A lot of thoughts and opinions were raised about the coronavirus pandemic. On the one hand, our ears were daily tuned to the announcements coming from the government and public health authorities. On the other hand, we heard many Christians say that the pandemic is a wake-up call to repentance from God.
I agree that we must turn back to God, and yes, our lives must be made new. We have become destroyers of the earth, wreaking havoc with nature. Our overconsumption has cost us both human and ecosystem health. At the same time, it’s a shame that people talk about God’s judgment with self-righteousness and callousness, without regard for the pain and suffering of the afflicted. In the aftermath of 9/11 tragedy, quite a number of people preached that the terror attack was God’s judgment of New York for its sins of mammonism and sexual immorality. After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, I visited its Catholic church that was left in ruins and heard some missionary say that the disaster was an “act of God” to bring down Catholicism. When the Sampoong Department Store collapsed in Seoul, I heard some well-known pastor preach that it was God’s punishment on shoppers for skipping Wednesday worship services. While there’s no denying that there will be a time and day of God’s judgment, I hope we remember that the Bible also calls for compassion, empathy, and sensitivity toward the suffering of others. The Bible calls for our repentance so that we could live according to God’s heart, not so that we could point fingers at one another.
The pandemic has been a big blow for the church because its dynamic energy springs from the assembly of believers. After all, the grace-filled presence of God is more readily felt when we worship together. But our priority in seeking must always be what pleases God, rather than what we like and need. Our priority thus must be worship offered in spirit and truth – whether at church when pandemic circumstances permit, or at home online. If we could compare our coronavirus situation to Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness, perhaps this time is our testing ground to cleanse our hearts from the strivings for material goods, power, and prestige; to commit to live on every word of God and to kneel before God alone.
Our eyes, our hearts must be turned to living God. Only by believing in the love and grace fulfilled at the cross, and by believing in the victory of the resurrection, we will be able to follow as the Spirit leads us.
Lately, I’ve been having more sleepless nights due to the various concerns for the church. This past weekend, I saw a little girl riding a bike in our parking lot. I told her dad standing nearby, “This parking lot is private property.” He replied, “If it wasn’t for the coronavirus, I wouldn’t bring my child to ride a bike here.” I tried to give an explanation: “It’s just that we had people holding us legally accountable for their injuries in our parking lot…please be careful.” The little girl looked at me with startled eyes, adding to my regrets about the whole situation. It wasn’t a pastor thing to say, I later thought. Truth be told, my nerves were on edge with someone recently filing a lawsuit against our church for an alleged incident that occurred fifty years ago. I repented that I had let the problems overwhelm and distract my heart away from God.
At the end of our English services, I send forth the congregation with my hands stretched out, saying, “Now go into the world knowing the God loves, Jesus saves, and the power of the Holy Spirit is with you.” Yet I find myself overwhelmed and burdened by what I see. Let’s not allow the coronavirus take a better hold of us. Hardships and persecutions prevailed in the early church, but through enduring those trials the gospel has spread into the world.
The same grace of God sustains us in our current trials. I pray that God will continue to use his church as a channel of Christ’s life-giving love and hope for the world.