Can anything good come out of the COVID-19 pandemic?

James Burstow | 18 Mar 2020

I wonder how you’re feeling today? There is a lot to take in, isn’t there? Perhaps you’re anxious about the medical impact of COVID-19, either for yourself or for someone you love who is in a high-risk group. Or you may well be feeling concerned about the financial impact that this will have. Flights grounded, social venues closed, the financial markets crashing... People are anxious about losing their income, their jobs, perhaps even their houses. And then there’s the social impact of being isolated: this protects us physically, but at what cost to our mental and emotional wellbeing? Apparently there are already 1.2 million elderly people in the UK who consider themselves lonely; this number is going to be pushed much higher. Even if we’re not elderly, some of us will be dreading the prospect of self-isolation and working remotely. We will desperately miss our church gatherings. We are social beings and it won’t feel natural not to be meeting each other. 

So this is a big deal. If you’re feeling anxious or scared at the moment, that is understandable. But in Romans 12 v 2 Paul says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” So, what is the mind-transforming truth that can help us respond differently as Christians to this crisis than those around us? There is so much that could be said and so many verses that could be quoted, but here’s just one, from Romans 8 v 28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Our highest "good", of course, is becoming more like Jesus (as Paul says in v 29). God can bring good even from this undeniably bad situation—transforming us into the likeness of his Son. I want to suggest two ways that he can and will do that.

The greatest commandment

Firstly, he will help us to love him with more of our heart, mind, soul and strength. According to Jesus, this is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22 v 37-38). This crisis will make us depend on God more as we become painfully aware of our own weakness. 

Human beings find it easy to believe the lie that we’re capable of being in charge; that we can manage things ourselves; that we can live without reference to our Creator. In fact, that lie is at the heart of being an unbeliever: it means wearing the crown on our own head rather than submitting to the rule of Christ. But even believers can all too easily drift back towards that way of thinking. The current crisis is a reminder of how foolish we are if we do. Read this from Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (page 5):

I learned that … many people find God through affliction and suffering. They find that adversity moves them towards God rather than away. Troubled times awaken them out of their haunted sleep of spiritual self-sufficiency into a serious search for the divine … When pain and suffering come upon us, we finally see not only that we are not in control of our lives but that we never were. I also came to realise that adversity did not merely lead people to believe in God’s existence. It pulled those who already believed into a deeper experience of God’s reality, love and grace. One of the main ways we move from abstract knowledge of God to a personal encounter with him as a living reality is through the furnace of affliction. As C. S . Lewis famously put it, ‘God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.’ Believers understand many doctrinal truths in the mind, but those truths seldom make the journey down into the heart except through disappointment, failure and loss.

Devotion to others

Secondly, this crisis gives us a wonderful opportunity to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22 v 39). Sadly, we have already seen the pattern of this world leading to some very ugly and selfish behaviour. We’ve seen panic buying—hoarding food, toilet rolls and paracetamol in spite of being asked to consider others. People have even been stealing hand gel from hospitals! We’ve seen racist attacks on people with Asian heritage, as if they started the crisis. So here is an opportunity for Christians to be different. 

Here is an opportunity to love people. To serve people. To check up on our elderly relatives and neighbours; to do their shopping; to give them a telephone call just for a chat. To look out for people who are going to find self-isolating a real struggle. Let’s consider how we can support them and encourage them however they need it. 

This crisis has put a whole new perspective on the verses that follow on later in Romans 12: "Be devoted to one another in love ... Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.”  That is going to look different for the next few months. But we need to find new ways to do it. 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could emerge from this outbreak both more dependent on God and more devoted to each other? Imagine the witness it would be to those around us. Imagine the glory that would be brought to our Heavenly Father as we see in an unmistakable way that he really does work in all things for the good of those he loves. 

We understand what a worrying and disruptive time this is for so many. So we want to reassure you that The Good Book Company will strive to do everything we can to keep serving you and your church families with the resources you need. Our customer service team is ready and waiting to help you by phone, email and text and our reliable warehouse team are sending out orders as usual. Over the next few weeks we’ll be working hard to bring you content, ideas and resources that we hope and pray will be both encouraging and helpful for you as you navigate the weeks and months ahead. For a hand-picked selection of books that we hope will encourage and strengthen you, click here.  

James Burstow

James' role as Commercial Director encompasses marketing, sales and customer service. Before joining TGBC he spent time in Chile and Japan teaching English before becoming a fundraiser for Great Ormond Street Hospital. He is the senior elder at Grace Church Worcester Park.