“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Thomas Paine wrote in December of 1776. “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” Even today, as a paralyzed nation recedes into itself under the tyranny of an infectious agent, Paine’s words ring true. When so much of the external has all but vanished – sports, social connections, entertainment – we are left to look inward, and some may even take this moment to look upward.
Thus, the faithful and faithless alike have been afforded a unique opportunity through this national emergency thrust upon us by the Coronavirus. With nowhere to go and little to do, this may be a moment for the faithless to reflect, question, or search for what ails the soul. For the faithful, it could be a time to examine whether their belief is nothing more than a shiny but thin veneer with spit and polish holding it together. Or will they find their faith to be a structure made of oak that will not bend or break? It can be said that faith is not a straight line but rather a continuum that exists within time and space.
If you are sitting at home pondering the fact that church is canceled, perhaps it is time to consider this statement for what it is – a lie. Indeed, this is patently untrue. Church, as most Christians will inform you, is not a place, but rather a people. The New Testament, originally written in Greek, uses for church the word “ecclesia” – that is, the church is an assembly of God’s people, not a place where you go. Since the church is not made of wood and steel but rather breath and bone, what are the characteristics of this ecclesia? And what is its function in these trying times?
Love can be a noun or a verb. Love is the most significant of all characteristics for the people of God if put into action. Faithful souls can use this time to move in myriad powerful ways to assist those in need, whether the target of their helping hands be the ecclesia or those without any faith whatsoever.
We all know about eros or romantic love because so much of the American culture venerates this type of sexual bond. But what about the many forms of love as outlined in the Bible? Could we use some storge or empathy love toward our family? How about some philios love — that affection that causes us to reach out to a friend. Perhaps we take this time to saturate ourselves in God’s unconditional agape or divine love.
Indeed, at a time so trying for many souls, we find ourselves with an exceptional opportunity to use love as a verb. Know someone who is on a financial string? You can deliver food to their doorstep or stroke a check. Have a family member who is elderly and isolated? You have all the time in the world to call them with words of encouragement. Is there a friend in the faith who is frightened? You can text them an inspiring Scripture. Know someone without any faith at all? You can listen to their fears and point them in the direction of peace and hope.
The place where so many Americans find themselves this Sunday morning may be filled with panic or peace. It may be filled with fear or faith. In any and every situation, the church – that is, the people of God – have a unique opportunity to put their love, in all its beautiful forms, into action.
Not until we recognize that this isn’t a Sunday without church but one in which the church can spill into the lives of a fearful and hurting people, will we be able to triumph over the tyranny of this virus. It just could be that deprived of congregation in a building with a cross and a pastor or priest, this movement of love could make this the most glorious of all Sundays.
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD God is an everlasting rock (Isaiah 26:3–4, ESV).
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)
For your listening pleasure, go to Gotta Serve Somebody by Bob Dylan
– Scripture references provided by Laura K. Gabel and Edrie Scisciani
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.