“If God Should Wish to Take Me”
Drawing from church history, Pastor Ian shares the German reformer Martin Luther's response to the Black Death and the anxiety of Christian believers in his day.
In the 14th century, the eruption of the bubonic plague in Europe claimed half the population of the continent. And for the next three centuries—until personal and community hygiene became the practice—the plague, or Black Death claimed thousands of Europeans every single year.
During the winter of 1527, when fear of Black Death hung like frost on every heart, the future Dean of Theology at the University of Wittenberg, penned these thoughts to a friend:
“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 inflict 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 neighbour needs me however I shall not avoid place or person I shall go freely as stated above. I see this a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.” — Luther’s Works (Vol 43, pg 132)
For those who of us who are anxious—let us remember the wise words of Martin Luther. “If God should wish to take us, He will find us.” Meaning, none of us is able to direct the length of our days. As Jesus said in Luke 12:25, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” The truth is, when God is ready to call us to our heavenly reward, He will not need a global pandemic to assist Him! Martin Luther lived as a man who was ready to be found by God and so ought we!
There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge means that we know something. Wisdom means that we know what to do with the knowledge we have. In Psalm 90:12, David famously writes, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Like David, Martin Luther was particularly interested in knowing what to do with the days God had given him, even in days of crisis. We now know about the coronavirus. But what are we going to do in these days that God has given us? I would like to encourage us—as we walk in our own valley of the shadow of Black Death—to choose the wisdom of Martin Luther!
Like Luther, we ought to pray for mercy but act in wisdom. Pray, yes! But also fumigate! Administer medicine. And also take it. In other words, we are to demonstrate our radical dependence on His provision, while at the same time exercising the good sense He has already provided. In this day of global anxiety, it is good to trust in the God who knows us fully, and also fully comply with recommendations of those tasked with the care of our nation.
Like Luther, we ought to care for others, by caring for ourselves. It seems rather odd in the 21st century, that we are still reminding ourselves to wash our hands and avoid behaviours that might spread illness. And for some of us it might even seem odd that we are restricting our own personal liberties for the sake of the better good of others. This however, is not just an Asian value. It is a gospel value. The Apostle Paul, speaking of our personal liberty said, “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” (Rom 14:20-21) Luther would not even allow his ministry work ethic to endanger others. He was determined to care well for himself and in doing so, demonstrate care for his community.
And like Luther, we ought not to allow our fears to blunt our faithful service. In times of need, we ought to serve each other courageously, entrusting to God both our present and our future. Luther sought to be wise. He avoided activities that might lead to the spread of any illnesses he himself carried. But if his neighbour needed him, he was determined to avoid no place or person. This is what the writer of Hebrews spoke of when he commended 1st century believers for putting themselves at risk for the sake of others who were in need:
"But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” (Heb 10:32-34)
During these days, we will have some older members who may for no fault of their own, find themselves 'imprisoned' in their own home. There are some specific things we could do in these times:
1. We could call and check on them. We could remind them that they are not forgotten and that their spiritual family still cares for them.
2. Some may need assistance with the purchase and delivery of groceries. We may want to check to ensure they have all the medications they require.
3. There may be a few that need assistance to know how to join us online for our services.
4. And we may want the blessing of God’s pleasure over our service.
Ultimately, the fruit of this 'Lutheran approach' is that, “If God should wish to take (us), He will surely find (us) and (we) have done what He has expected of (us)!” Let us pray for more fruit.
1. If you are in a CG, we are encouraging you to please consider joining together with your CG on Sunday and join us as we worship.
2. For those who are not in CGs and for visitors, we will still be having services at 17 Mattar Road but we will continue to scan for fever and do contact tracing.
3. This Sunday, Dr Keith Eitel, former Dean of Missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and current Missions Pastor at International Baptist Church will bring a message from Romans 12:1-2 entitled The Life of the Living Dead.
The pastors and elders are aware that not everyone understands why we have recently taken such radical steps to reduce our numbers and ensure social distancing. Part of the reason is to adhere to the expectations of MOH guidelines. The other reason is to ensure we love each other well. Ironically, one of the characteristics most celebrated in GBC has put some of us at greater risk. We desire to cultivate cross-generational gospel relationships, but in these days, that good desire puts some of our best loved members at particular risk by the very members who want to love and care for them.
The website worldometers.info keeps running data on all manner of global numbers, including the demographic death rate related to Covid-19. The chart below represents the latest numbers (though the percentage have remained the same for the last three weeks):
(If you’d like to look up the chart yourself, you can find it here.)
What this chart demonstrates is that one of the unique characteristics of the current virus is that it is far more lethal to older populations than to younger. But since most of us only go to the doctor when we are sick, many young people may have the virus, be contagious and not know it.
In our English congregation we have 216 members in the most vulnerable group (ages 60 and above) and we feel a deep obligation to do all we can to protect and serve these, especially in these days. Thank you to everyone for your willingness to serve and love well!