As the cases of COVID-19 in South Africa increase daily, I cannot help but think back on a workshop I facilitated with students. This workshop took place the day before President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the initial shutdown in March. The topic under discussion was a Christian’s purpose in work and study. However, a Christian’s purpose in work and study have seemed immaterial over the past two months. A larger question looms: what is my purpose at this time? And more than that, what is a Christian’s purpose during the COVID-19 pandemic and enforced lockdown?
If I were to die in this pandemic I would be one of many thousands. Just a number. Why does my life even matter?
When the global death toll reaches the hundreds of thousands in the space of a few weeks, our lives begin to look utterly insignificant. If I were to die in this pandemic I would be one of many thousands. Just a number. Just an insignificant, unknown number. Why does my life even matter?
We are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
It was King David in the Old Testament who beautifully answered that question a few thousand years ago: “For you [God] formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:13,14).
My life matters because God took the time to make me into the person I am.
David recognised that his identity, his existence, started with the fact that God ‘knit him together in his mother’s womb’. That word ‘knitted’ suggests God formed us with care. David’s life had purpose because God took the time to make him into the person he was. My life has purpose because God took the time to make me into the person I am. Whether we are able to do our academics or not; able to do our work or not; able to socialise with other human beings or not; whether or not we die as one of many thousands; we remain ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’.
As an aside, this applies to the people around us, with whom we have to practise social distancing for now. Social distancing needs to remain physical and not become a heart attitude we practise towards others. If social media is our only form of interaction; let’s employ it remembering that at the other end of the technology is someone fearfully and wonderfully made by God.
I Don’t Need to be Anxious
Jesus Christ instructed us not to be anxious, some 2000 years before COVID-19: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? …But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25, 33).
Jesus’ words are as real and alive now as they were then: ‘Seek first the kingdom of God’
What a message for a time of increased anxiety about the future. Jesus’ original hearers were anxious about food, drink and clothing. They were generally the poor. In comparison, many of us have lived a fairly comfortable life. It seems likely that that will now change. But Jesus’ words are as real and alive now as they were then – regardless of COVID-19, stock market crashes, job losses, shortages of basic necessities – and his instruction stands: ‘Seek first the kingdom of God’.
My Purpose is God’s Work
Finally, Paul brought this home for study and work: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). If God prepared these good works beforehand, then he created them before this pandemic, before today. If I am God’s workmanship, knit together in my mother’s womb in order to live at this time, and if he prepared good works for me to walk in – even in these trying times – I have purpose. But this purpose is not of my making.
my purpose, life and good works were prepared beforehand. My identity in Christ and my Christian purpose is secure—even now
God formed the Christian’s purpose long before COVID-19. My life was formed in the skilled hands of the Father. Therefore it continues to be and is constantly provided for by him. All my work, my study, my purpose, life and good works were prepared beforehand. My identity in Christ and my Christian purpose is secure—even now.