As I write this, the coronavirus is coming. By the time you read it, the virus will be well and truly here.
Right now, the pandemic still seems distant. I don’t know anyone who’s died from COVID-19 or anyone who’s been bereaved. I don’t even know anyone who’s being diagnosed with it. But by the time we read this article, the virus will almost certainly be a lot closer. We might be grieving a loved one. We might be seriously unwell.
There’s a danger that amid increasing turmoil, we forget the truths that have stood the test of time, and have kept God’s people through storms, plagues, famines and wars. So I’m writing to remind my future self, and you dear reader, of the truths that I believe now and will remain true no matter how terrible coronavirus gets, and no matter how anxious we become.
2 Chronicles 20:9 sums up my message. When King Jehoshaphat faced an overwhelming enemy, he stood outside the temple and said to the Lord, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’
Jehosaphat’s message is powerful, and there are at least three things we can learn from it.
In 1 Chronicles 20:3-5, Jehoshaphat ‘proclaim[s] a fast throughout all Judah… from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord’. Verse 13 says this: ‘all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children’.
Jehoshaphat was the most powerful man in the land, but he wasn’t going to face this alone. He needed God’s people.
That’s why Samuel gathered God’s people to Mizpah to confess their sin and cry out to God (1 Samuel 7). It’s why King Josiah gathered all God’s people to the temple, to re-dedicate themselves to God’s law (2 Kings 23). It’s why Nehemiah gathered all God’s people to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 9). It’s why God’s people came together to plead for mercy (Jeremiah 42). It’s why, when persecution began, God’s people came together to pray for courage (Acts 4).
We, too, must come together. But how do we do that in the middle of increasing lockdown?
It’s hard for us, but it was harder for them. It would have taken at least a couple of days for Jehoshaphat’s messengers to reach all the towns of Judah and several days longer for their representatives to travel to Jerusalem.
This virus has caused restrictions perhaps no other generation has faced. Yet, we’re connected in ways that Jehoshaphat could only dream of. Even posting a letter for next-day delivery would have blown his mind, nevermind phones, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype and email.
Whatever communication methods are still operating when this letter is read, we must use them. No matter what the restrictions, it’s likely easier for us to come together than it was for Jehoshaphat. He made it a priority. So should we.
Cry to God
When God’s people came together, they prayed, and Jehoshaphat’s prayer still speaks powerfully today (v12):
We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.
I feel powerless now. By the time you read this, that will probably have multiplied tenfold. But even if we do not know what to do, our eyes should be on the Lord.
Where we are powerless, he is powerful. Where we are helpless, he loves to help.
When Britain was at war with Germany and the British Army were trapped at Dunkirk, King George VI called for a National Day of Prayer. Millions of Britons prayed, and 335,000 soldiers were saved from the French beaches in what even secular historians call ‘the miracle of Dunkirk’. Without that miracle, prompted by prayer, Britain may have sued for peace with Germany and Nazism may have dominated Western Europe for several generations.
We must cry to God for the protection of the healthy, the recovery of the sick, the souls of the dying, and the comfort of the bereaved. We must pray for stamina for medical professionals, wisdom for government, and breakthroughs from scientists. Above all, we must cry out to God that he would use this terrible pandemic to remind a lost world how much it needs him.
This virus is a warning siren to the world. For decades, British people have tried to be self-confident and self-determining. We value our freedom to make our own choices. Truth is so subjective that people believe that just declaring something to be, makes it true. But in this crisis, people are realising that freedom is not a panacea.
The world is facing a virus we don’t understand and can’t control. Independence and self-government don’t work. We need community. We need authority. We need help. We cannot simply self-declare that black is white, or that this virus is harmless. There’s a brutal reality here that we can’t ignore.
And all that should be driving men and women to their knees. The coronavirus, for all its horror and terror, is perhaps the greatest evangelistic opportunity the church has had in a generation.
Be confident in God
In verse 9, Jehoshaphat says, ‘we will cry out to you in affliction, and you will hear and save’.
He doesn’t say, ‘you might hear and save’, but ‘you will hear and save’. Jahaziel shows the same confidence in verse 17: ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed… the Lord will be with you’. The Judeans showed the same confidence by worshipping God before he rescued them.
And they were right to be confident because God miraculously delivered them (verses 24-30).
In uncertain times we can remain confident in God. That doesn’t mean that bad times won’t hit. None of us is immune to illness or sadness or grief. But it does mean we can be confident that God will never leave us or forsake us.
God will not leave us if we become unwell or are hospitalised. God will not leave us if our loved ones succumb to this virus. And, most importantly of all, God will not leave us even as we approach death itself.
Thousands of British holidaymakers have been stranded overseas needing to be rescued. In the middle of a crisis, people just want to be brought safely home. The government weren’t always able to do that – but God never fails to bring his people safely home.
The wonderful NHS doctors and nurses will do everything they can to protect and support those who are unwell. But every doctor and nurse has had to sit down with a grieving relative and say, ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing more we can do’. But you’ll never hear that from God.
When God talks about rescue and salvation, his message is not that we’ll be safe from disaster or disease in this life. His message is that if we’re trusting in Christ, we’ll be safe even when disaster or disease hit, and that one day he will bring us safely home where disaster and disease are no more.
Jehoshaphat says to the Judeans (verse 20): ‘Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.’
If the people were to be rescued and saved, they needed to trust their God. They needed to believe in him. They needed to have faith.
Perhaps in these anxious times, you’re finding it difficult to trust God. The Bible tells us that faith itself is a gift from God. If it’s something you’re lacking, it’s something you can pray for. But without faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ, we will not receive the promises God gives us.
So while I don’t know what will happen over the next several weeks and months, I know this: God is in control, and God can be trusted. Let’s pray we remember that in the weeks to come.