Yesterday’s news cycle was an eventful one for folks in our community. Last night, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp held a press conference to announce that the first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 (“coronavirus”) have been discovered in Georgia. Then as many of us slept peacefully through the night, tornadoes ripped through the greater Nashville, TN area – inflicting devastation to property, killing at least 22 people, and causing the whereabouts of many others to remain unknown. Many members of our church family have family and friends who reside near Nashville – whose houses have been devastated and whose lives have been turned upside-down. Not coincidently, yesterday also marked the day upon which another member of our church – a contractor with the CDC – said goodbye to his wife and children for a deployment related to the coronavirus.
Many of us are asking the question, “Where is God in all of this?” And chances are, if you’re reading this article, you’re likely asking a similar question.
Finding Our Place within the Gospel Story
To answer that question, it is important to understand the four-part storyline of the gospel – Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.
- Creation: out of the goodness of his loving-kindness, God created the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing). In its original condition, Creation was free from all brokenness, strife, disaster, and pain. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31, ESV).
- Fall: the brokenness we presently see in Creation – manifested in things such as tornadoes and viruses – is not a result of any deficiency found in God. Instead, the Bible tells us that “[The] creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it…” (Romans 8:20, ESV). We see the roots of this curse of creation in Genesis 3:17-19. Because the first man, Adam, broke God’s commandment not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the earth is cursed; whereas once it easily yielded its bountiful provision for the members of the human race, now it inflicts pain and hardship upon them. Moreover, because each descendant of Adam – that is, each one of us – share in the sin of Adam by both our natures and by our choices, we still experience the effects of a sin-broken Creation today. Tornadoes swirl and viruses spread because of human sin.
- Redemption: do we have hope for experiencing anything other than this present brokenness? By the grace of God, the answer is “YES!” Jesus left heaven for earth to stand in our place – to take every bit of pain, damage, and death we deserve to receive from our broken world as a consequence of our sinfulness. He lost friends to illness (John 11). He was tossed about by fierce storms (Mark 4:35-41). Thorns – the hallmark of a fallen Creation (Genesis 3:18) – were pressed upon his head to draw his blood (Matthew 27:29). Eventually he died gruesomely upon a wooden cross. Jesus did it all in fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 53:5-6 (ESV):
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Regardless of how we suffer, we are never alone. Jesus is well-acquainted with the specifics of our grief.
- Restoration: the Christian’s hope is this: because Jesus has taken the just desserts of our sinfulness upon himself – loss, grief, brokenness, and death – he offers to us the rewards of his resurrection and of his perfect righteousness. Here-and-now, we live as those who are indwelt by God’s Spirit (Titus 3:4-7), who are loved by God the Father to the exact same degree as the Father loves Christ himself (John 17:23), and who are always-and-forever regarded as perfectly righteous through the saving work of Christ (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Our future hope is that the brokenness of Creation will be removed forever, and we will dwell with Christ himself in a New Earth of things made new (Revelation 21:1-5).
The Page is Going to Turn
In bleak circumstances such as yesterday’s, I am tempted to believe that God is distant – that “things are always going to be this way” – and that there is no abiding hope. But the gospel story reminds us all that Christ is with us in our suffering – that he willingly and undeservingly shared similar experiences in order that we might receive the gift of his salvation. And equally as important, the gospel story reminds us that our present experiences – as trying as they may be – are a single page within the movement of God’s grand plan of redemption.
We’re presently living in an “in-between” chapter of the Story – somewhere in the middle of “Redemption” and “Restoration.” Though we as believers are already perfectly-righteous citizens of heaven (Ephesians 2:19-22), we still inhabit a world that is full of both sin and sinners. Consequently, the brokenness of sin persists. Tornadoes and viruses kill and destroy, and we count ourselves among the victims.
But have hope, Christian! The page is going to turn; Restoration is coming! The only reason that it has yet to dawn is because Christ is still at work seeking and saving the lost. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (1 Peter 3:9, ESV). These trials are real, but they are not worth comparing to the eternal weight of glory that will be revealed at the coming of Christ Jesus (Romans 8:18) – both for us who already believe, and for others who will soon be the beneficiaries of God’s patience as they receive the gifts of repentance and faith.
In the Waiting…
As tornadoes swirl and as viruses spread, I’m reminded of these words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, KJV).
In this in-between chapter, we pray for an end to the spread of the coronavirus, for a fast recovery for those affected by the recent storms in Nashville, and for comfort for all those who have lost loved ones due to these phenomena. Those things won’t be in the coming Kingdom – and we pray and labor towards the end of seeing little bits of that Kingdom break-in to Earth, now.
But regardless of the timing, we know our prayers will be answered once and for all when Christ returns to utter the words, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5, ESV).
Come, Lord Jesus! Turn the page!