Coronavirus: Finding Comfort in our Helplessness

Today, it is no longer business as usual. The world has come to a near standstill. It is paralysed by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) that has spread to pandemic proportions. The impact is so real that nations are under lockdown. Border crossings are strictly monitored because of fear that the disease will spread. Where not banned, travel is strongly discouraged. Gatherings of all kinds have been postponed. Schools, businesses and institutions are indefinitely closed. Through it all, we are reminded: in times of helplessness, Jesus reaches out with compassion. Amid crisis there is comfort. Comfort as we take precautions, practice discernment and listen to the medical professionals.

In times of helplessness, Jesus reaches out with compassion. Amid crisis there is comfort

The Crisis of Information

The world today is in a state of helplessness. Panic is on the rise as people are stocking sanitisers, toilet paper, and non-perishable foods. But one of the roots of this crisis in Africa is too much speculative information about COVID-19. Information about the pandemic is causing an “infodemic”, a crisis of information. For while the virus is real and dangerous, Africa is facing another crisis accompanying it: too much speculative information. COVID-19 is hurting countless people all over the globe. But in many nations, it is speculative information about the virus that is harmful. The sheer amount of information, and misinformation, available is causing undue panic.

As Africa deals with the pandemic, it is also having to battle this “infodemic.” This is information about unclassified claims regarding how it is spread, to the nature of treatment and ways to avoid catching the virus. Rather than empowering information, the “infodemic” has made individuals helpless and overwhelmed. There are confusing and conflicting reports.

In many nations, it is speculative information about the virus that is harmful. The sheer amount of information, and misinformation, available is causing undue panic

So the questions everyone is asking now are: how do we get out of this state of helplessness? How do we get well? What can I do to keep safe? To answer these questions, we need the right source of information.

Jesus’ Compassion and Comfort for the Helpless

In John 5:1-18, Jesus visits Jerusalem. This was during the time of a major Jewish feast. While there he meets a paralytic that was helpless for thirty-eight years. He sat on a mat by the pool of Bethesda (which literally means ‘house of mercy’). The pool was like a hospital. For sick people, such as the lame, blind, paralysed, gathered there. After 38 years of paralysis, this certain man’s problem had become a way of life. The pool was all that he had ever known as the source of healing. He had probably seen others get in the water and get well. But he had waited patiently for 38 years for his own opportunity.

Jesus singled him out. This is grace. Grace is God taking the unsought for initiative in reaching out to the helpless

Among the many people at the pool of Bethesda, Jesus singled him out. This is grace. Grace is God taking the initiative in reaching out to the helpless. In our helplessness, Christ sees and knows us. He graciously approaches. Amid the COVID-19 crisis let us be reminded of his grace. For though we were once helpless, the Christian now has hope.

Our Condition in a Time of Helplessness

Jesus knew the paralytic’s circumstances and used that personal calamity to grab his attention. Therefore, in an age where sin has crippled mankind, God can still use calamity to arrest our attention. Disaster reveals our helplessness. But God also graciously reaches down.

The man was in a helpless situation. He possessed the will to be healed but lacked physical ability. His disease put him in an awful state. It was incurable by man, government system, philosophy, morality or law. He was completely helpless. This is expressed in his response to Jesus. Jesus asks him, ‘Do you want to get well?’ This was a simple, ‘Yes / no’ question. But the man gets into a very long explanation for why that is impossible. This was possibly motivated by past fears and failures. Or he only knew of one way this healing could happen: get him into the pool when the water is stirred.

In an age where sin has crippled mankind, God can still use calamity to arrest our attention. Disaster reveals our helplessness. But God also graciously reaches down

While his paralysis had physically limited him, we might also say that he was intellectually paralysed. Similarly, COVID-19 has crippled the world physically. But a greater effect might be an increased intellectual paralysis, as man depends on his own ways rather than God’s.

Jesus commands the paralysed man to pick up his mat and walk. And he immediately does. He obeys the word of Jesus, this is what makes the difference. His willingness to obey Jesus despite his hopeless situation; his submission to a command that defied decades of experience.

COVID-19 has crippled the world physically. But a greater effect might be an increased intellectual paralysis, as man depends on his own ways rather than God’s

The Criticism of People in Times of Helplessness

The Jews criticise the paralytic for carrying his mat on the Sabbath. Because it was illegal to do so. For them, the law was more important than healing. It was illegal to carry a mat on the Sabbath for that amounted to carrying a burden. This was punishable (Jeremiah 17:21; Nehemiah 13:22). For the Jews, rules were more important than people. For the Pharisees, the broken rule was more important than the miracle of healing. But at all times, people are more important than things. This is why Jesus is recorded elsewhere saying that the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27).

Our Call in the Time of COVID-19

Christians have been called to represent Jesus Christ, reaching out with hope in an age of helplessness. Offering comfort amid crisis. In this time of helplessness, how are we representing Jesus? Corrie Ten Boom famously said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” Worry will not lower the infection rate of COVID-19. Worry accomplishes nothing (Matthew 6:27). Alternatively, hope changes everything. In Uganda’s difficult and sometimes sordid past, Christians impacted the nation by giving hope rather than worrying.

Ugandan Examples of Christians Comforting the Helpless

In Uganda in the 1970’s during the Idi Amin era, Christians such as Janani Luwum, Festo Kivengere, Edward Muhima and others stood firm and opposed Idi Amin. They gave hope to millions in the face of that terrible reign. In the 1980’s there was a scourge of HIV/Aids. It decimated communities and left countless orphans and widows. Again, it was Christian organisations such as Compassion International, Kefa Sempangi foundation, Africa Renewal Ministries, Ian Clarke in Luweero and others that gave hope. They both comforted and cared for others in the crisis.

In the 1990’s Uganda saw war. Many were killed. It was Christians at the helm of giving hope, reaching out even to the rebel groups. In the past two decades, Uganda has had three Ebola epidemics. Unsurprisingly, Christians such as Dr Matthew Lukwiya died treating the patients. Their selfless example and service stirred hope.

In Uganda’s difficult and sometimes sordid past, Christians impacted the nation by giving hope rather than worrying

The world waits for us to respond in an era of helplessness. We can worry, based on the speculative information. Or, like Jesus Christ, we can give hope amid helplessness. In times of helplessness, Jesus reaches out to us with compassion. In personal crises he is our comfort. Comfort as we take precautions, practice discernment and listen to the medical professionals on the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the Christian call in an age of helplessness.

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