WE’RE HAVING PUBLIC SERVICES SUNDAYS @ 9:00 am & 10:45 AM. We are also posting our sermons on this website, just click on the “Sermons” tab; and streaming our worship services/sermons on Facebook live.
July 3, 2020 – Coronavirus Update
Dear Packsaddle Fellowship family,
As you may be aware, Governor Abbott has now mandated face coverings in counties where there are 20 or more active COVID cases. Our local county authorities acknowledged that mandate yesterday afternoon noting that Llano county now has 33 active cases.
In an effort to cooperate with our leaders and slow the spread of COVID-19, we will be requiring face coverings in our public worship services until these guidelines are relaxed.
We continue to invite you to make attendance at a public worship service a matter of prayer. If the Lord leads you to attend a public service, wonderful! Please plan on wearing some sort of face covering.
If you have a condition that keeps you from wearing a mask but would like to attend a public service, know that the governor has made exceptions for cases like this, as well as children under the age of ten. Please let us know so that we can accommodate you and those around you with seating that maintains social distancing guidelines.
If the Lord guides you to stay home, we think that is wonderful as well. Plan on worshiping with us remotely via the church website or Facebook live.
Our chief concern in these individual decisions is the Lord would find each of us striving to follow His leading and love one another as we navigate these unique circumstances.
With His Love,
The Packsaddle Fellowship Elder Board
May 1, 2020 – Coronavirus Update
Dear Packsaddle Fellowship family,
As our journey through self isolation and social distancing continues, we want to thank you for your prayers and the variety of ways you have have encouraged one another and our community. These are trying times. Your attitude and flexibility have been a great blessing.
In an effort to follow the Lord’s command to be subject to the authority He has placed over us, we’ve been praying about the latest guidelines from the governor. First of all, we want you to see a copy of these guidelines for yourself.
- Encouraging attendees who are 65 years old and above to stay home and watch services online, or provide a “senior service” exclusively for attendees 65 and above to attend in person.
- Asking all attendees who have underlying at-risk health conditions to stay home and watch services online.
- Equipping ushers and greeters with protective equipment such as gloves and masks.
- Keeping child care closed unless churches can comply with CDC guidelines for child care facilities.
- Encouraging all attendees to sanitize their hands and put on masks before entering the building.
- Ensuring attendees sit with their family unit and use social distancing between each unit, even, if necessary, adding more services to facilitate social distancing.
- Having clergy dismiss attendees by family unit, maintaining social distancing.
- Having staff sanitize seats and frequently touched surfaces between services.
- Considering refraining from passing collection plates and instead provide a central collection box in the building or encouraging online giving.
- Considering how the sacraments can be administered without attendees having to touch the same surfaces and objects.
We’re thrilled about the opportunity to begin meeting publicly but as you can see we’ll need to adopt some new practices.
First of all, the Elders want to encourage you to pray about the decision to attend a public service. God is certainly leading each of you on a step by step basis. Our prayer is He find you sensitive and faithful to His leading. As you wait for the opportunity to worship publicly, please consider being a part of an online Care Cell or Small Group to maintain fellowship with other believers.
We’ll continue to record our Saturday service so that anyone who isn’t in attendance can still hear the sermon online. This coming Saturday, May 2nd, Gordon Schrank will lead us in communion so have your bread and juice ready! This is our opportunity to honor the Lord Jesus for His incredible work on the cross. “Through one Man’s righteous act, the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.” Romans 5:18
Beginning next Saturday, May 9th, we’ll have a public service that begins at 5:00pm. On Sunday, May 17th, we’ll resume an 11:00 AM service.
In accordance with the governor’s guidelines, BYO…M, Bring Your Own Mask! Our ushers and staff will meet you at the door with a fresh shot of hand sanitizer and a smile beneath their masks. Please wait for our ushers to help you find seating that maintains a six foot distance from others. Be sure to take the opportunity to give air hugs, catch up with those around you and introduce yourself to someone you haven’t met. We all need to see your smiling eyes and hear your muffled voice.
For the time being, our services will include a sermon and lyric videos from Youtube. Since there is a concern about the airborne spread of covid-19, the governor has requested we hum along, not sing. We’ll ask, as you prayerfully whisper those words to the Lord from behind your mask, that you shout them to the Lord in your heart. May our offering of praise during this pandemic be more pleasing than ever before.
Our Saturday and Sunday services will be identical. For now, we won’t have Adult Sunday School classes or kid’s programs. In an effort to help our families with younger children, our staff will provide activity packs for the kids. In the event a child doesn’t want to listen to Pastor Robert any longer, our nursery (which will remain unstaffed for the time being) and two other rooms will be sanitized and prepared with age appropriate toys, etc. Our staff is also working toward a Kid’s Church program on Sunday morning that will meet CDC guidelines. We’ll pass along that start date soon.
Under the governor’s guidelines, our sanctuary will only be able to seat about 60-65 people. Multiple services are one of the ways we hope to minister to the whole of Packsaddle Fellowship but we recognize we may have too many people show up for a given service. In light of this possibility, we are working to create overflow spaces with live video and audio feeds in our large KFC room and the Club 4:12 room. We anticipate seating for about 35-40 people in these areas. As these preparations are ongoing, we appreciate your patience for the inconveniences that may arise as we get them up and running. As the need arises we’ll add a second service on Sunday at 5:00 PM. The extended time between services will allow our volunteers and staff the opportunity to sanitize the building as well as sanitized chairs the time to dry.
Shall we consider it all joy as we navigate this unique time? Yes, let’s make that choice again and again!
Thank you for your faithfulness to the Lord and your prayers on behalf of our church,
The Packsaddle Fellowship Elder Board
Gordon Schrank, Dick Giesecke, Mike Benedict, Robert Billingslea
April 1, 2020 – Christ in the Passover event
Good afternoon Packsaddle!
We have a change of plans for the “Christ in the Passover” event that we were planning to host at Packsaddle Fellowship next week. While we needed to cancel the event we were planning, I am thrilled to tell you that Jews For Jesus has found a way for us to still experience it… an online live stream event!
“The story of Exodus will be interwoven with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in a compelling tapestry of symbolism that you’ll never forget. You’ll get to meet some of Jews For Jesus Jewish staff from around the world, hear their life-changing stories, and even have a chance to ask your own questions through an interactive Q&A. It takes only a moment to reserve a seat for this powerful, thought-provoking Christ in the Passover live stream event. To see a full schedule of available times, click here: https://jewsforjesus.org/christ-in-the-passover-online.
Times are shown in EDT, which is one hour ahead of us here in Texas Hill Country. These events are open to the public, so please share them with your friends and family as well.
Director of Administration
March 30, 2020 – New Coronavirus Update
Dear Packsaddle Fellowship Family,
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread across the country, President Trump has extended his social distancing guidelines through April 30. This includes his request that we avoid social gatherings in groups of more than ten people. The entirety of these guidelines are available at this link.
In cooperation with the President’s extension of these guidelines, the elder board has agreed to the suspension of the public ministries of Packsaddle Fellowship through April 30, 2020. We anticipate other adjustments may be necessary as circumstances continue to change.
We value your prayers during these unique circumstances. Please join us in prayer as we consider how to do ministry in these changing times. In an effort to emulate Christ, we are striving to protect those He has put under our care, to pursue their spiritual growth, and to facilitate care for one another & our community. Along these lines, there are a number of changes happening.
To make certain that our church family is cared for spiritually and physically, the staff and elders are working to form “Care Cells” within the congregation. These are small groups that are intentionally connecting on a weekly basis for the purpose of encouragement, prayer, and seeing to the variety of needs that may arise during social distancing. If you would like to be in a Care Cell please contact the church office at 325-388-8202 or email Robin Kaspar at email@example.com.
Our Wednesday night children & youth ministries have been reconfigured in order to continue to provide meals and spiritual care for the children in our community. Small groups of volunteers are coordinating the safe handling and delivery of meals. Devotionals, Bibles, and Activity Bags for kids are being handed out as well. We want to encourage parents and engage these kids.
Our website has under gone a number of changes. As always, there’s a place to send prayer requests to our elders and staff. Short devotionals, sermons, and worship songs are being updated regularly. Our new Kid’s Corner is available to encourage parents and engage kids. We’re taking the time to share Something Beautiful & Something Funny for you to enjoy.
During this unique time we’d also like to encourage you to consider our free electronic giving option called Green Giving. The elders have agreed to “wade in” to this new program for our personal giving. We hope our experience will make your experience with the program smoother. You can find information about Green Giving by calling Marilyn at the office or our Treasurer, Mike Adams. They’ll be glad to answer any questions.
In the midst of all that’s changing, let’s remember what’s unchanging,
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”
Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence.
He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler. Psalm 91:1-4
From under the shelter of His wings,
Your Packsaddle Fellowship Elder Board
Mike Benedict, Gordon Schrank, Dick Giesecke, and Robert Billingslea
March 24, 2020 – Sermon dvds/cds & office hours
Hi Packsaddle Fellowship family,
We’d like to let you know of another way to hear Pastor Robert’s sermons. Upon request, we can make dvds and cds of any sermon. With some extra time on our hands, this is a great time to catch up on a past sermon that you missed or watch a past sermon series that you loved. Just let me know and we’ll get it ready for you as soon as we can.
Also, our church staff is working from home whenever possible, so please call ahead if you’re stopping by the church without an appointment.
And as always, let a church staff member know if you have any questions, needs, or prayer requests.
Director of Administration
March 21, 2020 – Check out our website
Hi PSF church family,
Since we can’t meet corporately at this time, we’d like to invite you to visit our website on a regular basis. The address is www.PacksaddleFellowship.com. We’re putting all the letters that we email to you with changes and updates due to the Coronavirus on our website, as well as devotionals, worship songs, past and new sermons, and more to help you worship. You can also submit prayer requests at our website, so lets stay connected.
As for this week’s Sunday worship service, Pastor Robert is planning to record it tonight, so after a few hours of processing, it should be on the website (click here to go to the sermons page of our website: https://www.packsaddle.us/?page_id=175) along with a worship playlist from our worship team (click here for the worship playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLlLf1n5j5Egrzd50bmIhTvuRnRtUnrgTy) ready for you to watch at your convenience on Sunday morning. And a bonus that I’ve discovered with having worship songs online is I’m not nearly as embarrassed when I sing a wrong word or off key; so let your voice ring out in praise to the One worthy of our praise!
And as always, please let a church staff member know if we can pray for you or help you in any way.
Director of Administration
March 18, 2020 – A word from our Treasurer about a new way to give
Dear Packsaddle Fellowship Family,
As the COVID-19 outbreak persists, in a short span of time it has affected many areas of how we go about our daily lives. At least for the near future, for many it has changed our workplace, the way we shop, our entertainment and our ability to travel and freely interact with one another. Most recently, it has disrupted how we worship as a family of believers with the decision to suspend our public worship services for a period of time.
Although there have been many changes in our daily routines, it is important that our faithfulness in giving and support of the Packsaddle ministries continue. In that regard, as your Treasurer, in conjunction with the Elder Board and our Director of Administration, we would like to offer a new free way of giving via electronic format which can be directly taken from your checking or savings account.
Changing to an electronic format would provide you and our staff with several advantages. With our inability to gather corporately, it will provide you the opportunity to continue your giving on a regular basis without having to prepare and mail a physical check. More importantly, it would allow our giving to remain consistent even when much around us has been disrupted.
Though we may not be able to gather corporately, our ministry work continues. Our gifts of worship are needed to continue providing for operating expenses such as utilities, as well as staff salaries and our mission commitments. With electronic giving, we call it Green Giving, you will have the option of having your financial gift deducted on the 1st or 15th of each month, or both periods if that fits your situation. Also, Green Giving can be discontinued at any time you desire with a simple phone call to the church.
Please consider Green Giving; however, if you prefer to write a check you are more than welcome to do so. For more information or to sign up, call Marilyn at the church office at 325-388-8202 or drop her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let her know your interest in going Green and she’ll make contact with you to get the necessary information.
March 18, 2020 – CORONAVIRUS UPDATE #2
Dear Packsaddle Fellowship Family,
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread across the country, President Trump has asked us to follow several guidelines over the next 15 days. His guidelines include a request to avoid social gatherings in groups of more than ten people.
You can familiarize yourself with the entirety of the guidelines at this link.
In view of these guidelines, the elder board has decided to suspend the public ministries of Packsaddle Fellowship through April 1, 2020.
We anticipate that our circumstances will continue to change. We’ll continue to prayerfully consider how to protect those put under our care, pursue their spiritual growth, as well as, facilitate care for one another & our community.
As always, we value your prayers as we address these new circumstances.
There are a number of changes that are happening behind the scenes, ideas we’re excited to share. Some of these ideas include the availability of sermons, “sermonettes,” devotionals, and worship music. We’re seeking creative, safe ways to continue to minister to the children of our community, new ways to facilitate our small groups, and new ways to encourage & care for one another.
We firmly believe the Lord is using these trials to grow & expand His work here in the Hill Country and we’re very thankful for that privilege.
As these ideas come to maturity, we’ll pass them along via email, Facebook, Instagram, and our church website, www.PacksaddleFellowship.com. Please keep an eye out for those emails! And, if you would do us a favor, please check with other Packsaddle attenders to make sure they’re receiving the latest. A simple phone call to the church office at 325-388-8202 can get them connected.
Remember what we’ve learned in Psalm 46,
God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling.
If the sons of Korah had grown up in East Texas they might have said it like this,
God is our incredible protection! He’s not far away. He’s here. He’s here to help! Because of these things I’ll choose calmness repeatedly… even if the world is going nuts!
From under the shelter of His wings, (see Psalm 91:4!)
Your Packsaddle Fellowship Elder Board
Mike Benedict, Gordon Schrank, Dick Giesecke, and Robert Billingslea
March 12, 2020 – CORONAVIRUS UPDATE #1
Dear Packsaddle Fellowship Family,
In light of the on-going spread of the coronavirus, we want to let you know that we are taking preventive measures to keep our church, and all those who enter it, safe and healthy. On an on-going basis, we are doing extra sanitizing of heavily used surfaces like door knobs, light switches, restrooms, water fountains, etc. We’ve also placed extra hand sanitizer throughout our building for your convenient use.
There are also several ways you can help:
If you or your children are not feeling well, please stay home. But, let us know that you’re not feeling well so that we can pray and help. Keep in mind our sermons are available online at PacksaddleFellowship.com.
Feel free to greet each other with a fist bump or a kind smile instead of shaking hands or a hug.
And please wash your hands or sanitize often.
We will prayerfully adjust these measures as necessary. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to our staff or elders if you have a specific question or suggestion.
Dick Giesecke, one of the elders here at Packsaddle Fellowship, has passed along an article written by Jim Denison of the Denison Forum entitled, “Where is God when pandemics strike?” Mr. Denison does a wonderful job explaining pandemics from a historical and biblical perspective; it is attached below. I believe you will find the article very helpful.
Remember the truth. Though we live in a fallen world, we possess eternal life because of faith in our Savior Jesus Christ.
Remember to take the time to enjoy Psalm 46, Psalm 91, or Psalm 139. Just as God has provided His Son for our eternal salvation, He has also provided Scripture as a lamp for our feet during times like this.
Remember also that the fields are white for the harvest. This coronavirus situation gives us a unique opportunity to spread the love of Christ to others by helping & praying for family, friends and neighbors in their time of need and sharing the good news about Christ with them.
Yours in Christ,
_ _ _ _ _
WHERE IS GOD WHEN PANDEMICS STRIKE?
A biblical and practical response
James C. Denison, PhD CVO,
Denison Forum Dallas, Texas
March 4, 2020
Pandemics have killed more than three hundred million people across human history. From the Antonine plague (AD 165) to the current HIV/AIDS pandemic, such outbreaks have been part of life on this planet. Now a new disease is sweeping the globe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus is known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It produces a disease called coronavirus or COVID-19. At this writing, the WHO has not yet classified coronavirus as a global pandemic, but it will likely do so once sustained person-to-person spread takes hold outside of China. The disease has clearly become a worldwide emergency and is commonly referred to as a pandemic. This white paper will survey some of the most urgent questions people are asking about this global threat. Then we will turn to biblical hope we can claim and share with our frightened
What pandemics exist in the world today?
The WHO describes a “pandemic” as “the worldwide spread of a new disease.” By this description, we are witnessing several pandemics today. The WHO estimates that there were 228 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2018, with 405,000 deaths. Almost half the world’s population—about 3.2 billion people—are at risk. The disease kills a child every two minutes. According to Dr. Christian W. McMillen’s excellent introduction to pandemics, cholera is in its seventh pandemic. It has lasted longer than any previous pandemic and shows no sign of easing. Researchers estimate that there are between 1.3 million and 4 million cases a year, with up to 143,000 deaths worldwide. Tuberculosis (TB) might be the oldest human disease, but this pandemic is still with us as well. Due to multidrug-resistant TB, extensively drug-resistant TB, poor infection control, and drug shortages, tuberculosis now kills more people than at any other time in history. And the AIDS pandemic has infected approximately 37.9 million people around the world, with 1.7 million new infections in 2018. According to the WHO, since the beginning of the epidemic, 75 million people have been infected with the HIV virus; about 32 million have died of it. Dr. McMillen notes that as commerce becomes more global, we can expect pandemics to rise. International trade networks and human migration via steamships and rail lines helped distribute plague in the early twentieth century. The pandemic influenza spread of 1918 was made possible by newly built transportation and trade networks and the heightened mobility brought on by World War I. As our world becomes even more globally connected, we can expect to see more threats rise.
What is the history of pandemics?
The Antonine Plague (AD 165) is thought to have been smallpox or measles, though the true cause is still unknown. What is known is that this pandemic was brought back to Rome by soldiers returning from Mesopotamia around AD 163. They spread a disease that eventually killed over five million people. The Plague of Justinian (AD 541–42) was an outbreak of bubonic plague that killed up to twenty-five million people. By one estimate, 50 percent of the European population perished. The disease might have contributed to the downfall of the Byzantine Empire. The Black Death (1346–53) was another outbreak of bubonic plague that killed between seventy-five and two hundred million people. It devastated Europe, Africa, and Asia. The world has suffered seven cholera pandemics, from the first in 1817 to the current pandemic that began in Indonesia in 1961. As we noted, there are as many as four million cases a year. The flu pandemic of 1889–90 spread across the globe and cost one million lives. But the influenza that swept the globe in two waves in 1918 and a third in 1919 was the worst pandemic after the Black Death. Half a billion people—a third of the world’s population—were infected. It killed an estimated twenty to fifty million people, though some believe the death toll to have been around one hundred million. (A lack of medical record-keeping makes exact numbers impossible to calculate.) It was known as the Spanish flu, not because it originated in Spain but because that country was especially devastated by the disease and was not subject to wartime news blackouts affecting other European countries. More US soldiers died from the 1918 flu than were killed in battle during World War I. Even President Woodrow Wilson contracted it in early 1919 while negotiating the treaty that ended World War I. The Asian Flu pandemic of 1956–58 took two million lives, more than sixty-nine thousand in the US alone. The 1968 flu pandemic caused one million deaths, half of them in Hong Kong. And the HIV/AIDS pandemic continues today.
Other facts about pandemics (from McMillen):
1. Vaccination was invented in response to smallpox.
2. Government structures and medical authority were both enhanced as responses to pandemics.
3. Africans were less susceptible to malaria, which led, in part, to their importation as slaves to the New World in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
4. Insecticide-treated bed nets have worked well with malaria (the WHO claims they have been responsible for cutting malaria rates in half in Africa since 2000). However, they have also been repurposed on a massive scale as fishing nets in Nigeria, Mozambique, and elsewhere. People are choosing food over prevention. This increase in fishing is also having an adverse effect on fish stocks.
5. Irrigation canals in India became stagnant pools in which mosquitoes bred, spreading malaria.
6. Migrant laborers have sometimes brought malaria back to their homelands, where it had previously been unknown.
Why does God allow pandemics?
Four biblical claims are relevant to our discussion.
One: God made all that is.
Genesis clearly states that the Lord “created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). According to Colossians 1, “by [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (v. 16).
Two: The world is broken.
When humans chose to sin, physical suffering resulted (Genesis 3:16–19). In addition, “cursed is the ground” because of sin (v. 17). As a result, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). One day there will be “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1). In the meantime, we live as fallen people on a fallen planet. Coronavirus did not exist in the Garden of Eden and exists today not because of God but because of the Fall.
Three: God sometimes uses disease and disaster as judgments against sin.
The Book of Exodus describes plagues against Egypt in response to Pharaoh’s hardened heart and the enslavement of the Jewish people. Miriam was temporarily afflicted with leprosy as punishment for her opposition to Moses (Numbers 12:1–15). Moses warned the Jewish people that if they rejected God’s word and will, “the Lord will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat” (Deuteronomy 28:22). The diseases suffered by Asa (2 Chronicles 16:12) and Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:16–21) were clearly the result of divine judgment. Acts 12 tells us that “an angel of the Lord struck [Herod] down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last” (Acts 12:23). However, by no means is all physical suffering in Scripture the result of sin. We think of Job’s innocent sufferings (cf. Job 2:7), Hezekiah’s sickness (2 Kings 20:1), and the fact that Daniel “was overcome and lay sick for some days” after receiving a vision from God (Daniel 8:27). Lazarus’ death was clearly not the result of sin (John 11). Nor was the illness and death of Dorcas (Acts 9:37). Epaphroditus, a Christian who was so faithful that Paul called him “my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier,” nonetheless became so sick that he nearly died (Philippians 2:25–27). Trophimus, one of Paul’s fellow missionaries, was left ill at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20). How can we know if coronavirus is the direct judgment of God? It seems to me that whenever God judges a person or people directly in Scripture, he warns them first. We think of Moses warning Pharaoh about the plagues to come and the prophets warning the nation before the Northern and Southern Kingdoms fell. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and warned the city of its coming demise (Luke 19:41–44). I am not aware of any warnings from God specifically directed at the Wuhan province of China, where this coronavirus epidemic started. Or at any other nation where the virus is active. It is also the case in Scripture that God’s punishments are directed at sinners for their sin. While the innocent often suffer from these consequences (as with the Egyptians who suffered from the plagues resulting from their leader’s prideful rebellion), such punishments are God’s response to specific sins. I am not aware of any sins that led directly to the coronavirus epidemic or helped produce it. And we should note the fact that Satan is responsible for much pain and suffering in the world. He comes “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). The suffering he inflicted on Job and on the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:5) are indicative of his hatred against humans and desire to harm us. I am not claiming that Satan is behind the coronavirus epidemic. But I am claiming that he takes delight in the suffering it is producing and wants to use it to lead people away from God’s word and love.
Four: God intervenes in his broken world according to his providential purposes.
The Creator did not abandon his creation when humanity caused its fall. Rather, he gave the first man and woman covering for their shame (Genesis 3:21). He gave us laws to guide our behavior as fallen people and prophets to explain and enforce the law. Ultimately, he gave us his own Son. Jesus left his throne in glory to step into the suffering of our fallen world and to die for our sins to purchase our salvation. His incarnation is proof that when we could not come to God, he came to us. From Adam and Eve to today, our Father continues to care for us, to answer our prayers, and to meet our needs. Jesus worked more than thirty miracles in nature and in physical healing. He teaches us to “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
To summarize: pandemics are a consequence of the Fall, not the design or intention of God. But he intervenes in our fallen world according to his perfect will, which means that we must pray for his healing and join him in ministering to those in need.
How should Christians respond?
My son Ryan and I recently wrote Making Sense of Suffering, which will be released later this month. In its pages, we survey several biblical theodicies. A theodicy is an explanation for evil and suffering (from the Greek words for God and justice). In this section, we will apply these approaches to the question of pandemics and coronavirus with seven practical steps we can take today.
One: Do not blame those who suffer for their suffering.
The free-will theodicy notes that much suffering in the world results from misused freedom. However, as we noted above, not all suffering is the fault of sin. I am not aware of evidence that the coronavirus epidemic was caused by specific sins or is God’s judgment on specific sinners. When we blame the innocent for their pain, we make their pain worse. Remember the disciples’ question when they saw a man born blind: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus explained that the man’s blindness was not the fault of sin (v. 3), then he took steps to heal him (vv. 6–7). We should follow his example.
Two: Seek ways to grow spiritually through suffering.
The soul-building theodicy notes that pain is often a catalyst for spiritual growth. Joseph learned humility through his enslavement and imprisonment. Peter learned to depend more fully on God as a result of his betrayal of Jesus. Paul learned through his “thorn in the flesh” to “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). If you contract the virus or know someone who does, turn to God for his help and strength. Learn to depend on the Great Physician as well as on human physicians. Ask your Father to show you ways you can grow and lessons you can learn through this disease. Charles Spurgeon testified, “I am certain that I never did grow in grace one-half so much anywhere as I have upon the bed of pain.”
Three: Look for the presence of Christ in pain.
The present-help theodicy points to God’s presence in our suffering. Our Lord promises us: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2–3). Jesus knows what it is to suffer hunger (Matthew 4:2), thirst (John 19:28), weariness (John 4:6), sorrow (Isaiah 53:3), and pain (Isaiah 53:5). He knows what it is like to be abandoned by friends (Matthew 26:56) and to feel abandoned by God (Matthew 27:46). As a result, we know that he knows our pain today. If you or someone you know is suffering from coronavirus or another malady, you can take such suffering to your Savior. You can know that he hears you and loves you. And you can trust him for his best.
Four: Claim the hope of Christ.
The future-hope theodicy focuses on ways God will use present suffering for future good. It claims Paul’s testimony, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). We know that the worst that can happen to us in this life leads to the best that can happen to us— our transition to our new life in heaven (cf. John 14:3). The moment we close our eyes on earth, we open them in paradise. When we take our last breath here, we take our first breath there. That’s because, as Jesus promised, “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26). God uses present suffering for future good in ways we can imagine and in ways we cannot. As noted above, smallpox led to the invention of vaccines. Many of the public health measures being enacted today in response to coronavirus were first developed during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. Many other medical advances have been made in response to specific diseases or challenges. What we do not understand today, we will understand one day: “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Five: Trust that God redeems all he allows.
We know that our Lord is perfect and can never make a mistake (Matthew 5:48). We know that he is sovereign, so that all that happens occurs by his permission or agency (cf. Matthew 10:29). And we know that he is love (1 John 4:8) and always wants our best. As a result, if God allows or causes anything he does not use for greater good, he made a mistake in allowing or causing it. Thus, we can be assured that he redeems all he allows. I am not claiming that we will see this redemption fully in this life, or that we will understand it on this side of heaven. However, I do not have to understand God’s redemption to trust in it. I don’t understand how my laptop processes my keystrokes into this manuscript or how the internet transmits it to you. I do not understand all the ways God is redeeming and will redeem coronavirus for his glory and our good. But I believe that he is and will. This is one way that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).
Six: Look for ways to share the compassion of Christ.
Rather than speculating theologically about reasons for the coronavirus epidemic, the more practical response is to help those who are suffering from it. Christians are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), the physical manifestation of his continued earthly ministry. Jesus wants us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). He calls us to share his healing grace with those who hurt (Matthew 10:8). He invites us to pray for those in pain and then to be part of the answer to their suffering (James 5:14). In The Rise of Christianity, noted sociologist Rodney Stark points to the plague of AD 165 and the epidemic of AD 251 as remarkable opportunities for the gospel. These epidemics “swamped the explanatory and comforting capacities of paganism and of Hellenic philosophies.” By contrast, “Christianity offered a much more satisfactory account of why these terrible times had fallen upon humanity, and it projected a hopeful, even enthusiastic, portrait of the future.” These Christians were already committed to social service and community solidarity, which enabled them to survive epidemics in substantially higher numbers. Such survival seemed miraculous to the pagans. In addition, these believers were unafraid of death and thus ministered to the sick and welcomed them into their community. Stark quotes from Dionysius’ Easter Letter (around AD 260): Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. By contrast, The heathen behaved in the very opposite way. At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treating unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease. Theologian Ed Stetzer offers another example from the yellow fever epidemic in the fall of 1793 in Philadelphia. He writes that “thousands of citizens fled, hospitals became overwhelmed, and dead bodies rotted in homes.” But the black church under the leadership of Richard Allen entered into this suffering. Notwithstanding the persecution and prejudice they had faced, they served the sick when others isolated themselves. Stetzer notes: Despite the overt racism he faced, Allen modeled an empathetic approach to loving his neighbors. Allen and his fellow volunteers were heartbroken over the suffering of the sick. They resonated with those patients who had been cast out. . . . Allen never lost sight of the truth: Those around him were lost and needed Jesus. His empathy informed his witness. When we are present in the pain of others, our hope offers them hope and our love shows them the love of our Lord.
Seven: Share the gospel of grace wherever you can.
It has been my experience that adults who do not trust in Christ as their Lord are much more open to faith during times of suffering. When they realize that they cannot depend on themselves, they are more willing to turn to God. It is vital at such times that Christians be present to share God’s love and grace. It is not opportunistic or manipulative to offer salvation to those who suffer—such ministry shares the greatest hope and healing that humans can experience. As “ambassadors for Christ,” our calling and message is simple: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Coronavirus presents a unique challenge to our world. Not since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 have we faced a threat that affects us medically and financially on such a global scale. Disasters such as Hurricane Katrina directly affect only the area they attack. Previous epidemics such as Ebola have been confined to specific regions. The Great Recession affected us financially but not medically. But coronavirus, so far, transcends our ability to respond medically. Our financial means are not sufficient for this crisis. And it transcends borders and nationalities, potentially affecting everyone on our planet.
Here’s the good news: this unique challenge constitutes a unique opportunity for the gospel. If God’s people will embrace the privilege of praying and caring for the sick while facing this epidemic with calm courage and faith in our Father, we will model the kind of relevant, empowering faith and community our culture desperately seeks. Our love will invite others to trust the love of our Lord. And our Father will redeem this present-day crisis for his eternal purposes and our eternal good. May it be so, to the glory of God.
James C. Denison, PhD CVO,
Denison Forum Dallas, Texas