Tested to despair

All endeavours are curtailed by COVID-19 and Christian mission work is no exception.

Your heart might be crying out in anguish at the suffering you are seeing around you and at your inability to do anything about it. You may be feeling the onset of grief as the prospect of losing your mission work, mission projects and mission relation-ships becomes more and more likely.

But in all these circumstances, you can hang on to God and refuse to give up on faith in him. You can, like Job, cry out to God and express your anguish – even outrage – at him. But this is an act of faith, not doubt, if you express your pain to God.

You can ask God to give you supernatural strength so that you keep seeking to serve others; you can ask him to help you grow in the realisation that the only thing that matters is faith. To keep serving and to keep believing in such circumstances might make no sense whatsoever, but it will bring God glory. This is what he made you for.

Amidst all the unknowns, there is one thing we do know with absolute certainty, about God’s purposes in suffering. It provides us with an opportunity to grow in Christlikeness. This is, after all, our eternal destination – to share in the glory of Christ, to reflect his character. This is how we bring God glory now – by being transformed moment by moment into the likeness of his son.

And this transformation happens in front of a watching world.

Because of instantaneous global communications, the effectiveness of various cultures to equip their populations to cope with severe suffering and life-threatening situations is evident to all. Many cultures with no Christian heritage are far less panicked by this epidemic than the secular west. Why is this so?

Pastor Tim Keller observes that karmic cultures allow their adherents to detach from suffering and so cope with it; stoic cultures consider it a virtue for people to stand firm in the midst of suffering; and honour cultures see adversity as an opportunity to display courage and dignity, with death even being welcomed because it allows such qualities to be displayed.

Some in the secular west, on the other hand, are reacting as though the world is about to end and there is no tomorrow. That’s because, for the secular mind, death does end the world, and death removes the prospect of there being a tomorrow.

All other world-views value something greater than the here-and-now; everything the secular worldview offers can be destroyed by one’s own death and by worldwide devastation. No wonder the West is in a panic.

Western Christians should be humble enough to acknowledge the superiority of non-western cultures in this respect. But the Christian gospel transcends all cultures.It can equip individual Christians and believing communities to face this pandemic with even greater engagement, peace and courage than karmic, stoic or honour cultures do.

The coronavirus crisis is a backdrop against which Christians’ love for others, faith in God, and hope for the future can be seen. Far from repelling people, Christian communities’ responses in the midst of despair should attract at least some people to God.

While certainly severe, can we bring ourselves to see the coronavirus pandemic as ‘a severe mercy’? To see it as a global opportunity for the watching world to see faith in Christ at work – loving service, steadfast peace, and humble strength wrought in the lives of communities of God’s people? Can we give a reason for the hope we have?

Is it wrong to hope that what people see and hear will cause at least some to turn to Jesus and be saved? God will save people in and through and after this pandemic, if Christ’s people live steadfastly with faith, hope and love.

The backdrop of world cultures that cannot offer faith, hope and love in the face of despair will mean Christ’s light is seen to burn all the more brightly through his people.

Tim McMahon  

Please pray

  • For our mission workers to know God’s peace and maintain hope in these uncertain times.

  • For Christian communities to be united as they respond with increased love and commitment to serve.

  • For non-believers to come to Christ because of his love shown through his people in this time of crisis.