Read Hebrews 4:12-16
Whenever a disaster or tragedy of truly epic proportions occurs, it’s natural for many to wonder if this really is the End. Perhaps this is the apocalypse foretold in the book of Revelation, and many scramble around to try to read the times and try to find its corresponding signs within the pages of Scripture, particularly those known as apocalyptic literature (eg. Revelation, parts of Daniel).
This is to misunderstand the nature of the apocalyptic. Such writings are not there to be read primarily like a codebook for the purposes of foretelling the future. Like all Scripture, it is there for the purposes of teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. An “apocalypse” is literally an “unveiling”, or a revealing, as Revelation 1:1 itself makes clear – it is the revelation “from” or “of” Jesus Christ. It is the revealing of the divine reality that Jesus is Lord, and that the Lamb wins! It is the revealing of the divine perspective on a historical situation: in the case of the book of Revelation, the situation of Christians being persecuted under Rome in the late 1st century/early 2nd century.
So is Covid-19 literally the end of the world? We don’t know, for God has not told us. But whether or not it is apocalyptic in that sense, it is certainly apocalyptic in another sense – it unveils the true nature of our hearts. For what this pandemic does is to bring us face-to-face with reality, namely our state as creatures and our status before the Creator. For instance, we discover how little we truly know. After several months of concerted human effort around the world, we still do not know that much about the nature of the virus, how it transmits, or why certain people get sicker than others. Our statistical models sometimes add more confusion than clarity. Our limitations as creatures are laid bare. Or we discover how little we really wish to know. Trapped in our homes, we seek out any form of distraction or busyness to avoid looking for God, looking to God, or seeking his will.
And this state of affairs will reveal where our hearts are bent towards. Does it bend towards fear? Does it bend towards outrage? Does it bend towards indifference? Does it bend towards a prideful resolve? Or does it bend towards trust? Are we people who reach out towards God, or run away from him?
In Hebrews 4:13, we are told that God is all-seeing and all-knowing, not just about Covid-19, but about our inner being. All things are laid bare before him. There is no realm of creation that is unknown or incomprehensible to him. When we open the Scriptures to search for secrets that unlock the mystery of Covid-19, we discover instead that the Scriptures are more interested to expose the secrets of our hearts, penetrating to its depths (v.12). God knows where our hearts are bent towards, perhaps more than we ourselves do. And often, despite the masks we put on (and this isn’t just facemasks we’re talking about!), God sees us as we really are, and it usually isn’t pretty. We are bent in towards ourselves and our self-interests more than we care to admit.
But if we are Christians, Hebrews tells us this not to put a chill in our spines. It’s easy to take these verses and be tempted to run even further from Him because he sounds so severe. We treat God as a bit of an obsessive boss, intent on total surveillance so that he can pounce on us for every mistake we make. To address this all-too-possible misapplication, the writer to the Hebrews now gives us the gift of verses 14-16. God, he tells us, is not a distant figure who shows up once in a while to shame you. Instead, he is One who sits in heaven, totally in control, but is in total sympathy with us, having sent his Son, the Great High Priest, to cleanse our hearts. He unveils himself in the person of Jesus Christ, whom we discover deals gently with us. After all, the God on the throne became an infant in the cradle, a friend to lepers and ‘sinners’, a healer of the desperately sick, and a man of sorrows who walked to the cross.
Therefore, the commentator Philip Hughes is absolutely right on the money when he explains: “Sinners are no longer commanded to keep their distance in fear and trembling, but on the contrary are now invited to draw near, and to do so with confidence.”
So let this pandemic indeed be apocalyptic, in the sense that it unveils. May it unveil to us our hearts, which the Lord already knows about anyway. May it unveil to us the word of God, which is always living and active. And may it most of all unveil to us Jesus Christ, who asks us not to keep our distance but to trust him, for our cleansing as our polluted selves enter into the presence of God, for our justification as we stand before the Judge of the Universe, and for our salvation as we soldier on in this fallen age. Let this virus make obvious to us what has always been the case: we are creatures, He is the Creator; but in Christ, we are joyful, dependent children, for He is the trustworthy Saviour.
- Pray that we will be honest about the state of our hearts before God, letting him expose the darkest areas. Then pray that we will joyfully by faith lay hold of our salvation in Jesus Christ, to draw near to God with confidence and dependence.
- Pray for Christians everywhere not to be deeply fearful of what may come, or to indulge in frenzied unhelpful speculations that distract from Jesus Christ, but to exhibit a joyful confidence in God, to be eager to do good works, and therefore be a faithful witness to him.