If I had a pound for every time I heard someone say, ‘We are living in strange times’, I would be a very rich man by now. Throughout human history we have had pandemics but never before have we shut down the world in an attempt to control pestilence. The ironies are striking. Recently we celebrated VE Day. I wonder what our grandfathers who fought for our freedom would have made of our ‘celebrating’ their victory under house arrest.
Or what about the observation that Google searches for ‘prayer’ have risen by a whopping 50% and yet we have closed our churches for prayer, despite the fact that the legislation allows churches to be open for ‘solitary prayer’? Even Adolf did not manage to do that. It is a cause of sadness that national church leaders have been more concerned with Health and Safety than with reaching out to society at this time of very obvious anxiety and searching.
And there has been an enormous amount of soul-searching during this extraordinary period. We have been blessed with one of the most wonderful Springs in living memory and, here in Harrogate, with our Stray, but we have all been forced to question our life-style. Perhaps we were working too hard and too long, and for what? Yet another holiday or a more expensive four-wheel drive? Was it worth the neglect of our family life? It had all crept up on us over the years. We hardly noticed it, but now that we have been forced to spend more time at home, we have realised how much we missed it. We now have more time for our loved ones. We genuinely thought we were giving them time, but were we really?
Now our gardens are looking better than ever. Our lofts, which we had been meaning to clear out for years, are now looking respectable. Our baking skills have improved. We have more time for each other now. We are even getting to know our neighbours better. People have slowed down and now wish each other ‘Good morning’. We are reading more. Perhaps we are praying more and reading our Bibles. In every way there has been a major re-think of our values and priorities. Let’s see if it lasts.
It would be ridiculous to say that ‘God caused this pandemic’. It was more likely caused by a dirty animal market. This is not God’s will but it may possibly be what you would call God’s ‘permissive’ will. God is sovereign in every situation. That does not mean that he causes everything. He did not cause the First World War. That was caused by human aggression and selfishness. But God ‘permits’ things to happen and then brings about his purposes through them.
The clearest example of that would be Good Friday. God did not cause Christ’s grisly execution on the Cross. That was the result of human sinfulness. But, being always in control, God permitted it to bring about the salvation of the world and the resurrection of Christ.
St Paul in Romans 8 wrote that ‘all things work together for good to those that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’. It is the eye of faith which enables us to see God always in charge, always on the throne. He was present even in the darkest hour of Good Friday. When human beings did their worst to Jesus, God accepted that as the sacrifice to take away my sin and your sin, and to conquer death by raising his Son on the third day.
God was present and in full control on Good Friday, just as he is in full control during this terrible pandemic. We do not know what will come out of this, but, despite the suffering and sadness, much good has also arisen. There has been so much kindness. People have talked to each more, often in very inventive ways. Even someone steam-driven like me has been using Zoom and WhatsApp. Forty years ago when I was first ordained, I would never have imagined that I would be broadcasting services on a ‘computer’.
Yes, these really are strange times, but God is in control. He has us all in his hands and he has promised, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’.
Stay safe and stay blessed.
Very sincerely Yours,