Christians face the same challenge every day of their lives, namely, the challenge of living by faith. We perceive that challenge differently depending on our circumstances, but it is no more or less real regardless of what we face on any given day.
These days, however, the challenge can be overwhelming. The current challenge is no further away than a quick swipe or touch on a phone. As COVID-19 sweeps the world, we are inundated with news of rising case numbers, death tolls, social and economic crises, lockdowns, sheltering in place, hoarding of food and supplies, and often conflicting and confusing predictions of worst case scenarios as well as less than comforting best-case scenarios.
Early assurances from some government officials and a few news outlets that the virus is nowhere near as bad as some “experts” in the media make it sound, have all but evaporated. The Pollyanna hope
that we’ll soon turn the corner and find that it was really nothing
more, or even less, than seasonal flu is gone. Now we are all facing an uncertain future in both the long and short term. To say that COVID-19 and all its ripple effects is a “challenge” for every human being is an understatement, but for Christians there is a particular issue at stake, namely, whether we will be shaped and conformed by what we hear and see, or whether we will live, as we say we do, by faith.
In times of uncertainty, tragedy, and loss, we often turn to one of the more well-known verses in the Bible for comfort, “And we know that
for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28,ESV). The reasons we love this verse are easy to recognize. The Apostle Paul assures us that, no matter what, God is on our side, and even working for our good. Why is it, then, that such a profound and glorious verse sometimes brings
(if we’re honest) cold comfort? For one, we often use that verse like a spiritual Band-Aid we offer one another, and to ourselves, in times of trials. Not of course, that we shouldn’t remind ourselves of it, but we do need to be thoughtful of its meaning and application.
The big problem is what we think the word “know” means. Paul is not offering knowledge of a spiritual blueprint that will explain the behind the scenes work that God is doing in our lives. Neither is he saying that we will “know” how God is at work for our good like the
way we know the latest COVID-19 case stats. That latter is knowing by “sight”—what we see, hear and experience. The knowing Paul speaks
of is the knowing of faith. In other words, Paul is not saying that given enough time, we will see exactly what God was up to in our lives and one day say, “Now I see what God was doing!” Sometimes that happens, but not all the time. What he is saying is this: faith believes that God is who he says he is, has done all he says he has done in Christ, and is, therefore trustworthy. God can be trusted even when everything around us would line up as evidence against his promises. Faith in Christ is not the absence of doubt, fear, anxiety, or stress—it is believing in the face of doubt, fear, anxiety, and stress.
Here’s why you, as a Christian, can believe that God is on your side and working for your ultimate good. Later on in Romans 8, Paul gives a long list of things in verses 38-39 that he says “will never separate us from the love of God in Christ.” The list needs to be read primarily as painting a holistic picture rather than trying to break down each part and find individual parallels: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
All those things represent what we may see, hear, encounter, experience, sense, and perceive. Some are physical and some are spiritual in nature. All together they represent a vanguard of realities that would line up to attack and ultimately destroy our faith (not unlike the news lately). COVID-19, and all its related effects, fits into that list. Paul offers us the hope that regardless of what we see, we may know
by faith that God really is on our side. He is at work always conforming “us to the image of his Son” (8:29). We can have assurance of that by faith because God has already given us the supreme gift in the ultimate sacrifice for us: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (8:31-32). That’s how God is at work for our good. That is the knowledge, the ultimate knowledge, of faith.
Romans 8:28 is not for a spiritual burying our heads in the sand,
or an offer of easy answers—faith is never easy—in our current difficult times. It is, rather, a biblical call to understand and react to COVID-19 specifically as Christians. Romans 8:28 does not magically wipe away concern and replace it with casual complacency, but offers the freedom of faith so that we can live as Christ in the world, witnesses to God in Christ in a world gripped with fear, doubt, and death.