Isolation without Insulating

Social distancing does not mean emotional distancing.

God’s prophets wept over the misery of their people, but also railed against the sins that produced them.   Yet, rarely were their prophecies directed at pagans.  Almost always, they preached against the sins of God’s people.  As I Peter 4:17 says, “…judgment must begin at the house of God…”  Today, I want to weep like the prophets, and also speak as they did to God’s people. 

     I wish I saw more expression of Evangelical sorrow during this coronavirus crisis.  Bill O’Reilly recently spoke about our need to get our economy going, even if it meant more death. He opined, “Many of those people who are dying, both here and around the world, were on their last legs anyway.” [Sean Hannity radio, April 8, 2020]  He said that he didn’t want to sound callous, but he surely did.  I’ve seen Facebook posts from Evangelicals who are willing to sacrifice lives for the sake of jumpstarting the economy.  Followers of Jesus must speak out against these and other misrepresentations of our Lord’s heart.  I see at least three things Jesus did:   

     First of all, Jesus wept repeatedly.  That’s why the prophet Isaiah called him a “Man of Sorrows.”  Matthew 9:36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless…”  He didn’t try to insulate himself from their sorrow by self-medicating with feel-good platitudes like, “All things work together for the good…” Or, “We are all going to be better on the other side of this dark time.”  He allowed himself to feel the shame of the woman caught in adultery, the despair of the beggar, the degradation of the outcaste, and the grief of a father weeping over his dead child.   He wept at the graveside of Lazarus.  He cried tears over the city of Jerusalem.  Shouldn’t we  weep that more than 20,000 people have died of the coronavirus in America, and more than 110,000 worldwide?  Shouldn’t we sob like Jesus over New York City, Chicago, New Orleans or wherever mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children are agonizing over loved ones who have died—or who are on ventilators fighting for their lives?  Shouldn’t we also grieve over the miscalculations, snafus and mistakes that are keeping us from saving more precious lives?  

     Secondly, Jesus called religious folk to repent.   During the same week that he wept over Jerusalem, he called out the Temple boys for their sins.  I have grieved over the arrogance of Evangelicals who have declared this pandemic to be God’s judgment on the sins of the world.  Many point to abortion, LGBTQ activities, secularism, liberal politics—and a host of the other usual scapegoats—as the reason for this season.  But the Scriptures don’t back them up.  God’s judgment doesn’t begin at the White House, Congressional House, State House, School House, or Movie House.  It begins at the Church House.  At your house.  And my house.  Weeping and repentance must begin with professing Christians. God made this clear more than 3,000 years ago;  “If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.” [2 Chronicles 7:14]  If the Church isn’t purified, how can we expect the world to be transformed?  

     Jesus trusted in God for his future. During that dangerous night in Gethsemane, he prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done.”  He put an uncertain future in his Father’s hands.  We are not his true followers when we put our trust in political systems, politicians, Wall Street, job’s reports, our 401 K, or economic systems. Our hope doesn’t come from the right or the left.  It comes from above.  Surely, we want peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren.  But not at the cost of making thousands of orphans, widows, or grieving parents and grandparents.  We should hope that solutions would be worked out in a timely fashion that protect both lives and economies.  Just as we trust God to see us through to the other side of this terrible pandemic, we can trust him to see us through the economic realities that follow.  

     Evangelical Grandparents, at the heart of the Gospel is the heart of Christ.  Your words won’t matter unless they are backed up by Christlike compassion.  Don’t insulate your heart from the pain that your neighbors are feeling.  Do insulate your heart from the fear that comes from worrying about an uncertain future.  Right now would be a good time to go back to the gospels to study how Jesus behaved in times like this.  You might even discover that his approach was radically different than much of Evangelicalism today.  When we return to his way of thinking and living, we just might see our wandering Millennials and Gen Zs return to Jesus and his Church!

 Dr. Bob Petterson
Legacy Imperative