During this season of pandemic, it is essential that we as believers hold fast to the truth that nothing can separate us from the love of God and the protection of Jesus Christ. This is true no matter our circumstances, and now it is even more necessary that we do not lose faith in the goodness of God in these historically difficult times.
On September 11, 2001, my daughter was five years old. I remember watching as destruction and devastation took hold first of New York City, then our nation, and finally the rest of the world as the safety and security we took for granted literally fell out of the sky. I remember whisking my daughter to another room, away from the television. She asked, “What’s wrong Mom?” and I told her, “Someone flew an airplane into a big building in New York City.” She asked, “Was anybody hurt?” All I could say was, “Yes, Honey, people were hurt, we have to pray.” How do you tell a child that everything just changed forever, in the blink of an eye? Since then she has grown up in the post-911 world and does not remember what it was like before.
Almost twenty years later my granddaughter is five years old, and the whole world is in quarantine. She started pre-K last fall and in the weeks before her first day of school she was extremely nervous. It only took her two or three days to find her place in the excitement of getting to know wonderful teachers, a flock of new friends, and activities that she was solidly prepared for. On Fridays she would say she could not wait for Monday so she could be with her pals.
Then suddenly stay-at-home orders were issued, everything came to a full stop, and she has not seen her friends and teachers for weeks. We have not explained to her yet that she may not see them again until she starts kindergarten in the fall. She knows there is “a thing” happening, and that one day it will “go away,” but that scrap of information does not make her feel any better. She can not wrap her understanding around why almost every kid in the world is stuck at home at the same time. Yesterday was gloriously sunny, and we ventured over to a local playground, only to be met with orange plastic barriers and signs that warned us to KEEP OUT. Although she is staying cheerful, this lockdown is starting to get to her. My granddaughter misses the little playmates she loves so very much.
During this Covid 19 crisis, my daughter is in what was once my position as she watches everything change dramatically before her eyes and wonders how the new normal will affect her precious daughter, and the world, in the years ahead. The truth is nobody really knows.
But that is the little truth. The Big Truth is that God the Father knows. Jesus knows. The Holy Spirit knows. And that is what we need to remember. In God’s eyes we are like little children, and it is hard for us to see beyond the trials in these moments and hold fast to what cannot be shaken.
The things of this world, although they are real and can indeed be very painful, are nevertheless like a vapor and insubstantial. They are not eternal, but temporary. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Paul said that the afflictions we suffer on earth are preparing us for glory. These earthly afflictions are “light” and “momentary” but the glory that is ours is eternal and weighty – like the difference between aluminum foil and pure gold. The things that cause us to suffer are not meant to last, and they will pass. But the ways we respond to these trials shape us and re-shape us, preparing us for our entrance into eternity.
In the Old Testament, Isaiah wrote of the suffering that Israel experienced when they strayed from God, but as always, God had a plan to heal his people even though it required a re-forming of their nation. Isaiah called upon the Lord, saying, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (64:8). The hands of God guide and protect us. But they also mold and shape us. We are the work of his hands, and God uses our temporary sufferings to prepare us to carry the full weight of his glory. A vessel made of clay cannot fulfill its function until it is shaped and tempered. Without the potter’s wheel, a lump of clay has no purpose; without the heat of the kiln, it has no strength.
In the New Testament, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30).
Jesus, the Lamb of God, knows what it feels like to be one of the sheep, and because his heart is full of compassion for his flock, he is also the Good Shepherd. He leads us, he feeds us, he gives us rest. He guides us through valleys filled with shadows and prepares a feast of anointing for us on the other side. He is Goodness and Mercy and he will be with us all our lives, extending into eternity.
Hebrews 11 is known as the “faith hall of fame.” In it, we find the names of Biblical heroes like Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and Moses, and we are introduced to a nameless host of others who conquered kingdoms, quenched fires, starved lions, and put armies to flight. They hid in caves and wandered homeless. They walked by faith and not by sight and they pleased God. Yet they did not receive the full promise that we, on this side of the cross, have received by grace. “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (vv. 29-30).
The author of Hebrews goes on to encourage us, saying, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:1-3).
As Jesus promised in his letter to the church at Laodicea, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline [shape and strengthen], so be zealous and repent [be strong and turn to Jesus]. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:19-21).
We are in a season of shaping and re-forming. God is using what is happening on the earth to prepare himself a people who will be strong and of good courage, for his glory. He is the Potter, the Good Shepherd, the King of kings and Lord of lords. We are his People and his Body, his Bride and his Church. He will never leave us nor forsake us.
Like little children who can only see so far and understand so much, we do not know what the future holds. But our Father in heaven proclaims the end from the beginning and nothing can snatch us out of his hands. While he shapes us, he protects us. As he guides us, he strengthens us. We are being prepared for everything that lies ahead, and our Savior never lets go of our hands. With that assurance we can trust God and not be afraid, no matter the circumstances.
“Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord! May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!”
All scriptures are from the English Standard Version translation.