As we mark one year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, life remains unrecognizable in much of the world. Dr. Terence Ascott, Founder and President of SAT-7, reflects on how we should respond and maintain our spiritual and emotional health as followers of Christ.
I have been reading different theological reflections on the current pandemic, and I must confess I have been disappointed by the impracticality and inconclusiveness of this exercise.
If we step back and take a balanced look at the Bible and Christian history, we can see that each of these positions have their merits but that, even together, they certainly do not paint a complete picture.
When we look at Jesus’ teaching and life, it is clear that things were often not what they seemed to be for those around him. Jesus’ healing of the man born blind in John 9 is typical of this. The disciples brought to Jesus a blind man and asked, “Whose sin was it that caused this man to be born blind – his or his parents?” Jesus rejected the multiple-choice answer and replied, “Neither sinned. It happened so that God’s work could be seen in him.”
Similarly, the sad (including for Jesus, who wept) death and joyous subsequent resurrection of Lazarus was for God’s purposes.
And, in the Old Testament, the well-known story of Job is another example of a disaster befalling a good man – something allowed by God for reasons that no one else could see at the time.
In his 2020 book, God and the Pandemic, Tom Wright highlights the response of the early Church, not to a plague but to a regional famine that was foretold by the prophet Agabus (Acts 11). Their response was to:
It is important to note that they did not go into discussions about the end times or how this might be an opportunity for witness, nor ask questions about who had sinned, nor lament why this was happening. Their response was simply to demonstrate love in action.
Now, what about us in lockdown today? Some of us are completely stressed out by:
How are we to cope in these days? In Western countries, it is estimated that between 30-50 percent of the general population are suffering from emotional stress or illness and millions are seeking professional support for such.
You may have heard people say that in this situation, “It is OK not to feel OK!” And, while this may be true, we do not need to just roll over and take it. Since childhood, we have been taught to take care of our physical selves – but most of us have not been taught how to look after our emotional and spiritual lives in the same way.
So, what can we do, practically?
IF YOU ARE FEELING DOWN: Then you should praise God. Not for feeling low but to thank Him for all you may have, things which most of the world do not have:
Also, take time to pray for others:
Perhaps neither of these activities, giving thanks for what you have or praying for others, will change your situation, but they will help bring you perspective and healing.
IF YOU ARE BORED and tired of being stuck at home: Ask God what you can do in service to Him!
When I was a child and complained to my mother that I was bored, instead of sympathy, I got a scolding. “It is because you are not thinking what you can do for others, that you are bored,” was the response. I did not make such a complaint a second time, at least not to my mum!
IF YOU ARE FEELING LONELY: Remember that God loves you and is at all times “closer than a brother.”
It is easy in this pandemic, especially for those of us who live alone, for feelings of loneliness to distort our whole perspective on life and to become an emotional wound. We may begin to believe that we have no one who really cares for us, and this can lead us to avoid reaching out to others, for fear of rejection. Medically, loneliness has been shown to cause high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and to shorten lives.
Do not allow being alone to cause you to feel lonely. Thank God for the people in your life, and reach out to others who may be even more alone than yourself.
IF YOU ARE FEELING THAT YOU HAVE FAILED: Everyone experiences feelings of failure at some time in their life. Maybe such feelings can be more acute in lockdown, especially when you are unable to do properly many of the things you should. Or maybe there is a big failure in your past that is still an open wound in your life? If you do not confront this, it can lead to pessimism, cynicism, and a destructive attitude that assumes everything will go wrong for you.
Remember, God is a God of forgiveness – total forgiveness! He is also a God of new beginnings. Your future does not have to be shaped by your past. Remember that tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life!
In all these situations, let us be sure not to let any spiritual or emotional wounds go unnoticed or untreated.
We must not let ourselves keep turning such things over in our minds, asking, “What if?” This will only allow the wounds to fester, robbing us of our Christian joy and our peace and spoiling our relationships with friends, family and work colleagues.
Deal with any pain.
Talk to others if it is helpful.
Pray about it.
Address these things in the way Jesus taught us to – and if that means studying the Gospels again or reading Christian books – do it.
But, above all, maintain your spiritual and emotional health.
Dr. Terence “Terry” Ascott, SAT-7 Founder and President, helped launch SAT-7 in 1995 as the first Arabic language Christian satellite television channel. He has lived in the Middle East and served as the leader for indigenous media ministries for more than 45 years. He and his wife Jacqueline now live in Nicosia, Cyprus and have three grown children and three grandchildren.