Coronamageddon?

Is the worldwide pandemic called Coronavirus a sign of the impending end of the world? A complete answer would include both “yes” and “no”… or to be more accurate, “Yes, but not in the way most people understand it.”

Addressing a question about the sign of his coming and the close of the age, Jesus responded, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:4-8).

To the list of wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes, we could add many other events: terrorist attacks, powerful storms, raging fires, and the spread of diseases. All these tragedies indicate that the world faces judgment, and they remind us that a final reckoning is coming. But these events are not a countdown to the Last Day. Nowhere does Jesus say—or do the apostles and prophets say—that such events will be more common as the Last Day approaches. They remind us that the Day of the Lord will come—it is seven days closer than it was a week ago. But we cannot make any assumptions about how soon that Day will be. “No one knows the day or the hour” (Matthew 24:36), or even the year, decade, or century. False teachers have predicted the End on a certain date, and so far they have all been wrong.

Instead, we see creation “groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). It seems presumptuous for two men—unmarried men at that—to speak of birth pains and childbirth as if they knew what they were describing. But God created all that exists; he has been present during every pregnancy and every birth. God knows how the female body prepares to give birth to a baby, making internal adjustments that are sometimes called “false labor.” The time for the baby to be born has not yet arrived, but the mother’s body is preparing for that great event. In the same way, wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes and widespread diseases remind us that a Great Event is coming. Jesus will be seen in the clouds, all the dead will be raised, God’s faithful people will be welcomed into a new creation, and those who refused his grace will be sent away. Every violent and tragic event in history speaks to us of that final Day when the entire earth will be shaken and everything will be changed. Today sinners battle sinners, and all creation works against the sinners who occupy its dwellings. In a sense, we sinners are the infection and viruses are the antibodies trying to protect the world from our harmful presence. But Jesus is the great Physician who will heal creation and also who heals sinners, making us fit to live in the new world without pain and sorrow and death.

Every crisis is an opportunity. As we strive to protect our health and the health of our neighbors, we can be servants of love rather than isolated selfish sinners. We can bring groceries and other supplies to those who are quarantined for their own safety or to keep the rest of us safe. We can support those who are losing income to the shut-downs of society. (Every canceled concert, sports event, and gathering means loss of income, not merely to the performers and athletes, but to the many other people whose careers depend upon these happenings—most of whom do not have savings to carry them through this time of hardship.) We can pray to the Lord to strengthen the healers, support the suffering, comfort the sorrowing, and relieve the fears of ourselves and our neighbors. We can be shining examples of faith and love in a world that easily loses hope and gives way to fear and worry. God remains in control, and his promises never fail. Between today and the Day of the Lord, we have countless opportunities to do the work of his kingdom. Through all that happens, God’s plan will be accomplished. J.

Turn the other cheek

“But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:39-42).

Jesus gives radical examples of not resisting evil—so radical that, over the centuries, many Christians have tried to reduce them to something manageable. They have said that these examples are metaphors, not to be taken literally. They look for excuses, ways to explain that Jesus does not mean what he says. We accomplish the good deeds we can, and then we claim that we have turned the other cheek and have gone the extra mile. At the same time, we justify ourselves for not giving to everyone who asks. We tell ourselves that blind obedience to this rule would enrich liars and con artists while forcing our own children to starve.

Can we compromise the teachings of Jesus and still call ourselves his followers? Can we remove the challenge of selfless living from Christianity and still call ourselves Christians? Jesus calls us to forget ourselves, even to allow ourselves to be abused by the world. Trying to make his rules less radical is the equivalent of denying Jesus, saying that we do not know who he is.

Turn the other cheek. If other people want to hurt you and insult you, allow them to hurt and insult you. When you fight back, you are no better than they are. Most religions recognize this principle. “Blessed are the meek,” Jesus said. Now he demands extreme meekness from his followers.

Give up your cloak as well as your tunic. The tunic is just a shirt—desirable to have, but not necessary. The cloak is a coat to wear in cool or rainy weather; at night it becomes a blanket. The cloak is much more valuable than the tunic. To surrender more than was demanded from you is meekness to the point of absurdity. Still, Jesus requires this from us.

Go the extra mile. Roman soldiers could force subject people to carry a burden for them, but only for a distance of one mile. Simon of Cyrene was grabbed from the crowd and required to carry the cross of Jesus (Matthew 27:32). Most people probably would agree that the Roman law was unjust, even with its one-mile limit. Instead of preaching against the law, Jesus tells his followers to do twice as much for others as the law requires.

Give to everyone who asks. Do not keep anything for yourself. Do not judge the honesty or the worthiness of the person who asks to borrow from you. Money and property are not as valuable as love for God and love for every neighbor. If we resent the way other people ask for a portion of our money or our property, we have forgotten to love those neighbors as much as Jesus loves us.

We can try to adjust these laws to meet our diminished level of goodness. Instead, Jesus wants us to use these laws to judge our poor amount of goodness. His perfect standard is far beyond the reality of the way we live our lives. When we acknowledge the difference between his standards and our accomplishments, then our eyes are opened and we see our need for a Savior.

The scribes and the Pharisees constantly rewrote God’s laws to make them practical. Jesus goes the opposite direction. He tells us to be like God even when being like God is not practical. As we realize how badly the world has twisted our thoughts and perceptions—how hard it is for us to be meek and generous, loving and selfless—we see why we need Jesus as our Savior. His radical perfection is the only antidote to our shortcomings. Jesus lived up to his own standards. He turned the other cheek. He went the extra mile. Now Jesus gives us credit for his perfect goodness. Our sins have been removed, so that God sees in us the perfection of his Son. J.