Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them.
Crisis in culture become opportunities for compassion. I have seen some cultural crisis moments over the years as I am sure you have: the Hong Kong flu of 1968 that killed an estimated one million people, the HIV / AIDS that seem vengeful in the late 1970’s, the 911 terrorist attacks on U.S soil in 2001, the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) of 2003, the financial slump of 2008, and are present corona virus pandemic. There are of course many other examples. In many ways we see people in times of crisis rise to the occasion to help their fellow man. People rally because they feel vulnerable in the crucible of anxiousness shared by the community. Churches often get a sudden influx of people filling up their buildings on a Sunday morning because they are searching for answers in unsettled times. But the real danger in these seasons of crisis is that our convictions are temporary. When the danger passes away and things get back to normal, those same people often drift away from the church, not all of them of course, but many of them. Their circumstances created enough uncertainty to provoke just enough anxiety to risk peeking into the church to see how they would respond. But many people are only looking for a spiritual band aid to sooth their anxiety so that they can go back to the way things were before the crisis. Once things “normalize,” the spiritual band aid is promptly torn off and discarded and the reason for the band aid often forgotten.
Cultural crisis provides the church a unique opportunity as God humbles people to prepare them for the gospel. Crisis, trials, conflict and circumstances often leave people vulnerable and that is often the catalyst to be open to the gospel. But the danger of simply seeking a temporary, emotional band aid is more convenient than having spiritual surgery. The gospel is never about spiritual band aids; the gospel performs spiritual surgery on the unhealable parts of the human soul and creates new life.
This danger can also be true of God’s people. The book of Judges is a perfect example. God’s people lose Joshua, their key spiritual leader. They promptly wander away from God and find themselves in some serious trouble. They struggle and experience significant disruption to normal life, so the Lord sends a judge to provide spiritual leadership and freedom from oppression. But, as the text indicates, once the danger is over the people wander back to their futile ways. They wanted relief, a spiritual band aid from their oppression but they really did not want genuine life change. They only wanted to go back to the way things were. Certainly, the real problem was not their oppressors but their own spiritual hardness of heart. What they needed was surgery not a band aid. God provided the opportunity, but it did not last long at all.
There is an opportunity here regardless of any extenuating circumstances. Some of us may be holding our breath, waiting anxiously until this passes so that we can get back to “the way it was”. Certainly, for things like our economic viability and occupational needs, we want to go back to a more sustainable situation. But the more critical question is, will we find new pathways for being the church? Because of this interruption, we are rediscovering family, the need to care for our neighbors, the opportunity to be generous, and even open doors for the gospel. These new ways that have been forced upon us may be new opportunities to continue to embrace when things get back to normal. In fact, I am hoping that some things do not go back to normal – primarily me! I want God to bring real life change in the way I do ministry, as an under-shepherd, as a disciple-maker, as a husband and friend. I may not like what I have to change, but I do want God to change me. I am praying that my small adjustments do not disappear the moment that we “get back to the way things were”. Comfort, ease, and convenience is not necessarily the best ground to cultivate a spiritual harvest. Do I have the confidence to trust Him by choosing to accept the changes He is trying to make in me? The danger we have to struggle with is this: does the more we long for the “way things were” reveal a deeper spiritual problem that we are unwilling to allow God to shape the direction of our daily habits, priorities and the things we value? I am asking, what is God doing in me? How do I see God at work in me because of these circumstances, and maybe in spite of them?