Whether Covid-19 it is a manufactured crisis or a natural disaster, there is no avoiding it’s disruption in our lives. And that means that theologians of great repute, philosophers of self-importance, and Internet hacks alike have tried to offer their spin on it. Of particular note, the place of the Gospel – or lack thereof – for this unusual time was attempted here and a response to that surprising article was offered here.
N.T. Wright’s position of hopelessness was a surprising revelation, as he seemed content to mostly pull from the Old Testament psalms of lament for answers to a crisis. He seems to have forgotten that while lament is a real part of this fallen world, Christians are also a people of hope. But Andy Davis’ response, while full of beautiful words, was lacking much beyond a heady understanding of the Gospel. Everything he said was true and most of it was held aloft by angel’s wings. It was all beatific visions and truisms about how God redeems all things.
Of course, there is truth in both perspectives, but both reminded me how the modern Church has accepted a weaker and thinner understanding of the Gospel. That is, we have limited the scope of the full work of God and where and how you might find good news.
Part of the problem is that we tend to use the word “gospel” in different ways. We usually assume too much when we use that phrase. Generally speaking, unless otherwise specified as distinct from the “law”, when I say “gospel”, I am referring to the entire message from God. The same tends to be true of others, but that is not always clear. Usually in our speech, the “Gospel” includes the Law of God, or it assumes it. After all, without the Law, we have no need for the Gospel. When we say, for example, “gospel truth”, we are not only talking about good news. We are talking about the whole truth of revelation. So, unless the conversation is narrowed down to the specifically good news of the cross, the “Gospel of Jesus Christ” speaks as much about God’s reign and truth claims as any specific benefits given to you (i.e. eternal life or the forgiveness of sins).
That said, let’s zero in on the more conventional understanding of the word “Gospel”. As I see it, the “Gospel” – as distinct from the Law – is the message of 1) the forgiveness of sins and 2) the promise of resurrection and being in the presence of your loving Father. (We will all be resurrected from the dead. To where to whom we are resurrected is the question.) These are the limits to the immediate benefits of the Gospel. The Christian message doesn’t offer ease of pain and suffering now. The Gospel benefits your conscience now and your soul upon death.
Sure, others try to sell false gospels that make promises to you that Jesus never would, but the “health and wealth gospel” is a false gospel. We are told to expect to suffer by Christ himself and if wealth is an indication of God’s blessings, then that whole thing about how even Jesus’ clothes were stolen from him at his death doesn’t really jive.
Sure, being forgiven of your sins is immediate, but in this context, forgiveness – strictly speaking – is not the problem. A pandemic and our response is the problem. Likewise, I guess you could tell a Coronavirus victim that if they trust in Christ they will be raised from the dead if this happens to be the thing that kills them. But that is pretty cold comfort in a desperate situation.
So, again, where is the Gospel in a pandemic? If the gospel is mostly a time-delayed or abstract promise that doesn’t offer an immediate solution to our current problems, what good is it? Let me offer three gospel truths in light of Covid-19 that neither N.T. Wright or Andy Davis saw, either because they each in their own way have limited definitions of “good news.”
The Gospel tells us the Truth.
Jesus Christ is the loving son of our heavenly father. Jesus Christ is the redeemer of the world. Therefore, if anything – including suffering, hardship, and disease – helps us to better see the truth, then it is a blessing. I believe what we are seeing now is the fake economy we’ve been too happy to carry on, the false belief that we are impervious to disease and death, and the aforementioned false gospels running around being exposed. If the eyes of a few are opened to the lies that we tolerate and this in turn creates an appetite for the truth, that is good news.
In the face of something bigger than ourselves, something we cannot immediately fix or cure, we should understand better our powerlessness before God and our place before God. Since “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom”, and “the fool says in his heart that there is no God”, to understand that we are, in the end, powerless creatures, is good. For then we can truly appreciate who God is.
The Truth is that God is Gracious
This, then, sheds light on how gracious God really is. We better appreciate that he is the giver of life, the one who raises us from the dead, the one who can heal all disease, and the one who has waged war against death and evil for us. He is who is worthy of our worship, praise, and adoration.
And yet, how easily we forget that because in our arrogance, we have turned ourselves into mini- gods. We have solved so many of life’s problems that we have forgotten our place before God and we have stopped looking for the gifts of God. It is truly a good thing to know our place before God, to acknowledge it, and to live accordingly.
The Truth Draws us Closer to God
Because we are so used to only thinking of the good news in comforting terms, we miss the fact that to simply be made more aware of the truth is in itself good news. For when we are living in the truth, we are living in God’s world as it really is. This pandemic, as bad as some believe it is, is pretty small potatoes compared to past plagues, pestilence, and war. This is God’s friendly way of drawing us closer to Him. That alone should be seen as good news.
So unlike N.T. Wright, who can’t find anything good about this, and unlike Andy Davis, who really only speaks of the Gospel with the end times in mind, I see good news in that this is revealing more about our world as it really is. The apostles, in the light of Jesus’ ministry, proclaimed “repent and believe.” That message still is worth our attention. Maybe in the light of a pandemic, a few more people will listen.
But so long as we only think of the Gospel in comforting terms, where the good news must be good by our standard and our needs, we may miss a lot of Gospel that surrounds us right here and right now.
Photo Credit- Upsplash- Edwin Hooper