When I was at seminary, one of my professors once described the darkest moment of the Old Testament as “a creative catastrophe”.
God’s people, living in Jerusalem, believed that they were invincible. They trusted more in their fortress city, economy and rule of law then they did in God. They even drifted from God and gave up on him altogether, worshipping the false gods of the world around them.
Then catastrophe struck. Judah was invaded by Babylon, the city of Jerusalem was destroyed along with the palace and temple and all the best homes. Some people fled, some died, and many were taken away captive to work in the pagan empire of Babylon.
In confusion and shock, that’s where Psalm 137 says “we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion”.
Their first thoughts were “How could God let this happen to us?” And “Is God even really there at all?” But then slowly, something creative happened. First, they started to repent. They turned back to him, being forced in their weakness to ask Him for help. Then they started to realize that they had been unfaithful. Then they realized that if God had let this happen, He could also make it unhappen. Then they got even more creative and tried to figure out how they were going to worship when all the familiar ways of doing “church” had been taken away.
To use the words of Ben Wulpi: what started out as a survival mode, quickly became a revival mode, and their faith took off.
During this time of trial, hundreds of verses of scripture were written, often rich in imagery. One scholar counts 75 different allegories and metaphors in just the first five chapters of Lamentations alone! Whole books were written, meticulous records of God’s great deeds were recorded. Miracles happened. Prophecies were given and God even revealed to them, not just an immediate hope of restoration, but the ultimate hope of a messiah. Written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, God promised a savior to die for them, and who would one day return to make all things new.
Catastrophe became a new start that pointed to a new creation.
Hear me now! I am not saying this virus is a punishment from God. But I am saying that it is an opportunity, in our suffering, fear, confusion, and disruption, to turn to him anew, in hope, to turn away from our old false hopes, and to get creative.
All around the world, tired looking clergy are making weird videos in front of piles of old looking books. One high-churchman even accidentally set himself on fire while recording an exhortation to his flock last week. It was a catastrophe, but give him some credit: it was also creative. And so please do not give up hope or give up tuning in to our new ways of doing old things.
Our message has not changed, it’s just being delivered more creatively and, I think, received more seriously.
We’re making little improvements each week to our new ways of doing church and the statistics are really amazing. We have piles of new data and with all the caveats and discounts we could make, I’m pleased to say that our church has already grown in this crisis.
Please take advantage of the amazing work our staff team has done on the website, app, YouTube channel, Facebook pages, Podcasts and email updates. This week Bridget has continued to do an amazing job of collating all of our collective weird stuff and making it accessible. Tami, Josh, Ben Hughes and Ben Wulpi have written and recorded tons of great things, and no one has gone on fire.
Finally, please remember, as Robert says almost every day: none of this surprises God.
Love in Christ,