Recent weeks have changed much. In fact, they’ve changed almost everything, and that globally! We’ve been forced to adapt on the fly to new circumstances as we navigate previously uncharted territory. We’re learning what it means to be truly in isolation from the rest of the world, at least physically. Pastors are learning how to minister to members without an internet connection. We’re learning how to deal with an infodemic, that is, a huge influx of highly speculative knowledge that often causes anxiety and distress, rather than promote preparedness and peace.
The new challenge that we will have to adapt to is that of suddenly being alone. And boy are we easily tempted when we’re alone
Most recently, we’re being forced to adapt to the reality of national lockdowns, even here in Africa. Which brings us to a new challenge that we will have to adapt to: the challenge of suddenly being alone. And boy are we easily tempted when we’re alone.
Isolation, Sin and Temptation
Bereft of the encouragement and comfort of the weekly fellowship around God’s Word and Table, we will be more vulnerable to temptation in the isolation of our own homes. The sudden loneliness will heighten the temptation to indulge in sin, even for the most sanctified Christian.
The isolation we face will likely increase our temptation to turn from the living God and from each other
And yes, that includes you. Irrespective of how strong you may feel right now.
However, instead of focusing on the actual sins, which span from alcoholism to pornography, from abuse of family members to Netflix-induced-comas, I want to highlight three underlying issues that we face at times like these. It will serve us well to consider each deeply in the coming weeks.
1. The Desire for Refuge
At the most basic level, indulging in sin is often a desire for refuge. We rightfully desire paradise; a world where everything is at peace. That desire is increased when our actual reality decidedly does not look like Eden. So instead of turning to God we turn to substances and pleasures that numb us for a while. They promise escape from the world and its troubles.
We rightfully desire paradise; a world where everything is at peace. That desire is increased when our actual reality decidedly does not look like Eden
The real trouble, however, is that they cannot deliver on such promises. No pleasure of the flesh can ever truly “take us away” or remove the problems we face. The relief is temporary and the escape imperfect. Worse still, it leads to a loss of intimacy and joy that we experience in the presence of our God, ultimately leaving us feeling worse than before.
So dear brother and sister, I implore you, look to God as your refuge. Consider especially Psalm 18 as you do so. It pictures a wonderful exchange between David’s desire for refuge and God’s extraordinary acts on his servant’s behalf.
2. The Desire for Control
A second underlying issue is our desire for control. COVID-19 has uncovered just how brittle and foolish our worldly empires really are. Stock markets are in free-fall, currencies are tumbling, unemployment is rising and our healthcare systems are overwhelmed. The structures that seemed so robust, even impenetrable, just a month ago are crumbling before our eyes. All our supposed systems of control, along with the autonomy we so painfully laboured for, have been exposed as mere self-deception. All this at the hands of an enemy we can’t even see.
The control and autonomy we so painfully laboured for have been exposed as mere self-deception. All this at the hands of an enemy we can’t even see.
This loss of control is only compounded by the sudden loneliness we face, when we’re isolated. So we turn to sin because it allows us to feel in control, even if only for a short while. It promises personal mastery and submission of the object at our disposal. This too is nothing but deception. Instead of feeling “in-control” afterward, we painfully discover that we have merely surrendered our self-control.
So dear brother and sister, I implore you, look to the one who is sovereign at this time, rather than give in to temporary reprieves that merely deceive. Consider especially Psalm 13. It’s a marvellous account of our own weakness in the sight of a mighty enemy, and of a sovereign God who will be our salvation yet.
3. The Desire for Productivity
Closely linked to the previous point is that COVID-19 is revealing just how deeply our identities are linked to, intertwined with, our sense of productivity. Despite our evangelical insistence that our identity is found in Christ alone, many of us are facing a real challenge with the loss of what so clearly defines us: work.
Despite our evangelical insistence that our identity is found in Christ alone, many of us are facing a real challenge with the loss of what so clearly defines us: work
Isolation and the inability to work means that we can no longer ignore the idol that has taken the place of Jesus. Our inability to be productive results in feelings of anxiety, fear and a sense of being a failure. With all the extra time on our hands, we realise we can no longer fool the world or ourselves. This is a painful insight and one that quickly threatens to overwhelm. So we are tempted to give in to the pleasure of sin in an effort to feel better about ourselves, only to discover, once again, that sin cannot possibly provide the relief we seek.
So dear brother and sister, I implore you, look to Jesus for your sense of identity. In the spirit of remaining in the Psalms, consider especially Psalm 16. The Psalmist is acutely aware that apart from the Lord he has no good thing. Only in Him can he discover true life and joy. Allow that realisation to liberate you from the bondage to your work.
I implore you, look to Jesus for your sense of identity.
The Lonely Road Ahead
I won’t pretend that the road that we yet have to travel in face of the pandemic is an easy one. The isolation we face will likely increase our temptation to turn from the living God and from each other. We have to resist this temptation with all our might, knowing that God offers better promises. Indeed, he offers lasting promises that truly deliver.
Now more than ever we need to dispose with any false or pretentious portrayals of our own holiness.
Further, we have to use every tool at our disposal to help each other. We may not be able to meet, but with the many electronic channels at our disposal (or even a conversation through an open window), we should know that we aren’t truly alone. Now more than ever we need to dispose with any false or pretentious portrayals of our own holiness. We need to learn to be honest and vulnerable with Christians we trust. So ask each other the difficult questions, regularly. We need to learn to depend on the Word of God from our brother and sister and their prayers for us. Just as we need to learn to serve others in the same way.
May God’s grace be with us all as we face the difficult days of isolation ahead.