If suffering does indeed reveal character, the last thirty days have revealed that my character isn’t as strong as more normative times might lead me to believe. I have exhibited negative emotions. I’ve been selfish, mopey, irritable, lonely, sad, and at times borderline depressed. This isn’t fun and I don’t like it. I know many more are actually suffering when compared to my mere inconveniences, but that hasn’t curtailed my boorish behavior. I wish I could tell you how extraordinarily brave I’ve been. But that would be dishonest. I’ve done well at managing to avoid a full-frontal break-down, but depending on the day, I’m not sure I haven’t been all that far away. I’ve had difficulty focusing, and I’ve been distracted most every day. But of course, I’ve tried to manage what I let you see, and what I let you know. Very few in this world understand intimately who I am. I imagine this is true with most of us.
With our cooperation, the phenomenon of social media is increasingly putting our lives on display. There was a time when we created our own status through hard work, education, or material gain; in other cases, our status – defined by a lack of these attributes – was imposed on us. But with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media websites, status is now something we simply declare. A perusal of these sites will clue you into what is happening in the lives of your friends and acquaintances, with all of the moment-by-moment graphic details. Declaring our status in this way has become a new extension of an old idolatry. Ever since Adam and Eve hid in the garden attempting to cover the shame of their sin, humanity has continued to follow in this never-ending quest to hide, justify, and manage what others see.
The era of social distancing has somewhat leveled the playing field. To varying degrees, we are all experiencing disruption, irritation, aggravation. When I watch the news, or a daily governmental briefing, it makes me feel much like when I take my car to the auto mechanic. At that point the mechanic could tell me anything, and my ignorance of combustion engines would put me in a position where I would be inclined to defer to his expertise. In the same way, I defer to the expertise of the doctors, scientist, and experts. But with COVID-19, everyone it seems has an opinion. This doesn’t help my anxiety. It makes it worse. Politicians, preachers, and pundits, often add to the challenges. But some don’t. Thank you to those who aren’t.
Thank you to those who take science seriously. Thank you to those who lead with the needs of those they serve in mind. And thank you to preachers and pastors who bring genuine words of courage and comfort in this difficult time. Thank you to the teachers who persevere. Thank you to frontline medical professionals who are making all the difference in the world for those who are hurting. And thank you friends for continuing. Continuing to smile. Continuing to love. And for all of you who continue to be my friend, even when you disagree, or misunderstand. Friendship is not defined in times of ease, but in times of difficulty. For your friendship I am truly a grateful man.
Of course, I’ll continue to attempt to manage what you see. Not only do I attempt to manage what others see, but also and more profoundly, I also attempt to manage what God sees. And of course, this is a foolish and impossible task. Consider the words of 2 Chronicles 16:9: “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen the hearts of those fully committed to him.” No matter how desperately we attempt to hide from God, or each other, or even from ourselves, these attempts will always eventually leave us exposed to the elements of our own demise. Our identities become manufactured, photo-shopped expressions of who we wish we were. The comments we leave on the “walls” of others reinforce our preoccupation with splinters while we are pupil-deep with two-by-fours. As Tim Keller observes, “When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, we may call it ‘co-dependency’ but it is really idolatry. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’ There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship with something, but perhaps the best one is worship.”
The Bible has a lot to say about the reality of our status. Ephesians 2:1 puts it simply, saying, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” Our status wasn’t one of being sick or impaired – we were dead. And no matter how much we try to cover, hide, or perfume it, the stench of death at work in us remains. Death is a status that requires nothing short of a resurrection.
Because God in his word tells the truth about our status, he then has the power to supernaturally change that status. This is the power of the gospel to transform our lives, and move us from “death to life.” Jesus declared in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This is a truth Paul makes abundantly clear as we continue to read in Ephesians 2:4-5: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.”
Our status has been transformed in Christ, so that now our identity and activity – all of it – flows from him. So the next time you update your “status,” remember this: for those who are in Christ, our eternal status is the declared righteousness of Jesus, along with the joy and peace this brings.
Nothing I can do, say, or think will cause God to love me any less or any more. He loves me. Even when I’m complaining in quarantine.