Compassion in Affliction

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You may have noticed that the Christian world is not exactly united in its opinion of worldwide quarantine and lockdown measures during the coronavirus pandemic. Most countries across the world have implemented some form of lockdown measure to attempt to curb the spread of the virus, and governments have found that it is impossible to please everyone. The same rulers that are lauded by one segment of a country’s citizenry are demonised by another segment of the same population.

South Africa has been no exception. President Ramaphosa has been applauded and thanked for proactive measures to slow the spread of the virus so that health facilities are not overwhelmed. He and his cabinet have also been rebuked, criticised, and slandered.

Many Christians and Christian churches have acknowledged the need for lockdown measures. Given the manner in which this particular virus spreads, many churches have recognised that churches may, in fact, be particular hotspots for the spread of the virus and have accepted lockdown measures as unfortunate but necessary. Other Christians and churches have criticised the measure as draconian and have called for immediate reopening of churches. Some have considered government to be acting within its God-given mandate of protecting its citizens; others have rebuked government for unconstitutional and unbiblical overreach.

If it is not always easy to determine how we should think about these matters, it is sometimes even tougher to determine how to protect unity with brothers and sisters who disagree. Opinions on both sides are sometimes strongly held and, particularly on social media, conversations have proven less than charitable.

But if there is disagreement over how churches should think about lockdown of corporate worship gatherings, there is one reality of lockdown in which Christians are—or, at least, should be—united: the affliction of the vulnerable. It grieves the Christian heart to see thousands of people begging for food and wondering where their next meal will come from. It concerns Christians that many are losing their employment and, thereby, their ability to support their family. Even if we cannot agree on whether churches should be allowed to gather, we would all surely agree that measures must be taken to ensure that the vulnerable are cared for at this time.

This attitude clearly reflects the heart of God. Psalm 12 speaks directly to this issue: “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the LORD; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs” (v. 5). It is not difficult to recognise that the hardest hit by lockdown measures have been, and continue to be, “the poor.” Christians, of all people, should not turn a blind eye to the suffering of those who are afflicted in this way.

There may be no easy solutions for this problem, but surely we cannot be satisfied to rest in our own provision and turn a blind, uncaring eye to the suffering of masses of people, made in the image of God, in our own country. Whatever our opinion of the wisdom of lockdown measures, the increased suffering of the needy should grieve us. And, if we are grieved, should we be moved to action.

In a country like South Africa, where perpetual need exists, it is not easy to decide how to be involved. Appeals for funding have abounded during lockdown—from animal rescue organisations to feeding schemes in townships to the beggar standing at your car door at the shops or ringing your intercom and begging for food. We cannot possibly meet every need with which we are presented, but surely we should be asking what God would have us do with our abundance to help alleviate the suffering of the needy?

If we allow Psalm 12 to guide our prayers, surely we must recognise the heart of God for the poor and the needy. If God will arise on behalf of those who are suffering, what will we—God’s people—do to reflect his heart in this area? If it is true—and it is—that God usually acts through his people, surely for God to rise on behalf of the needy means that his people will rise on behalf of the needy?

It has been a blessing to see this happening already within our own church—not only during lockdown, but long before it—but we should allow this truth to always be a challenge to us as we see need surrounding us.

Stuart