Earlier in my speaking career, I used to count at soundchecks. Counting beyond ten was unnecessary and a bit challenging. On occasions, I quoted Scripture, mimicking my dad, who ascended Martin Luther’s pulpit in Wittenberg and recited aloud “the just shall live by faith” and quickly alighted. These days, I resort to a rather dry “testing, testing” for sound checks.
As you know, a worldwide contagion has unnerved the human psyche. The scale and speed of the pathogen reveal a world united in fear. Panic is embedded in the word pandemic, not just in letters, but in spirit.You, too, may have felt a bit anxious over these exceptional days of isolation; contact-tracing; and testing, testing.
During these tumultuous and turbulent times, the pieces of the global puzzle show no adequate foundation to carry the weight of its realities. We have quickly found out how flimsy and vulnerable we are, as individuals and systems, to hold the world together. We grope and grasp for every possible instrument—substantive and superficial—to allay our trepidation, even terror.
Where in lies some hope and a future rightly dividing truth for the sake of reality, unaffected by sentiment, gossip, and rumor. A few pastoral assistants are calling on me to say something, for a sort of a soundcheck to reveal the sound quality of our faith.
“Is this the “end times”?”
The latter days began in the first century, and we are further along than ever before. If the preview of the Final Days is so bad, we can’t imagine the anxiety, calamities, and the afflictions of “the great tribulation,” (Rev. 7:14), unequaled in the past and unparalleled in the future (Matt. 24:21). As many as possible must find salvation as quickly as possible, for the gospel is not good news if it gets anywhere too late.
“Are these God’s judgments upon us?”
If these are God’s judgments we should have been wiped out a long time ago. At every disaster (and there have been many pandemics over the centuries), the question of God’s immediate retributive judgment comes up. Disasters, natural and man-made, provoke humanity to a sensitivity of God’s moral standards, which we flagrantly flout.
“What is God saying to us? What is God doing to us?”
For every believer’s sake, I equivocate on the soundcheck and testing metaphor to recast it in practical terms. What is God saying and doing to us? For this plague, a pandemic is like a soundcheck—testing, testing. It reveals the sound quality of at least two dimensions of our faith in Christ. How can Christians do well in the test that the contemporary scourge brings to us? How can our faith experience a test to confirm our Christianity is more profound than its symptoms?
An Identity Check
Disruptions always test the quality of our self-identity, what we believe, or have produced for ourselves. Identity, or identities, are often formed for other people’s benefit, and sometimes at another's expense. Psychologists and sociologists point to multiple types of identities with many inputs and components to personal identity-formation.
For instance, identity politics is played by race, color, caste, religion, gender, etc. A dual impact understanding of one’s self-view, identity politics helps in the representing of causes but can hurt those who don’t belong.
Or take, identity economics, categorizing society by monetary markers. Whether in a three-class (or nine class) hierarchy, upper-upper classes are “different from you and me,” wrote an American novelist before the Great Depression flattened the condescension of the rich and the posturing of the poor.
This 2020 pandemic is helping bridge the political gap and may somewhat level the economic gap, at least while we are all understanding ourselves better and becoming more real to others. Our loved ones, with whom we live 24/7, are beginning to know us, but also, mostly unintentionally, helping us to understand ourselves better. In an ironic turn, we are putting on external masks while our interiors are unmasked. We, of course, return the favor of self-discovery to our loved ones. Not many like who we have become or are becoming.
Disruptions unmask our character. An essential pointer to the quality of our identity is how we handle surprises, losses, and interruption. This season of confinement is full of surprises—good and bad; failures—of routines and resources; and interruption—internally and circumstantially.
How consistent or conflicted are we on the inside? How have we formed the values which control our behavior? What are the sources of our identity-formation? Does it spring from family expectations, peer pressure, or public models? Is it from pleasing the ones to whom we belong, from how we wish to appear to others, or how we externally perform?
When domiciled in isolation, the three markers of one’s self-identity—our belonging, our appearance, and our performance—take a severe beating. Our multiple identities, drawn from our expected social roles, fall apart as proximity with those we seek to please or impress is suspended. Internally we feel uncomfortable as we prioritize the loci of self-views in everyone else than in the ones who love us the most. The coherence we had previously established for our self-identity is now incompatible and contradicts our “authentic” self. Sadly, we may resort to darker values and shadier practices to express and enhance this true self.
But wait! Christian self-view does not depend on values derived externally, or sourced internally, under normal or plague conditions. We discover, establish, and grow with a better identity-source, an ultimate one. A Christian’s external source of value embraced internally, arising from outside and redeemed on the inside. This new self-value is ultimately true of one’s self.
Where do we go to find what is ultimately true about ourselves? Horizontal sources prove defective. They encourage us to be true to ourselves and do what is natural. If I were to be true to my natural self, I would contribute more to the disruption of my and other’s existence. I don’t think you want that, so don’t advise me in that direction!
How may this deformed self be redeemed? By a regeneration into a new self, a replacement of the old self. In Christianity, one can be born again from above with a new true self. This spiritual renaissance makes it possible to subscribe to what the Christian’s God says about our new identity in Him.
Here’s how the Trinitarian God of Christians revises the old situation, so our identity can find strength despite any short-term disruption of roles and responsibilities, or even a long-term deprivation of routine and relationships.
- We belong to the loving Father as His children, a family status never to be ever disrupted, even if we run away from Him. He chose us in love knowing everything about us.
- How we appear (an external matter so crucial to many), will never be devalued by God because of apparent lack and real losses, aging, and death. Why? Because we are now part of His beautiful Bride, whom He is transforming into a spotless beauty to someday present in a stunning display.
- What about our performance? God does not recognize our success. Social acceptance heavily relies on conditional and cultural metrics. God’s Holy Spirit fully blesses and He uses the gifts He gives us to serve others. He does not withdraw His endowments of calling and competence as we pursue fruitfulness.
During this unexpected grant of limited, home-bound time, look to Scripture for the incredible truths of personal identity. If you have a cross-reference feature on your electronic or hard-copy Bible, check the verses below. It will lead to many, many more.
- Belonging as God’s child. I am known and chosen by God the Father (I John 3:1).
- Appearance as God’s bride. I am loved and valued by God the Son (John 15:13).
- Performance as God’s instrument. I am gifted and competent by God the Spirit (I Cor. 12:7).
And there you are! Trinitarian Christianity passes the identity check to validate quality truth for life. A new self-identity can replace your old self-identity. Will you personally embrace it as your true self-identity to better endure this time of public gloom?
A Security Check
Security builds on survival—the basic human need—but takes a longer view. Physical survival does not guarantee security. You and I have physically survived until now. The onslaught of a dangerous microorganism potentially threatens the health of physical life itself of millions.
“Shelter-in-place” mandates restrict movement and activity in my city. Economic upheaval eerily looms over any benefits formerly afforded by economic freedom. The global supply chain is now empty of sustained activity. Government “bazookas” fail to restore confidence in financial markets.
Our anxiety levels are at an all-time high affecting mental health. No one expected our seemingly stable world to overturn so fast, so quickly, and so close to us. In the heat of public directives, I tweeted “SOCIAL DISTANCIING, a poorly worded technical phrase (like ‘artificial intelligence’) accomplishes opposite effects. PHYSICAL DISTANCING, to prevent transmission, is what we want and what is meant. Let’s change the verbiage and get results.” The World Health Organization now recommends the alternate phrase. A loneliness epidemic began much earlier. The COVID-19 infectivity simply exacerbates our feelings of abandonment in our isolation.
Further, longevity is not guaranteed anymore. Any self-confident invincibility at the face of death summarily departs at the presence of unseen and minute bacteria. The invisible enemy attacks our efficiency and productivity, bringing on a realization of the eventuality of mortality. We will die sooner or later.
The current situation confirms that politics and economics may provide some guidance for survival but cannot serve as our final security. The new changes can give us options with life but not directions in life. They can provide us with freedom but not with hope for this life or the next. When we stand at disaster’s edge, a step forward with politics, economics, and religion as sources of our security, will be a suicidal misstep into the deep. Maybe we should move backward and slow everything down to a stop—which is precisely what medical experts and government leaders recommend in their instructions to restrict movement, wash hands, avoid contact, etc.
This time of forced and unexpected shut-downs is not for people to go to sleep and stay asleep. It is not to restart where life’s opened windows and doors will reopen again. We need to replace the damage and corruption. We can open life back safely, before full-functionality returns, hopefully after this season of crises.
In political and economic opinions of “well-being,” spiritual well-being is left out as its core. This secular treatment cannot account for the sudden religious turn everywhere in the face of frailty and mortality. In Christian conviction, an objectively based, biblical view of security founds and frames the strength of subjective well-being. It fortifies the only sense of security which survives past this life into the next. Our deaths will not be in vain once Jesus’s self-resurrection objectively resolves the frightening question of dying. Merely gaining the whole world, at the expense of one’s soul, proves vain.
The Trinitarian God again comes to the fore in the blessing of survival, safety, and security of an eternal kind. Our survival is secured for all time in His salvation. Remember your security forever is guaranteed in the following:
- God the Father’s eternal purpose (Rom. 8:28b‑30) and mighty power (1 Peter 1:3‑5) for us. All and precisely those whom the Father called according to His purpose…are glorified already.
- God the Son’s priestly intercession (Heb. 7:24,25) and protective involvement (John 10:28‑29) for us guarantees we can never be snatched from His hand.
- God the Spirit’s once-for-all regeneration (Tit. 3:5) and sealing (Eph. 4:30) of the believer. As in physical birth, once born spiritually, we can’t be pre-born, reborn, or unborn.
A Trinitarian Christianity holds that God is committed to our security on earth and into heaven. Our security is based on His Son’s singular and decisive victory in defiance of our persistent and final vulnerability to physical death. God takes responsibility for any earth-confined security and will deliver us safely into His eternal kingdom (2 Tim. 4:18).
We know nothing can disrupt this soundcheck—the quality of our identity or the quality of our security. The apostle Paul wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, norprincipalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39, NASB, italics added for Paul’s emphatic redundancy).
Trinitarian Christianity passes the testing, testing of this difficult season. It keeps us from personal panic in the global pandemic. The Christian faith provides, establishes, and develops a quality of life for the glory of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as well as the good of the Christ-lover-believer-follower . . . forever.
About the Contributors
In addition to more than thirty years of faculty service, Dr. Richard is founder and president of Ramesh Richard Evangelism and Church Health (RREACH), a global proclamation ministry that seeks to evangelize leaders and strengthen pastors primarily of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. He has ministered in over 100 countries, speaking to wide-ranging audiences, from pastors in rural areas to heads of state. In partnership with DTS, RREACH launched the Global Proclamation Academy to equip influential young pastors from all over the world. Dr. Richard is also the founder of Trainers of Pastors International Coalition (TOPIC) and the general convener of the 2016 Global Proclamation Congress for Pastoral Trainers. He and his wife, Bonnie, have three grown children and three grandchildren.