jesus in power by raising Him from the dead. Let’s remember Christian love,
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance”1Co. 13:4-7 NLT
As I close out this conversation, I want to anchor our hearts today in Psalm 46. I encourage you to meditate and pray this scripture that it may orientate you on who God is amid the storms of life.
God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
2 So we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.
3 Let the oceans roar and foam.
Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
4 A river brings joy to the city of our God,
the sacred home of the Most High.
5 God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.
From the very break of day, God will protect it.
6 The nations are in chaos,
and their kingdoms crumble!
God’s voice thunders,
and the earth melts!
7 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress. Interlude
8 Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
See how he brings destruction upon the world.
9 He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”
11 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;Ps 46:1-11 NLT
the God of Israel is our fortress.
My prayer is you will have peace and wisdom as you trust in Jesus through this time. Commit your safety to Him. Be strong and courageous and full of Christ’s love!
C3 Church Shellharbour
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