United Church of God

Council Letter: September - October 2020

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Council Letter

September - October 2020

Jeremiah questioned God, wanting Him to act in support of his work. But God’s response gives Jeremiah not only a new perspective but a challenge—one that demands a response.

“If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace, in which you trusted, they wearied you, then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5).

God is saying to Jeremiah, “If you think this is tough, you haven’t seen anything yet. These people and the difficulty they present is nothing compared to bigger challenges coming. They are mere men. Soon, you will encounter a stampede of horses that could, if you aren’t strong enough, trample you in the dirt. And if you have grown tired and fearful in a time of peace with no enemies at the gate, when the waters rise to flood level and threaten to sweep everything away, what will you do? You’ll be swept under the waves and drown in the swift current. You won’t stand a chance when it really gets tough.”

We have been dealing with the impact of the global health crisis. What have you learned during this period? How have you handled the stress of the known and the unknown? Have you maintained a spiritual balance? Have you properly applied scripture to what has happened?

Walter Russell Mead, a professor in international relations at Bard College, writes a weekly column for the Wall Street Journal. He recently wrote that this health crisis has weakened the assumption that a modern, intricately connected global world could deal with most health crises and natural disasters, and keep society running smoothly with minimal interruption.

That assumption has changed. He writes, “The pandemic, which is mild as the great plagues of history go, demonstrates that the complexity of this global civilization has become a source of new vulnerabilities. And with the legitimacy of many institutions resting on their ability to solve problems quickly and effectively, COVID-19 challenges political leaders and institutions in ways that they cannot easily manage. The world needs to get used to that feeling. The pandemic’s legacy will be crisis and chaos—and the trajectory of human civilization has shifted in ways that will test political leaders and economic policy makers more severely than anything since World War II.”

Mead goes on to say, “COVID-19 is less a transient, random disturbance after which the world will return to stability than it is a dress rehearsal for challenges to come. History is accelerating, and the leaders, values, institutions and ideas that guide society are going to be tested severely by the struggles ahead” (“The Pandemic is a Dress Rehearsal,” Walter Russell Mead, Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2020, emphasis added).

“History is accelerating” and this pandemic is a “dress rehearsal for challenges to come.” That is sobering. God said to Jeremiah, “How will you contend with horses” if you have not kept up with weaker human footmen?

How have we done?

Did the weeks of shutdown bring on stress as you coped with staying home, perhaps a reduced income, fear of contagion and the uncertainty of what it meant? Has the disruption of church services and even this year’s Feast of Tabernacles locations left you wondering what next?

In March I began working from home. Ambassador Bible College finished the remainder of the school year online, and I taught my classes virtually. Sabbath services from home presented an opportunity for my wife and I to “visit” congregations across the United States and Australia. Zoom, Facebook and other platforms have proven wonderful technologies to keep us connected. At first we managed well—but as the weeks turned into months, we gradually began to feel the stress of being disconnected from actually seeing and being with our brethren. In time this turned into a noticeable problem. We felt the beginning struggles that come with prolonged isolation. The lifting of lockdown restrictions and return to services and other contact with family and friends were just the right tonic. For all of us, this shutdown and disruption has been an opportunity to develop resiliency. We will need it in times ahead.

Interest in Bible prophecy has been sharpened by this pandemic. Very early on, we said this was not the time of pestilence defined by the fourth horseman in Revelation 6. Certainly, it has been a serious health emergency, but we understand there were other pieces of the prophetic puzzle not yet in place. There will be larger disease pandemics in the future. To use Mr. Mead’s phrase, this has been a “dress rehearsal.”

More recently some have concluded that an impending vaccine for this virus could be the “mark of the beast” mentioned in Revelation. Such speculation does not match the biblical descriptors of what will come upon the world during the coming great tribulation. God’s elect will know when this mark arrives and will have the fortitude to resist its defining features. Unsound and unscriptural speculation today should be avoided. We are not yet at the moment when the beast power has appeared and is enforcing its mark.

We haven’t run with the horses yet. But we have come through a period we should consider as a dress rehearsal for bigger things to come. Let’s learn from what we’ve experienced.