Over the next few messages, we are going to consider the life and example of Gideon (a ‘Judge’ in the book of Judges in the bible). I believe the Sprit has things to say to the church through this part of the bible. Sure, there are many things that were different then. It was an ancient world, the threat was primarily a political and military one, not a medical threat. Yet there are some striking parallels. Today we are grappling with the impact of a global pandemic, the coronavirus (Covid-19). Nothing this big has impacted the world in my lifetime. You and I may feel powerless and swept along at fast pace by the changing shape of the threat. One week everything was relatively normal – shopping, going to work, leisure activities and, for Christians, attending church. A few days on and the world has changed and many of us are in ‘lock-down’ not really knowing what the next few weeks will bring but seeing from our near neighbours in Italy and Spain, that people will be ill and some will die and normal life will be disrupted. What is our Christian response? - Please read Judges 6 v1-6 The book of Judges in the bible deals with a period of time after the Hebrew people entered the ‘Promised Land’ of Israel under the leadership of Moses and then Joshua and before the monarchy was established. During this time there were a series of ‘Judges’ whose role was to protect the people from themselves (i.e. their sin) and from outsiders (foreign ‘raiders’) We pick up the account at Judges 6 v1 where it is reported that the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and that for seven years, the people were subject to the attacks and threats of the Midianites. Is Coronavirus a judgement from God? So, should we see this pandemic as some kind of judgement from God? For some people this will be a ridiculous question, while for others it will be an uncomfortable question that is hard to ask but deserves an answer. The big picture is that we live in a fractured world where things go wrong, people suffer and there is uncertainty and fear. That’s the world Gideon inhabited and so do you and I! The account of Adam and Eve in the bible is there to articulate the brokenness of the world (that’s a message all of its own, so just a few words here). You see, the drama of Adam and Eve is our drama too. Their story is our story. We too, have rebelled against God’s perfect purposes and it has consequences. Plastic is no longer in the news. Think of it though; the selfish, thoughtless use of plastics over decades has had a huge impact on the well-being of this planet. It’s not too hard to see how human sin has far-reaching, even cosmic implications. In one sense, yes, the coronavirus is an outworking of the brokenness of the world we live in. We are all part of the problem – but here’s the great thing, God wants us all (you & me) to part of the solution just as He planned for Gideon to be the right person in the right place at the right time. The Enemy. The enemy is described (Judges 6 v2) as ‘oppressive’. Later in the account (Judges 6 v5; 7 v12) the enemies are described as being
‘thick like locusts’ and it wasn’t possible to count the camels let alone the enemy troops! For us today the ‘enemy’ is invisible and innumerable. A virus is a tiny life-form but when it infects a person with no immunity, it reproduces, disrupts our biology and can have a serious impact on our health until our immune system kicks in and our bodies can fight off the viral invasion. Can you see the parallel? The Isolation The initial reaction of the people (including Gideon) was to isolate. Now, there’s a word that’s come into its own recently! Judges 6 v2 describes how people prepared hiding places in the mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. This was a sensible thing to do! There is no hint of criticism in the biblical text that people hid and isolated themselves. I am finding social isolation difficult. It’s playing with my mind, and I am sure many others feel the same. On reflection, if the statistics are right, and for 8 out of 10 people Covid-19 is a mild illness, the disruption of isolation is something that the many are doing for the few who are most vulnerable. If we can slow the spread of the illness, fewer people will be ill at the same time and so medical resources will be available to care for those who are most acutely ill. This is essentially a selfless act and therefore, Christ-like. - Let’s do this and do it well! Someone shared on social media that “Your grandparents were called to fight in two world wars. You’re being called to wash your hands, stay at home and sit on the couch. Let’s not mess this up!” The devastation Back to Gideon and we find that the fact that God was around didn’t stop bad things happening. The Midianites, Amalekites and other raiders destroyed crops, killed livestock, invaded the land and ravaged it. It was comprehensive devastation – So, where was God? With social isolation, businesses are being hit, family life and education disrupted and mental health is a concern. It’s looking as though big sporting events will be postponed – even the Olympic Games. - Yet, we are not abandoned by God. Last Sunday evening (22nd March) Christians nationally were encouraged to participate in a day of prayer and action and to place lighted candles in windows as a sign of prayer and of God’s love. The gentle glow of tens of thousands of candles across the land are a reassuring sign that, although many have concluded that Christianity is, at best, an out-dated illusion, there is a root of Christian faith that runs deep in the communities where we live. God has not abandoned us and part of our Christian task, as we experience the same devastation as everyone else, is to be like those candles, bringing a non-anxious presence of faith to those around us. The Cry of the People. Finally today, we come to Judges 6 v6. The Israelites “cried out to the Lord for help”. I quite like watching ‘Have I God News For You’ the BBC satirical news quiz, if for no other reason than it’s a way for catching up with the missed news in an entertaining way. Very often, after a question has been answered, the host will declare “….is the right answer”. Well, that’s my reaction to this part of the story. What can people to in the face of such devastation? How can we fix it? (If we can). What can I, an ordinary citizen do? Cry out to the Lord ……is the right answer. Was it in desperation? Yes. Was it a knee-jerk reaction to the crisis? Probably. Did that cry represent unfailing faith that everything would be ok in the end? I doubt it.
A cry to the Lord is a cry from the heart, a cry of desperation. It’s where faith and doubt mingle uncomfortably. It is a cry that says ‘God please help us’ yet cannot see where God is or what he is doing. Perhaps this is where we are right now? There are other chapters of our current dramatic crisis yet to be written. I believe we will come out on the other side of this pandemic better placed to see where God has been present. Church historians have noted that following other serious plagues, epidemics and crises, there has been an upturn in Christian faith and Church attendance. I don’t have any details but I get the point. It might take something like this, which is out of our control, to renew a healthy sense of our humility before God. Part of our witness of faith is to model that humility. What can we take from this? · God is not in the business of condemnation. Jesus shows us that salvation that is on his mind · The enemy is real, but God has not gone away. · To isolate is not to lack faith. Taking sensible precautions is a right thing to do and a service to others. · Crying out to the Lord is a humble and godly cry. Next time we will see how it was that God spoke to Gideon, an ordinary farmer, and calls him ‘mighty warrior’.