In most times of crisis, my first response is denial. I’m not proud of this fact, but it’s the truth. I found it very easy to ignore COVID-19 by tuning out the media and keeping my mind focused on personal projects. The more I tried to ignore the national crisis, the more it irritated me when people brought it up. My thinking was: I refuse to buy into the mob-panic mindset. So if I just ignore it I’ll have no fear. After all, I’m a Christian; I’m supposed to be peaceful under hard circumstances. But it was impossible to ignore it forever. Plus, my family has close Chinese friends, some from Wuhan, and I even have classmates who have been directly affected by deaths from the virus. Sooner or later, no matter how isolated or content I tried to be, I had to face the uncomfortable reality that I was not in control of the situation.
Scripture has a lot to say about the uncomfortable topics we like to avoid in modern life, like suffering, uncertainty, and not being in control. As a result, we typically avoid the bitter, crispy edges of Scripture, opting for the softer sweeter verses. But we have to accept the fact that the whole Scripture is the Word of God, and to understand the whole we have to accept all its parts.
Numbers 21:4–9 was one of these passages for me. I’d like to skip over it, but this story fits into a broader biblical theme of God using calamity to bring people to repentance. The story about the fiery serpents is a perfect example. We see the Israelites standing on a mountain of miraculous achievements, and celebrating a momentous victory against a superior army. They were working with God and He had been faithful to provide for all their needs. But still, they doubted, and, worse than that, they “spoke against God” (v. 5), accusing Him and resenting Him. Then, just like that, God responds by sending serpents, and they caused incredible havoc. But with this punishment, He also offered a way out. By looking to the bronze serpent, as an act of repentance, they could be healed. This is just one example of God’s judgement of sin and His redemption.
You might have wondered about the name of our devotional. Metanoia comes from the Greek and means repent. More specifically, it describes the journey from darkness to light. Repentance means more than just saying you’re sorry. It literally means to “change one’s mind” or to “turn with contrition.” Imagine that you are walking one way, and then you turn completely around. A deep change takes place, that affects your mind, thoughts, feelings, behaviors, everything about you. Repentance turns us from death (walking away from God) to life (walking toward and with God).. Our greatest need is for our souls to abide with God, (John 15). This kind of constant living with God takes a changed mind—one that is uprooted from the world and fixed on Him.
In John 3:14–15 Jesus mentions the story of the serpent to Nicodemus. This conversation comes just before what is probably the most well-known verse in the Bible: John 3:16. Jesus is comparing Himself to that bronze serpent. He would be lifted up on the Cross, an act of sacrifice that would bring salvation to all who repent and believe. Like the Israelites, Nicodemus (and you and I) are called to repentance.. This uncomfortable time in our lives may provide the space we need to think about this life-changing subject. What are we being called to turn away from? And are we actively turning toward God, asking for His forgiveness, and placing our trust in Him alone? God wants everyone to repent and find life in Him: “Repent and live!” (Ezek. 18:32).
The COVID-19 crisis won’t last forever, so don’t waste this time! Don’t hide from it, don’t ignore it, don’t overly-distract yourself, you’ll only make yourself more anxious and less equipped to deal with the issue when it becomes unavoidable. Spend time before God and live with Him every day in prayer. Be realistic about the direness of this situation, and be realistic about your faith. You have a new life in Christ which nothing can take away (Rom. 6:4). Live as though that were true, and you will find you have become an anchor of peace and hope for those around you.
Author’s Note on Photograph: This photo is kind of an artistic rendering of my life situation right now. This is the desk I sit in front of every day now, as I work and do school remotely. I keep a little picture of Jesus on my desk at all times to remind me where my center is, even when everything else feels chaotic and out of control. He reminds me that my plans were always mist at best, but His plans are forever stable and constant.