God’s Joy is Ours

What have you been focused on during your Coronavirus experience? God has designed our minds to be active, alert, and interested in significant issues. Christians are called to think about our lives in the light of God’s truth. Our conduct reflects our thinking, which, in turn, reflects our theology. If we simply conform our thoughts to worldly thinking, we are not renewing our minds by the wisdom and Word of God, which we so desperately need right now. There are countless ways to think about the state of our world, but many are not biblical. Being entirely focused on our circumstances and provisions as if they determine our peacefulness goes against the biblical admonition to be content in all situations. (See Job 20:20; Philippians 4:11; Hebrews 13:5.) Refusing to obey our government leaders also violates our biblical commands. (Romans 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-15.) Thinking that God is not involved in this disease event denies His sovereignty or attentiveness to our issues or problems. (Psalm 97:1-7; Romans 3:9-19) Out of curiosity, I decided to take a look at historic views about our current events online and found a number of articles referring to the history of pandemics. I learned that many people are looking to the past for wisdom, which is good; we gain wisdom from history by avoiding past mistakes. One article states, “Pandemics have afflicted civilizations throughout human history, with the earliest known outbreak occurring in 430 BC during the Peloponnesian War. Many of these pandemics have had significant impacts on human society, from killing large percentages of the global population to causing humans to ponder larger questions about life.” (1) Inquisitiveness led me to follow the link for “larger questions about life.” In Isaac Chotiner’s article in the New York Times he writes, “I had done some preliminary reading and thought this was an issue that raises really deep philosophical, religious, and moral issues. And I think epidemics have shaped history in part because they’ve led human beings inevitably to think about those big questions. The outbreak of the plague, for example, raised the whole question of man’s relationship to God. How could it be that an event of this kind could occur with a wise, all-knowing and omniscient divinity? Who would allow children to be tortured, in anguish, in vast numbers?” (2) Now maybe you think these are good questions, but I do not. They are the questions of those who sit in judgment on God. Wise, all-knowing, and omniscient are not synonymous with soft, easy, and comfortable, which is what the questioner wants from God—not justice, righteousness, or rulership.

So then how should we think about God at this time? God is obviously doing something remarkable today; He is the transcendent God who creates and rejoices in new life from death, for his people’s sake. (3) Our Savior is more attentive to our spiritual, eternal life with him than to our physical wellbeing. At the very least, during this time of great upheaval, we can rejoice in God’s desire to continue making many new creations in Christ. Our grief and laments should not negate our joy in him. And so, I will not deviate from my plans to expound on God’s joy, which is the source of ours. I am drawn to the prophets, who boldly served God at a time when his people were in exile, and unable to join together at the temple for worship, sacrifices, and service. At the end of Isaiah, the prophet encouraged Israel with these words: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.” (Isaiah 65:17-19)

The Lord stated that he would create a new world with unconditional regard for the activity of men. These verses compel me to worship God as Creator of the physical universe, and the One who creates new life in sinners, without regard to our inclination to repent. He who draws us to Christ by his irresistible love and gives us faith in the only Redeemer will also create a new earth, without our help or approval. “This prophecy began to have its accomplishment in the first times of the Gospel, when through the preaching of it there was a new face of things appeared in Judea, and in the Gentile world, so that the whole looked like a new world; and this was all the effect of creating power, of the mighty, powerful, and efficacious grace of God attending the word, to the conversion of many souls; a new church state was formed, consisting of persons gathered out of the world, the old national church of the Jews being dissolved, and Gospel churches everywhere set up…a new way of worship observed, at least in a more spiritual and evangelic manner; a new covenant exhibited, or the covenant of grace held forth in a new form of administration, the former waxen old and vanished away; and the new and living way to the Father, through Christ, made manifest.” (4)

I am encouraged by Gill’s perspective on our new Life in Christ to embrace Isaiah 65:18 during a pandemic. “But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” Gill comments, “This may refer either to persons converted, both at the beginning of the Gospel, and in the latter day, whether Jews or Gentiles; who are the Lord’s creation, or new creatures, being made new men; having new hearts and spirits given them, or created within them; new principles of life, light, grace, and holiness, wrought in them, which are the produce of almighty and creating power; and all such instances are matter of joy, as to the angels in heaven, so to the saints on earth, and especially to the ministers of the Gospel; because of the grace bestowed on men, the glory brought to God, and their own ministry blessed and succeeded, and so their hands and hearts [were] strengthened.” (5) Since we know that God is rejoicing in his kingdom’s increase, we may also rejoice even during times of great worldly distress. We celebrate Christ’s body at work, sharing the gospel, remembering each other in prayer, and helping with many practical needs of our neighbors. We rejoice over what the Lord has already done, what he is doing today, and what he will do at the return of Christ. Our hope is not limited by time or circumstances because God’s attributes and work is limitless. He has not stopped loving his people, nor does he want anyone to suffer unnecessarily. “God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:3-6) How much more can God do to prove his love for us? He will come again!

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.” (Isaiah 65:19) This does not describe an end of a pandemic, but at Christ’s return in glory, when he will give us the new heavens and a new earth. When the pandemic ends we will return to our “normal” stresses. But when Christ comes, visible to all, there will be no more distress of any kind. Instead of checking news reports or websites for the latest statistics of cases and deaths (or recoveries), we will all look to the skies and see Jesus descending in all his glory with his angels (1 Thessalonians 4:16). “…the description goes far beyond anything that the world has ever seen, inviting the believing reader to yearn for more and to play his or her role as the story unfolds to its glorious end.” (6) What is your role in the current crisis? How will you express and demonstrate your joy in Christ to your family members, neighbors, church family, friends, and strangers? How do your prayers reflect your hope in a depressed, sick world that longs for joy? Will we be without regrets when “…the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:10-13)

(1) https://www.businessinsider.com/pandemics-that-changed-the-course-of-human-history-coronavirus-flu-aids-plague

(2) https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/how-pandemics-change-history

(3) On God’s transcendence now, I highly recommend the article found at https://www.whitehorseinn.org/2020/03/the-mod-attending-to-the-present-means-attention-to-the-transcendent/

(4) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Isaiah 65:17, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/isaiah-65.html

(5) Gill, Ibid 65:18.

(6) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Isaiah 65:19, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

April 2, 2020

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