Today the county in which I live issued an order to our local citizens to “Stay Home, Work Safe.” This means that we are to shelter-in-place, effective at midnight tonight. The phrase “shelter-in-place” carries an undertone of fear. There is something out there which is to be feared. Danger is lurking. Take cover. Find shelter. Protect yourself and your loved ones.
For me, “shelter in place” evokes memories of hiding under a mattress as a tornado ripped through town—not staying outside, but tearing into our home through the windows, roof, and walls, and turning our lives upside down. It also brings to mind memories of boarding the windows against approaching hurricanes while living in South Florida through the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. When we lived in Pennsylvania we took shelter from blizzards.
Like our current threat, when a hurricane or blizzard approached, there was time to prepare (not so with tornadoes…). We gathered the family together at home, and the shelves at the grocery store were emptied. Unlike our current threat, the danger against which we prepared came from outside, would visibly and noisily roar through town, and then be gone. Today’s threat is neither loud, nor visible, and it isn’t lurking outside our door. Today’s threat is an invisible virus, and it may well be sheltering among us as we isolate ourselves from our families and friends.
And maybe this is why today’s threat seems more menacing than a storm. It’s certainly why so many people, states, and nations have altered life as we’ve known it and have taken extreme, even unprecedented measures to protect us from the deadly threat that so many carry quietly and invisibly in their bodies.
I’m sitting inside my house, looking out the windows at a clear sky, listening to the birds sing, and it all seems so normal. But when I went to the grocery store this morning everyone was careful to stand apart from others. Only a controlled number of shoppers were allowed inside at a time, so a line snaked around the parking lot. Many people were wearing gloves and masks, and at the door store employees were handing out anti-bacterial wipes to everyone as they entered. It all seems so unreal. Even among all the shoppers, we each stood isolated from one another.
And yet, there’s something all too familiar about this menace which isolates and terrifies us. Today’s threat, carried by a virus (Novel Coronavirus), may be a new phenomenon encountered by humanity, but it’s child’s-play compared to the deadly menace carried inside every human heart from the beginning of our race. COVID-19 merely threatens human lives with quarantine, and at worse, if uncured, death. But sin threatens human souls with separation from God and one another, and eventually, if uncured, God’s holy, eternal wrath.
Oh, how I hate writing that, but it’s true. Scripture teaches that our first parents sinned, and from that moment the transmission rate of their sin to the rest of humanity is 100%. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. . . . For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10–12, 23). This is the deadly peril that we carry within our chests from the moment of our conception, and it hides there quietly, corrupting us body, mind, and soul, whether the sun is shining and all appears normal, or the storm rages outside while we huddle indoors. We are isolated and imperiled by our sin.
Masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer cannot protect us, and all the soap in the world won’t wash away our sin. From this congenital plague only the Lord himself provides refuge, through the blood of Jesus which alone can cleanse us from our sin (1 John 1:7). Jesus himself took our plague upon himself in order to provide for us the only remedy by which we may be healed (1 Pet. 2:24). Therefore we who have been cleansed and healed may sing together:
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
The Lord not only provides refuge in Christ, but his goodness sweetens our exile. The grocery shelves may be empty, but those whose sins have been cleansed by Christ will lack no good thing. His word assures us that we can 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). And what is the good purpose that God is working out for his beloved called ones, even in these extraordinary times? “Those whom he called he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (8:29). In our isolation, in the midst of this quiet and invisible storm, we have the opportunity to become more Christlike, through the working of the Holy Spirit.
So, Christians, let’s entrust ourselves to our God, humbly casting all our anxieties on him, because he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). And let us also “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called,” as Paul reminded us from his own imprisonment, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1–3). For though we are separated from one another physically in our own homes—or hospital rooms— “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4–6). We may be isolated from one another, but nothing, not even this virus, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (8:39).
If this is not your hope, and you have not tasted of the goodness of the Lord, turn to him even now! “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2). If you are isolated from God and are burdened by fear during this crisis, hear the merciful call of Jesus: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28–29). The rest Jesus provides is not only freedom from fear, and the cure for all our sin, but also reconciliation with God.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. . . . God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified (made right with God) by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. . . . More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:6, 89, 11).
Seek him while he may be found, dear one, so that you too may sing together with the rest of his saints:
I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.