I left for Greece right at the end of February when we were getting news of the Corona outbreak in China. I was aware of the spread but not concerned. Just as I was supposed to leave the country a series of events allowed me to extend my stay an extra week and I was thrilled.
Then, within about five days, all Greek schools closed, everything but supermarkets, pharmacies, and bakeries closed, and everyone was wearing masks and staying six feet away from others. By the time I left, the WHO had deemed Europe the new epicenter of COVID-19. To get home I traveled through five airports and four planes, two of which were completely full. I spent the next two weeks in super strict quarantine to my room while my friends in Greece received news that they were going into a stringent, government monitored lockdown.
Things were getting bad. And then they got worse.
I’ve seen this virus strip jobs away from people who are just trying to get by. It’s caused us to look at other humans with suspicion, making wide six-foot circles around the other foragers at the grocery stores. People who have assembled the best battle wear of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and Clorox wipes are resentful towards those who are appearing to frolic about. Economies around the world are threatening collapse. Weddings, graduations, and birthday parties are getting cancelled. Racism and abuse are rapidly increasing. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying.
I think of all these things and I can feel my heart physically ache.
But I’ve seen other things too.
I’ve also seen this virus cause people all over the world rally around healthcare workers. It’s given the world a common thread, increasing relatability across cultures. People are getting creative with ways to encourage one another while staying physically distanced. Because of the technology era, people are able to meet virtually, allowing many businesses to remain open to some extent. Also as a benefit of technology we can communicate easily so there is less isolation than if this happened even 15 years ago. My social media feeds are full of people sharing encouraging words, performances, funny gifs, and friends being honest about their realities so that we can come around them. Families are getting more time together. Churches might not be gathering in sanctuaries, but they’re gathering in living rooms. Google is reporting a massive spike in searches for “prayer” and “Jesus.” I have friends who are seeing family members be more open to the Gospel because of the current situation. Cultures that praise being busy are forced to slow down and rest. Distractions are being removed – “not having enough time” is no longer an excuse for avoiding spiritual matters.
There is so much pain. But there is also a lot of good.
I’ve seen a trend that Americans want the world to be black and white. (Note on this: I say Americans because that’s the culture with which I am most familiar.) We want something to be right or wrong, not both. We want to be able to sort events, opinions, practices, situations, people into one of two categories: good or bad. It’s easier that way. However, when we do that we often neglect to see the big picture.
I’m not proposing that we completely do away with the right vs. wrong system. God definitely pre-sorted some actions with the Ten Commandments. I also think morals, which heavily rely on the distinction between good and bad, are essential to healthy lives. I am cautioning us as to what happens when we try to label something not definitively stated in the Bible.
I am encouraging us to take a page out of Joseph’s book.
Joseph’s full story can be found in Genesis 37-50 and if you’re looking for a good read with lots of plot twists, he’s your guy. Here’s the gist, spoilers included: Joseph, a nice 17 yr old shepherd, has these two prophetic dreams that cause his brothers to hate him. As if being the favorite child didn’t already put him at odds with his TEN older brothers, the dreams from God predicted that Joseph would rule over his brothers. This arrogance wasn’t going to fly so his brothers oh so kindly threw Joseph into a pit to die, but then changed their minds and sold him to some foreign travelers. Joseph was sold again, became a servant, rose the ranks because of God’s favor, was hit on by his boss’ wife, was wrongly accused, and thrown into prison. While in prison, the LORD was with him, showing him steadfast love and favor. Joe interpreted two of his fellow prisoner’s dreams; one got good news the other not so much. Then the king had some dreams and God helped Joseph interpret those, which earned him a huge promotion from prison to a spot as one of the king’s highest officials. A famine came but it was okay because the king’s dreams prophesied it and Joseph had prepared for it. Now it’s been about 22 years since he saw his brothers and sadly they weren’t faring too well thanks to the famine. They come to Joseph (not knowing who he is) to ask for food, Joseph weeps then sends them home, they come back, Joe tests them, they freak out, Joe weeps again, he shares his identity with his brothers, a family reunion happens, and they all live a big happy life together.
Joseph’s story ends with a conversation between him and his brothers. (This is where our good or bad discussion comes into play.) The brothers apologize for the “evil” (Gen 50:17) they did to him. Joseph’s response to them: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph saw the big picture that through what would easily be labeled as an unfortunate, or bad, series of events, God brought good from it and Joe got to help many people by providing food during the famine. All throughout our pal’s story we are reminded how God was with Joseph the whole time, not turning a blind eye to what was going on.
When we rush to call something bad, we can loose sight of the good God is doing. Even amidst the brokenness of the world (Joseph’s brothers did try to murder him after all) God can bring good.
Since we’re still this side of Heaven, evil still has a presence. The enemy of this world is active and sometimes his havoc can cloud our vision of the mysterious yet beautiful, powerful, and pure work of the Lord. That’s the sad reality. But we know the rest of the story. God will triumph over Satan. The goodness of God will prevail over the corruption of evil. That’s where we’re headed, and it’s closer with every moment.
Even though we experience the horrible brokenness of the world, God is still at work.
God can, and is, bringing good out of COVID-19.
There is still bad, but there’s also good.