“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?