Death, suffering and uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought these uncomfortable topics into sharp focus for us all. But when confronted by such harsh realities, there are some approaches we should not take; some things that as Christians we ought not to think – for they will hinder rather than help.
What Not to Think
In this ‘Worldview Wednesday’ Podcast by Veracity Fount in Uganda Derrick Ntambi, Denis Mugume and Eddie Ssemakula walk through 12 major areas where Christians are getting it wrong. From thinking of Church as just a building to expecting Christ to grant you health and wealth. From interpreting COVID-19 as God’s judgement to demanding if God even exists! It is not biblically justifiable to assume that Christians are immune to Coronavirus – but nor should we think ourselves abandoned or alone in the face of suffering. Do not think that Christ cannot understand.
The best thing you can do for anybody going through pain is to stand with them and identify… At the cross of Christ, God identifies with our suffering.
You Are Not Alone
“God didn’t just give us an intellectual answer to suffering. Or just send us some emotions to think through and meditate through. He didn’t just give us practical things to do to survive. He came as a person. And I think the best thing you can do for anybody going through pain or suffering, is to stand with them and identify.
At the cross of Christ, God identifies with our suffering. And takes on the full wrath of that pain. I feel like the Christian faith offers better resources or more resources for suffering than something else. To me, the God who has seen His son on the cross suffer is the God who can understand – and who can stand with us.”
Do not think you are alone.
An Opportunity to Pause and Correct
We all fall foul of one or other of these misconceptions. Perhaps the pandemic is an opportunity not to panic, but to pause and confront the way we think. After all, God is in control. He knows what He is doing. We don’t need to agree with Him – we just need to trust Him to know best.
There is a temptation to think that salvation rests in what you do, in how long you pray, in how long you confess, in how long you fast… But ultimately salvation belongs to the Lord
Derrick: Hello everyone, this is Worldview Wednesday, we are back again. Hope you guys have had a good time – good weeks. Here are again. On my left is…
Eddie: Eddie Ssemakula
Denis: And Denis Mugume here
Derrick: Yah! We are back and we are happy to address a couple of issues this time round and our subject today is why should I commit to a church amidst death, COVID-19 and quite a lot more. We would like to hear your thoughts. What’s happening at your Church? Let me begin with Pastor Denis.
Denis: Oh cool! Yah so we are going live stream and live stream is trending! You know so everyone is going live stream. We are of course holding off on all public gatherings – so no more physical services. So YouTube, Facebook Live comes in handy. And then also probably doing small cell groups and family. We are doing that at the moment.
Derrick: Eddie – what’s happening at your church?
Eddie: Technology is happening. So it has really helped us to rethink why we do what we do. I think that’s the urgent thing – the questions. I think just thinking through gatherings and then what will be transmitted, different preparations needed. What comes to a halt? Actually as you are stopping things – being in discussion with some of… as I engaged with fellow leaders at church – as you engage some of the necessary things that need to be halted, you begin to reflect. Why are they there in the first place? So it is such a time of reflection. It has been quite a week!
As you engage some of the things that need to be halted, you begin to reflect. Why are they there in the first place?
Derrick: Everyone is scared.
Eddie: So we are having no church this Sunday.
Do Not Stop Doing Church
Eddie: And I know you guys are also not having church this Sunday. But also, having a lot of reflection going on.
Derrick: Do you have some people that are excited that there is no church on Sunday?
Eddie: Ironically, in our fallen sense, there is always a desire to be away from accountability. There is always a desire to be free as we define “freedom”. But in a biblical sense I guess it’s not a worthy aspiration. But I can’t rule it out that among us, I think I have also been tempted in such ways, sometimes you think about your day off more than you think about committing to other people. Which is a wakeup call for me. It is a rebuke to my heart. You know what, accountability is for the good of my heart. Worship is not even about me.
Derrick: I know, I know…
Eddie: So I will miss church! In answer to your question.
Derrick: I will miss it too. To begin with the question was “should I commit to the church amid such a state that we are in currently?” Are people at your churches scared? And what are some of the answers amid this? So in as much as we’ve not recorded a case in Uganda, the church is not just the Ugandan church. We have the Catholic church and the Universal Church.
It got me thinking about the early Church itself. These must have been the conditions through which it actually thrived.
Denis: So I would think why we need to do church is because it’s biblical. It’s the pattern that is given to us in the New Testament by the early church. It got me thinking about the early Church itself. These must have been the conditions through which it actually thrived. And of course theirs was not state driven, like ours is. And theirs was hard because the state hated what they were saying. For us its more as if God is calling us back to a time of reflection and thinking about going deeper in family. Imagine how easy it is to go and preach a good sermon of about 30 minutes and then not have 5 minutes of prayer with your wife and children.
Derrick: You are actually kicking in to… you are going far, far, far towards the end of our conversation!
Church is Not Just a Building
Denis: But I think that the general idea is that we need each other. And also I think thinking in terms of reflection about how we do church. And how it is that we need to think about family as a church. And this is like the most – almost – I would argue the first church should be the family. So how about we do church from the family going out.
Derrick: Do you Eddie think that it’s time to in a sense redefine and sort of debunk and pre-empt the perceptions we’ve had as regards what Church means? In such a time as this one?
Eddie: I think it a sword, a sword in our side.
Derrick: Because to many again Church is a building.
Eddie: Yes. For long we have thought about Church as a building. But this is a wakeup call for us who think about venues, we think about locations. And who probably do not see ourselves as a temple that in many ways is scattered around the world, but is one in Christ. And so this is an undressing – I would say – it’s an undressing of our… of all we have known about what matters. Especially in terms of theologians who call it “ecclesiology” the study of church. It is an undressing – but a good undressing I guess. So that the best is revealed in our hearts.
Derrick: Yah. There is a lot that has changed about our understanding of ecclesia. Again ecclesia or ecclesiology – the study of church. But amidst all this, the question that pops up again – I do not know whether the Church has responded to it – but there are lots of views out there. Again. What does this time such as this one – many would refer to it as suffering – and there is a lot of pain going on right now. What do other… what have you heard other people say? Away from the church for now. I would like to begin from there as we zero in to what answers the church and the Christian faith offers as an answer right now. What do other people say Denis?
COVID-19 is Not ‘a Judgement’
Denis: So we’ve discussed briefly about this feeling in terms of judgement. Some people have thought this come of this period, this whole COVID-19 thing, could be a judgement on some countries which are – you know – self-accomplished and very self-sufficient. So God has put this thing there as judgement. So some have thought about it in that sense. Others have thought “well, it’s about high time for us to break out of the way we’ve been doing things.” Also in my view and opinion – I don’t think it’s a judgement of God upon any country. Because if it was then surely it would have led to a separation between the wicked and the righteous. Every time God is to judge there is that separation. But now we see that even the believers, so to speak, have been affected by the same thing.
We are not able to determine who God is judging and who God isn’t. Our role as Christians is to stand with the suffering and be at the frontline of the healing of things.
So it could not have been that. And then also my other response – my view of this COVID-19 thing being a judgement – is that maybe we are not able to decide that is determine who God is judging and who God isn’t. I think our role as Christians is to stand with the suffering and be at the frontline of the healing of things. So I think it is a time of… I would argue… biblical affliction. A time for you to go back and think about what is actually important and not what is… what needs to be done. Because everybody has a routine these days. Wake up, do this, do that, do that. So I think that we got caught up in the routine and I feel that God is saying go back and think about what is most important.
Suffering is Not Just for Non-Christians
Derrick: In a sense well that’s interesting. But in a sense there is a way of thinking that suffering is for a certain kind of people. A certain group of people. A certain group of people that believe in certain things. What do you think? Is suffering to all of us? Whether Christian or non-Christian?
Eddie: I think there is an inherent sense of justice in all of us. And usually crises like these bring it out. Sometimes we are quick to point fingers. We have all been created to “say this happens because of that.” And it is an inherent sense of justice. For us Africans it has gradually brought up a pride in us that perhaps – I have even seen extreme things online – as if like our skin does it adopt to things? You know try fours and all these things. But it exposes, most of all, it exposes the pride you know most of us have. Because we think people do things, that’s why they deserve. And yet the Gospel says, you know, the worst of us has got the best of treatment.
There is an inherent sense of justice in all of us. And usually crises like these bring it out. Sometimes we are quick to point fingers.
So it is really, because the Gospel humbles us and puts us on level ground. But I guess, in response to your question, in the sense of justice there in all of us where we think someone deserves this thing quicker or this thing naturally. That’s where we live. To say “you know, it’s not justified” but that is where we are easily leaning. To think “Oh! Maybe these guys or maybe these ones did this.” But that should not stop there. That should point us to the worst atrocity committed by humanity. And that is sinful man going against a holy God and deserving reconciliation which is provided for in the crucifixion. The life and death of Jesus Christ.
Suffering does Not Disprove God’s Existence
Derrick: Yeah. You are wondering as suffering pops up again and people are dying at the moment, for the people that do not believe in the existence of God. How do they explain suffering? Because for many others are detached. They argue that by detaching yourself from yourself – or from self! That’s how you cope with it. So what do you think of those Denis? What comes to mind when you think about, for instance atheists. That say “well – there’s no God.” And actually you would say that this can be used again to argue and say “well, where is God if there is an all loving God, all knowing God, where is he at such a time as this one? Where COVID is killing a lot of people?”
Denis: I think also suffering exposes our worldviews. And it tests them. Because suffering is a problem for the Christian – it is also a problem for the atheists. I don’t see how someone can look at people dying and say “this is just the way life is supposed to work. It’s just – you know – the strong ones will survive and the weak ones will die. This is just nature weeding out bad, weak genes.” There is that attitude. But again when you look at pain, when you look at suffering in the world you cannot say that. So I think it’s a problem.
I don’t see how someone can look at people dying and say this is just the way life is supposed to work.
We are Not Alone
However, why the Christian faith offers a better model of it is that the God of the Bible. The God who is didn’t just give us an intellectual answer to suffering. Or just send us some emotions to think through and meditate through. He didn’t just give us practical things to do to survive. He came as a person. And I think during suffering, the best thing you can do for anybody going through pain or suffering, is to stand with them and identify.
At the cross of Christ, God identifies with our suffering. And takes on the full wrath of that pain. Which I do not see. I feel like the Christian faith offers better resources or more resources for suffering than something else. You get? And so for someone like, of course I don’t want to clamp everybody, every atheist, into one category as a naturalist. But I would say for me as a Christian looking at this I see more explanatory power in the Bible than I see in naturalism. Or like materialism. Because there is the emotional issue of suffering. Where, I mean the way a doctor would look at Coronavirus is different from where a mum would look at coronavirus or her baby dying. You get? It’s not the same thing.
Denis: So to me, the God who has seen His son on the cross suffer is the God who can understand – and who can stand with us.
Derrick: In the light of that, Eddie, I would like to ask. But before I even ask, I would like to quote Ravi and Vince Vitale. Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale. This is what they say: “In the times of suffering and pain, or concerning the question of suffering and pain, all other worldviews have come up with theories to cope with suffering and pain. But only the Christian worldview offers a person.” In the light of that, where would you point us in scripture? A story, again as the manual you would argue. Where would you point us to say, “here it is! here it is.”
Eddie: I think about the man of sorrows. Isaiah 53. The man of sorrows acquainted with grief. I think about it, and this is a prophecy about Jesus years before He is here. And I think about Hebrews. It talks about because of the joy set before Him, He endured the cross. Then somewhere, still in Hebrews, it must be 12, he learnt obedience by the things that He suffered. So we have a model. Not just a model, we have somebody who came into a furnace so that we may not come into it and die. He has gone before us so that we may enter the throne of grace with confidence.
Derrick: What do you think of Job? The story. I mean as I think about suffering and pain. There’s one story – and I believe every Christian would say so as well – that quickly pops up of course in the Old Testament. You see Job’s story. And questions that can easily pop up: “Was God there? Really?” And Job is actually asking these questions. Denis…
Job did Not Bring Suffering on Himself
Denis: So there is a brand of Christianity which would say something like “Job brought the suffering upon himself by his negative confessions.” That he said some things in there that destroyed the hedge of fire around him. I think he says somewhere that “the thing which I feared the most has happened to me”. So some Christians would say, “well that’s because he confessed negativity and therefore, the devil took those words and brought to work and then to him.” But it’s sort of like they ignore the whole story. They ignore how this thing began. They ignore that the devil actually goes to God and asks for that permission. The pride to afflict Job. So I think for what is I see about Job is God’s sovereignty in our suffering.
And I think its Alvin Plantinga who says something like, “Simply because we cannot suppose a good reason for why a good God would allow evil to be, doesn’t mean there is not one.” In other words, God could have a good reason that we don’t know about. That we can’t know about because of the finitude of our minds. But simply because we cannot suppose something, doesn’t mean it is not there. That is one of the approaches we have seen.
Simply because we cannot suppose a good reason for why a good God would allow evil to be, doesn’t mean there is not one
But also secondly, I mean for Job’s story, in the end he comes out right. Of course he gets a double compensation. But I think about the Christians or the faithful believers or even other people who will never… whose story won’t end like Job’s story. The question is: Is God still faithful? Is God still good? Can we still trust His sovereignty? If we have a God whom we can suppose every single action of His, do we still have the God of the Bible? Or we have an image made in our own liking?
So I think suffering is to cause us to depend more on God. To trust in Him fully. If you have a daughter whom you have to explain everything to, before she does anything. And then you have another daughter who does something even when she doesn’t understand. The one who you explain everything to before they do everything, that daughter is not obeying you. They are agreeing with you. So God wants us, I think, to move from agreeing with Him to obeying Him. To trust Him.
Christians are Not Immune to Coronavirus
Eddie: And then for me Derrick, sorry for cutting. That where for me it even exposes the prosperity gospel theology even on a sense like this. Like I’m on WhatsApp just like many of you. And I have seen all these viral things about, you know, Uganda being cleansed by the blood of Jesus and how Corona will not, “touch us”. You know how we are exempt from the blood of Jesus. It’s like all the prosperity gospel sentiment has been evoked in this season. And for me it is an exposure of what it is.
There are faithful Christians in all these countries who have read about Jesus’ healing and the miracles He performed. But they have still died of Coronavirus.
Because there are Christians, faithful Christians in Wuhan, In Hong Kong who have died of Coronavirus. In Singapore. Faithful Christians who have read about Isaiah’s words that, “By His stripes we are healed.” There are faithful Christians in all these Asian countries who have read about Jesus’ healing and the miracles He performed. But they have still died of Coronavirus.
Scripture Must Not be Taken out of Context
So for me, it is also an exposure of the prosperity gospel that has done so much damage especially on our continent in Africa. In spreading the idea that you know, “just because you are in Christ…” It is rooted in poor… theologians like to call it hermeneutics: The interpretation of the Bible. Poor interpretation of the scriptures. Isolated, out of context. You read about the sickness he talks about in 53 as if it’s physical sickness. But then you forget that Paul’s protégé Timothy had a stomach problem. Paul said, you know, referred a medication. And in Hezekiah, he was prescribed some fig leaves for him to be….
We live in a broken world. Part of that brokenness comes in Coronavirus.
So the reality, the point I am making, the reality of our fallenness also involves that our bodies will get sick. And that’s a Christian reality too. But it seems like this Coronavirus has exposed, and I guess the world sometimes mocks us, because they wonder what kind of Christians we are. If you are only proclamative and not speaking of truth as it is in the Bible. Because I mean, when the apostles die. Was it Peters mum who had a fever? We know about that. When Jesus went to his house to heal him. So there is all these… Because we are this side of the world, the confidence in the scriptures is that this side of the world we live in a broken world. Part of that brokenness comes in Coronavirus. Comes in body aches. It comes in car accidents. It comes in neck pains. And that’s not far apart from reality. My encouragement to anyone out there wrestling with that is that, be confident.
Eddie: You know in Christ, what he has promised, it is to come. Indeed, at the end, there will be no tear. No crying, that’s what the book of Revelation tells us. But as for now, we groan in the body. You know we groan in the body waiting in anticipation.
Derrick: Denis, you wanted to actually pitch in. You wanted to say something.
Jesus Died for our Sins, Not our Health & Prosperity
Denis: Yeah I wanted to say just define prosperity gospel for our viewers. Or our listeners. We might be assuming they know.
Well, it’s a gospel which basically says Jesus died so that we could be healthy, wealthy and…. have health and wealth. So it’s basically saying that Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross wasn’t just for our sin but also for our health and prosperity. And there are a couple of other verses that they use to support that. But I find it very unfounded in the scriptures.
Derrick: Yeah, yeah.
Eddie: In fact, a multitude of verses.
Derrick: A multitude of them.
Eddie: They isolate verses to support themselves.
We are Not in Control
Derrick: The challenge I hear; one, and again I will quote Ravi once saying that “If we knew how we would die, we would decide not to be born.” In a sense he is saying that the fact that all of this is happening – and we really don’t like it – it’s simply to show that we are not in control. We are not in control. In the last, as we come to a close… In such times as this one, how are you going to encourage your congregation? Denis in a few minutes.
There is a temptation to think that salvation rests in what you do, in how long you pray, in how long you confess, in how long you fast… But ultimately salvation belongs to the Lord
Denis: Coronavirus is not above God. God is in the business of healing. And indeed He heals. Whether by medicine or by divine supernatural healing. God is able to heal. Our God is able. On the other hand, for the Christians who are going through this and having to face this, I would say God is with you still. And there is a temptation to think that salvation rests in what you do, in how long you pray, in how long you confess, in how long you fast. I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody came and said Christians in Wuhan need to fast and pray for their country. Which is terrible. I think ultimately salvation belongs to the Lord and our God will deliver.
Derrick: Amen. In the last few minutes, Eddie, encouragement!
Lockdown is an Opportunity for Reflection
Eddie: My encouragement is that this is a time for reflection. For some of us who have had our schedules interrupted. We may want to sit back and ponder. Have we been holding some things too dearly that they are becoming almost gods in our lives?
Derrick: We must reorder our lives.
Have we been holding some things too dearly that they are becoming almost gods in our lives?
Eddie: Because sometimes when our lives are interrupted. When our schedules, I mean, suddenly children are back at home! I need maybe I need an extra maid, maybe I need somebody to hire. Will I go in a tantrum, will I throw a tantrum? And forget to show a godly character of peace? Or a peace that surpasses understanding in that situation?
So I want to encourage, mine is an encouragement to fellow parents. I am a dad to 2 daughters. I may not have a clue on what for those with older daughters what it means for them to suddenly show up at home when Coronavirus is here! But my encouragement to them is that, you know, perhaps we should take this time for all of us to reflect about the things that have been dominating or taking a hold of our lives. And stop us from actually thinking about death.
We Need Not Be Afraid
Because death is. It happens. The statistics are what they say: every one person, every day, everybody has, there is 100% statistic that they will die. So… and they say that’s why no death toll has ever risen per say. Because we are all headed there. Every day you take, you take it nearer to the grave. So, I guess these are things to ponder. And I think Christians we should be actually bolder to ponder about death. I know in our African context it is a scary thing! I mean death is not something we wish for – all of us. But like you said, the Ravi quote,
Derrick: “If you knew how you’re going to die, you would decide not to be born.”
Eddie: For me that points to a fallen world. But wise people are those who weep well. Because the scripture also tells us to weep with those who weep. And those who see reality and respond to it appropriately and then biblically. I guess that’s in Christ Jesus who defeated death.
Derrick: Well, you’ve heard it from the 2 – Denis and Eddie. Thank you so much! Eddie looks edified. And it’s been such good conversation.
Eddie: Amidst Corona, this must be the grace of God!
Derrick: Amen! So Christians out there, you’ve heard it. Pray. Know that you are not in control. Please listen to the doctors and the prescriptions, the ministry of Health. Please listen to them. Wash your hands. But ultimately know that God is sovereign. Thank you for listening. It’s been world view Wednesday. We catch up next time. God bless you.