By Dr. George Barna, Director of Research | Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University
The coronavirus (and the associated infectious disease known as COVID-19) is no laughing matter. All of the evidence underscores how seriously we need to take its impact on lives around the world.
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, though, this is a time of great opportunity for everyone. I want to do my best not to waste this unexpected gift from God.
I have found that shockingly few people view the virus as a spiritual event. Given that all aspects of life are spiritual, the spread of the virus and its effects are definitely spiritual. Everything we do and experience has spiritual roots and effects, ranging from our relationships, jobs, and entertainment to our health, conversations, finances, and the rest. (1Cor 2:13-3:3) We were created by God and remain under His sovereignty at the same time that His spiritual adversary, Satan, is hard at work seeking to undermine everything that God does and desires. We are actors in that eternal play, and our choices from moment to moment are what make life interesting, meaningful – and, sometimes – stressful or painful.
Honestly, I do not know if the virus is a pestilence sent by God to encourage us to repent and renew our lives or if it is a tool of Satan designed to cause global havoc and distress. (Luke 21:11, Rev 12:12) I do know, however, that the talk-show personalities and others using their platform to opine on our situation are wrong when they attribute the virus to Mother Nature or to the randomness of life.
Whether this pandemic is from God or Satan, my response will be the same: live according to biblical principles and seek to bless God and people in the midst of the opportunities and challenges created by the virus.
In realistic terms, here are some perspectives and practices that my virus-caused isolation and freed up schedule has made relevant for me.
Do not fear the virus. The scriptures teach us to fear only God, because fear demonstrates our lack of trust in God. (Deut 6:13, 10:12; Eccl 12:13, Matt 10:28, 2Tim 1:7) If I believe that He is omnipotent and omniscient, and that He loves me and wants the best for me – all of which are perspectives and promises in the scriptures – then all I really have to be concerned about are my sinful and foolish choices.
Be wise as a serpent. Refusing to be afraid of the virus does not mean I should not be wise about how I react to it. (Matt 10:16) The protocols recommended by health experts are beneficial to us all and will help us to be safe and healthy. Social distancing and good hygiene, among other recommendations, have become new facets of my daily existence, regardless of how inconvenient or foreign they may seem, because they are good for me and others.
Repent and ask for God’s forgiveness. The Bible provides various stories in which dire circumstances were used by God to motivate repentance and renewal. (Josh 4:24, Exod 7-11) This may be such a time. We cannot look at our nation – and, more directly, ourselves – and claim that we exhibit a life that is completely pleasing to God. That makes this an ideal time to be broken of ideas and activities that offend God. The slower, more introspective virus-era lifestyle provides us with an opportunity to reflect, acknowledge sins, and ask for God’s forgiveness of both personal and corporate sins.
Personal renewal. Repentance implies a course correction – i.e., a new lifestyle, perhaps stimulated by virus-driven restrictions, but beneficial beyond the period of public restrictions. In other words, the virus era is providing an opportunity for me to break old habits and create new, better patterns of thought and behavior. Those new behaviors can produce a renewed life with God by adopting new habits.
A spiritual life incorporates worship, discipleship, sharing the gospel, stewardship, serving others, and participating in community among believers. This is a great time to reconsider our practices in all six of those spiritual dimensions.
For instance, the closing of my local church until further notice pushes me to examine and improve my personal worship habits. The new daily schedule I experience allows me to review and upgrade my Bible reading and study habits. The new normal also affords me a chance to find accessible sources of biblical teaching (mostly online) and community (also digitally driven). It provides me with more opportunities to include spiritual viewpoints in my conversations with others. And it allows me to look for new ways of serving others.
Further, the pandemic provides an opportunity evaluate the correlation between what I claim to believe and whether or not I live those beliefs. For instance, I believe that God is holy and, being made in His image and called to be like Christ, I am called to be holy as well. (Holy, of course, means to be “set apart” – by faith and lifestyle.) How consistently am I making choices that set me apart and enable me to live more like Christ? Similarly, I can think of more than a dozen core beliefs that are good to review, and now is a terrific time to do so.
Developing family faith experiences and memories. This is also a prime time for families to be the church, rather than simply wait until they can go to church. It is a time for fathers (and grandfathers) to be the spiritual heads of their family, and for children to experience the fullness of their faith as a family unit. What a great opportunity to intentionally and strategically create new faith habits together. Family Bible studies, faith-driven dinner table discussions, joint prayer experiences, serving neighbors and family in need, watching faith-based movies together – there are numerous possibilities, all of which we typically say we’re too busy to pursue but which will bear fruit in the long-run.
Hardships may be a gift from God. To have an intimate relationship with God we must be broken of our love affair with sin, self, and society. My research has shown that God often uses personal crises or hardships as the means to move us away from things that conflict with His principles. Difficult conditions, such as divorce, bankruptcy, prison time, the death of a loved one, a debilitating illness or injury, and physical abuse are common examples of conditions that God allows in order to draw us closer to Him. God may deliver hardships through the coronavirus to break us of those continual errors in our judgment. Virus-driven difficulties – whether they come in the form of health issues, financial challenges, or other outcomes from the lifestyle restrictions – may be His gift to you.
Love and Give Thanks
In the end, you and I are called to love God and people with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, virus or no virus (Mark 12:29-31). The presence of the virus and the related lifestyle protocols has simply altered the field of opportunities and boundaries. God may be using it to refresh our spiritual life in ways that would not have occurred had we continued down our standard life path. It is in our best interests – individually and corporately – to be cleansed of anything that draws us away from God. There is no better time than right now to address those barriers to holiness. The virus may be the means we need to cause such self-examination and produce personal and national renewal.
God has promised to use all things for my good (Romans 8:28) as long as I stay devoted to Him and pursuing His purposes for my life. Even though I do not understand all of the details and implications of our global crisis, and I am incapable of seeing the ultimate outcomes from it, I thank God for His love, wisdom and guidance, and look forward to experiencing the new blessings and challenges He has in store for all of us. If I do what I can to get close to Him in spirit and behavior, He promises to be there for me. (James 4:8) That’s a promise I am relying upon.
Dr. George Barna is the Director of Research at the Cultural Research Center and a professor at Arizona Christian University. He is the nation’s leading researcher of cultural trends and biblical worldview, conducting research in these areas for more than 30 years. He is also the founder of the Barna Group, a research company that has set the standard for understanding trends in American culture. Dr. Barna has written more than 50 books, including numerous award-winners and New York Times bestsellers. He is also a Fellow at the Townsend Institute, has taught at the undergraduate and graduate level, and has pastored two churches. Dr. Barna is often called “the most quoted person in the Christian Church today.”
The Cultural Research Center (CRC) was formed by Arizona Christian University, in partnership with Dr. George Barna, the most respected researcher in America, to produce credible, non-partisan research and analysis establishing the transformational impact of a biblical worldview on American culture. CRC conducts nationwide research studies to understand the intersection of faith and culture and shares the information with organizations focused on impacting the spheres of cultural influence in order to transform American culture with biblical truth. Like ACU, CRC upholds the historic truths of Christianity but remains non-partisan and inter-denominational. In addition to Dr. George Barna, Dr. Tracy Munsil serves as the Executive Director of the Center. More information about the Cultural Research Center is available at the Center’s website, located at www.culturalresearchcenter.com.