As a pastor, I understand the inner turmoil of our current dilemma. To follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our church has not met in-person for weeks. We've had to find new ways to worship together.
We still meet online. We talk on the phone. We write letters. But it's not the same.
A part of me is tempted to take the risk of gathering and go about my daily life, regardless of the consequences – just trust that my faith in God will protect me. A part of me wants to live by the words of psalm 91 alone:
“You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.”
A part of me wants to put those words to the test, but it’s a dark part. This very psalm was used by the devil to tempt Jesus to jump from a tower.
Jesus didn’t fall for that trick, but I have seen many faithful people whom I love and respect, falling hard for the devil's use of scripture. Churches tempting people to just trust in God and not follow social distancing practices.
Look at the words of Jesus in the sermon on the mount: "Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
The devil was tempting him to “show off” his faith to prove himself to the devil. If you feel like you are being faithful by not following social distancing guidelines, you are not proving anything to God. God knows what is in your heart. If you feel like you need to prove your faith by not social distancing, you are just doing a faith show, dancing to the devil’s tune. The devil is laughing because people are dying because of your “faith”.
Jesus didn’t fall for that trap. He knew the real test of faith was not how it stands up in public, but how it plays out in private. [Mat 6:1, 5-6: "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
The real test of faith in our current crisis is not exposing ourselves to the virus and making others sick. The real test is how our faith will stand up in isolation. How will your faith perform when no one is watching?
How will your faith be without the show?
Churches are coming up with wonderful and creative ways to keep their congregations worshiping together. From live services, to recorded bible studies, to drive up services. COVID-19 and its aftermath will leave its mark on our society and the church is no exception.
For Those many churches who are rising to this occasion with creativity, love, and patience there may well be a second great awakening. The church might emerge from this quarantine with a renewed fervor kindled by those who rediscovered God in their hearts, right at home.
Like the Israelites returning from Babylon the church may come back with renewed purpose. Until then, however, be faithful and not foolish. Stay at home as much as you can. Keep in touch with your church over the phone and through other means. If you can still afford to, keep sending in your tithe. Take this time to renew your spiritual practice. Its harder to do when no one is watching, but the true faithful find ways to worship anyway, because real faith moves mountains.