A Perspective from Head of School Bill McGee
Nine years ago, I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. Shortly after my diagnosis, a friend sent me an article entitled, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer,” written by Pastor John Piper on the eve of his prostate surgery. This article was both encouraging and convicting as I came to terms with my diagnosis. I have shared it with many other men who faced similar diagnoses, as well as a number of women who have suffered with breast or ovarian cancer. Piper’s article makes ten main points we should contemplate during our journey with a life-threatening illness. Remembering the impact of Piper’s article, I offer the coronavirus version with the hope you are both encouraged and convicted.
- You will waste this pandemic if you do not believe that God has a purpose for it.
As believers we acknowledge that we live in a fallen world that is sick with sin. It is also physically sick with viruses, plagues, bacterial infections, and all kinds of natural disasters. While it was not God’s intent that his creation be so infected, we humans must live with the consequences of our choice to sin, which distanced us from a holy God. But God has not abandoned us to wallow in our sin and suffer without hope. Throughout mankind’s history we see that God used pain, suffering, tragedy, plagues, wars and many other trials to remind us that we are creatures who need saving. And that salvation comes as a result of God’s own suffering in the crucifixion of his only begotten Son who bore our punishment in the most gruesome way. Our suffering is not in vain when we recognize that there is an ultimate purpose for it. With God’s permission, this pandemic exists and is being used by him to illuminate his glory, remind us of our dependence upon him, and bring about restoration.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28 NLT)
- You will waste this pandemic if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.
A gift? A blessing? How could an insidious microbe that kills and/or causes great suffering be considered a gift? Many cancer survivors like me paradoxically claim that our cancer turned out to be a real blessing. It brought us to our knees and humbled us like nothing else. Our journeys resulted in a more mature faith that convinced us that our own efforts to fight this disease were futile and that we were utterly dependent on God’s mercy. Such was my experience. My arrogant independence and “boot strap” mentality were rendered impotent. Although not a present that I received with gladness in the beginning, I eventually acknowledged it as a blessing. What gifts will God bestow on us during this pandemic? I’m not sure, but I know my Heavenly Father is a good, good Father who delights in spoiling his children with unfathomable blessings.
And this is God’s plan: both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:6 NLT)
- You will waste this pandemic if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God.
In the early stages of the pandemic in the United States we witnessed the crowded beaches of Florida teaming with young people who, at that time, believed they were minimally at risk because this virus was an old person’s disease. They took comfort from the early statistics that indicated few young people suffered seriously from infection. A few weeks later, that myth was dispelled. Now we know that no age group is immune from the serious effects of this disease. I remember my surgeon telling me that there was a 50% chance my cancer would return within five years. That was nine years ago. My response to him was that my God is the Lord of statistics. My comfort and security could not be found in actuarial tables. It could only be found in a sovereign God who had already numbered my days. No disease can trump the will of God.
You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. (Psalms 139:16)
- You will waste this pandemic if you refuse to think about death.
How can we not think about death as we view the morbid scenes of overcrowded hospitals in Italy and New York City? How can we not contemplate our own mortality when we learn of the death of a contemporary? Perhaps God is using this pandemic to remind us all of our own mortality and finiteness. Perhaps COVID-19 is that stimulus jolting us out of our stupor and forcing us to answer the questions, “Is this life all there is?” and “What happens when I die?” Every human being receives a death sentence at birth. This current pandemic reminds us that we should think more often of the promise of eternal life because this mortal life really is only a vapor.
Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. (Psalms 39:4 NLT)
- You will waste this pandemic if you think that “beating” this disease means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.
Lord willing, we will overcome this disease. Treatments and vaccines are already being developed and in time, “this too shall pass.” It is likely we will “beat” Covid-19 like we “beat” smallpox and the Spanish flu. Should we rejoice if we survive infection? Absolutely. But, let’s not pound our chests and shout, “We’re number one!” as if we just won our own personal SuperBowl. This victory will be shallow and short-lived. In time, we will face another grave disease, natural disaster, or mortal threat that may “beat” us. Our mission during this pandemic cannot be to merely survive. We must continue our mission to “make disciples of all the nations.”
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever. (“A Mighty Fortress is Our God”—Martin Luther)
- You will waste this pandemic if you spend too much time reading about the coronavirus and not enough time reading about God.
Google the word, “coronavirus” and the result will be innumerable articles about this disease. Turn on the television and you will find 24-7 coverage on the pandemic. There is no shortage of information about COVID-19. Do we really need to spend huge chunks of time researching this virus? Not if it comes at the expense of reading God’s word. If we research Scripture we’ll find hundreds of verses that apply to our current situation. In fact, many familiar verses now have new meaning and give us a fresh perspective on life in a fallen world. We will waste this pandemic if we don’t allow it to rekindle our passion for God’s written word.
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)
- You will waste this pandemic if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.
Dr. Tony Evans recently stated that “social distancing” is a misnomer. It should be “physical distancing” that we observe. God made us to be social creatures and to enjoy fellowship with others. I am amazed at the creative ways in which humans are connecting with friends and loved ones despite strict limitations on physical proximity, from balcony ballads to drive-by birthday parties to virtual concerts. It is so obvious that we have a deep desire for human contact and that being with others is therapeutic. Technology gives us the means to reach out to everyone on our contact lists or in our circles of influence. We will waste this pandemic if we don’t take full advantage of the tools and time we have to reconnect with a distant friend, offer forgiveness to an old enemy, restore a relationship that was broken, or simply strengthen the bonds of our immediate family. Now is not the time to retreat to our caves.
Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. (Colossians 3:13 NLT)
- You will waste this pandemic if you grieve as those who have no hope.
COVID-19 is a killer. Many will suffer the loss of a family member, friend, or co-worker during this pandemic. Even if we escape the loss of life, we, or someone we know, may very well lose our job, our life’s savings, and our sense of security. We will have many reasons to grieve over the coming months and years. But grieving is not the same as despair. It is okay, even healthy, to grieve or to be sad about our losses. God endowed us with emotions and grief is an emotion that is a consequence of The Fall. Yet, believers in Christ Jesus do not grieve like the world grieves. Our hope-filled grief is a powerful witness to a world desperate for hope. Whatever or whomever we lose as a result of this pandemic will cause Believers to grieve, but the loss will not be the final verdict for those whose hope is in Christ.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NLT)
- You will waste this pandemic if you treat sin as casually as before.
Is God using a virus to punish the world for rampant unrepentant sin? I don’t think so. I believe that COVID-19 is not due to moral evil, but is a natural evil. Mankind has been under a curse since The Fall and this pandemic is but one of many consequences of existence in a sin-sick world. I do believe, however, that he sometimes allows lesser evil to occur to prevent a greater evil from overtaking us. For the Believer, God may allow this present suffering to bring about repentance from a particular sin that is keeping us from full fellowship with him. What a shame it would be if we didn’t take this moment of crisis to reflect on our lives and confess whatever sin(s) is keeping us in bondage. It’s also an opportunity for us to renounce our idols. In my community, prosperity, celebrity, and sports come to mind as idols that are predominant. An existential threat such as what we now face can sometimes shine a light on unconfessed sin and lead to a penitent heart.
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:8-9 NLT)
- You will waste this pandemic if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.
For the body of Christ, this pandemic presents an unprecedented opportunity to be salt and light. The coronavirus is now present on every inhabitable continent and is afflicting almost every nation of the world. As people who “run towards the plague rather than away from it,” Christians are demonstrating the love of Christ through heroic acts of service and self-sacrifice. When an unbeliever observes a Believer putting the needs of others ahead of her own, he is witnessing the very hands and feet of Jesus in action. And because the Son of Man is the perfect reflection of God and because the church represents the body of Christ, the world is witnessing the One True God who loves his creation and will deliver it from evil. Many will come to a saving faith in Christ Jesus if we don’t waste the opportunity we have to share the love of God with those who are suffering physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:14-16 NLT)
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