Hope in Hardship: How To Respond Courageously
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation,or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." - Romans 8:35-37
A Time of Distress
Does this world seem off-kilter to you, spinning off its axis with dizzying news story after news story? Have you reached a point where anxious thoughts and sinful tendencies bubble to the surface at home? Are you wondering what to do if and when the opportunity to help arises? I know I struggle with all these questions. The words of Paul in Romans 8 are for me, and for you, in such a time as this. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress…?” These times certainly qualify as distressing.
But keep reading. Paul answers, “No” (v. 37). Distress shall not separate us from the love of Christ. The Romans who received Paul’s letter held onto the truth that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, and so can we. Furthermore, we don’t just survive in Christ’s love; Paul calls us “more than conquerors” (v. 37). We thrive, we go on the offensive! How do we go on offense and live as more than conquerors? The answer is simple: “through him who loved us.” Through the love of Jesus.
What then does living as “more than a conqueror” practically look like for us during a global pandemic? To answer that question, let’s consider how Martin Luther responded to a similar crisis that arose in his own time.
Martin Luther’s Response
Martin Luther, the monk-turned-reformer who started the Protestant Reformation in 1517, faced the bubonic plague (which was far more deadly than COVID-19) in Germany. He outlined his response with these words:
I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person, but will go freely.
Luther’s words here are both wise beyond the medical knowledge of his times and practical for us today. (For a more detailed account, check out this article from The Gospel Coalition.)
The fear of death, or even of boredom, can pervade our lives in a time like this. It can hinder our love for Christ and our love for our neighbor. It can hurt our love for our families, our roommates, our neighbors, our church, and our city. But it can also open our hearts to the hope of eternity.
So how do we live without fear of death (or of being bored to death) and with freedom to love? By setting our minds, consistently and repetitively, on the promises of God. Our minds and hearts are changed by our meditation.
Where is a good place to start? I can think of no better passage to fill your heart with than Romans 8, a bastion of hope in Christ.
Paul ends this chapter with these glorious words, shining in the light of eternity:
"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)