The COVID-19 pandemic and human responses to it have turned the world upside down. When it seems everything is changing, what can we count on to never change?
On Friday, March 13, 2020, along with most U.S. churches, the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, canceled all in-person church services. Little did we know this would last for the next 14 weeks.
This was unprecedented! To my knowledge, church services had never been canceled across the board in the United States—not during world wars or even the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-1920. But this took place not only in the United States. More than 100 countries around the world took the same action in the weeks that followed.
Even today, some countries still prohibit groups from gathering for a religious church service.
In 2 Timothy 3:1 the apostle Paul warns us about the end of the age. He refers to those days as “perilous times,” or—as the margin in the New King James Version notes—“times of stress.” After introducing this term, Paul describes personal conduct and habits as being signs of those days.
World disasters, pandemics and wars are prophesied to come, but in this epistle, Paul talks about people being “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good” (verses 2-3).
These types of attitudes and actions lead to a fractured society that focuses attention on the self, rather than what is best for the whole.
Unprecedented pandemic restrictions
Since that March date when the pandemic exploded on the scene, the world has experienced month after month of fear, death, anxiety, pain, suffering and altered lives.
For the first time in my lifetime, governments in many countries imposed various restrictions, such as shutting down all businesses except those considered essential, stopping in-person schooling in favor of online learning, making mask-wearing mandatory under threat of fines, and telling citizens when they could leave their homes and when they could not.
No one was prepared for anything like this.
Anxiety, depression and suicide
One study, published in August of 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that levels of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts skyrocketed amid the pandemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the number of people dealing with mental illness has increased to almost 1 billion for the first time ever. With a population of 7.8 billion, that is one in eight people today with a diagnosable mental illness. The pandemic has profoundly added to those numbers.
A side effect of the uptick in mental illness has been the steady increase in suicides. Each year, worldwide, between 700,000 and 1 million people take their own lives, making suicide the 17th most common cause of death in the world and the most common cause of death for young people, after accidents.
Last year (2020), one person took his or her life every 40 seconds.
Religious rights and wrongs
This is where our society is today—in perilous times. The source of some of our problems is outside ourselves, but mostly they have been generated or amplified by human selfishness. The origin of the COVID-19 virus is still hotly debated, but the detrimental results of the virus on society have been much greater than the death rate alone.
Believing that they had to act for the good of the people, governments locked down society in ways the world has not seen in many decades. In some locations religious liberties, including the ability of churches to assemble for worship, were suddenly restricted in ways many considered illegal. We were told, in most cases, that these were just temporary measures, but in some places the evidence is not yet convincing.
All of this can be disheartening for those who desire to follow Christ and practice the values that He taught when He walked this earth. It is true that Christ supported the laws of quarantine and good hygiene as outlined in the Old Testament Scriptures. He also advocated love for your neighbor, which includes doing to others as you would have them do unto you. To do your part to protect people from getting or spreading a disease is showing love for your neighbor and is clearly biblical.
But such solutions have been imperfectly practiced and have themselves become a source of strife in a dysfunctional society driven by self-interest.
Some things haven’t changed
When so many things change in such a short period of time, it is easy to lose sight of the things that have not changed, and will not change, when it comes to Christianity and God’s Church.
In spite of all that has happened in recent times, the most important spiritual principles, the very underpinnings of our beliefs, have not changed at all.
The coach with home plate around his neck
Let me illustrate this by relating a story about a famous baseball coach. This comes from an article written in 1996 by Chris Sperry, titled “Stay at Seventeen Inches.”
John Scolinos coached college baseball for most of his adult life. He retired from coaching in 1991, and he is best remembered for a speech that he gave before the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) convention in Nashville, Tennessee, in January of 1996. His speech was about the need to maintain a consistent standard for all players. If you are going to be a successful coach, you can’t have one standard for your star players and another for the rest.
To make his point, he began his speech with a full-sized replica of home plate hanging around his neck. He pretended as though it wasn’t there until, after speaking for 25 minutes, he seemed to notice a few snickers from the audience.
Then he said, “You’re probably wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck . . . I may be old but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”
When so many things change in such a short period of time, it is easy to lose sight of the things that have not changed, and will not change, when it comes to Christianity and God’s Church.He then asked the group of coaches a question: “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?” After a pause someone offered, “17 inches.” Coach Scolinos continued. “That’s right.” Then he proceeded to ask about high school, college and professional baseball. No matter the league or level of competition, the size of home plate is the same. It doesn’t change to accommodate individuals.
When Babe Ruth hit his famous home run at Wrigley Field in 1932, home plate was 17 inches. When Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run in 1974, home plate was 17 inches.
It hasn’t changed. It has been the standard for all levels of baseball competition since the modern era of baseball began.
“Lest we drift away”
As Christians, our focus must not be on the physical things that can change—and certainly have changed in the past two years. Rather than getting sidetracked with all the changes, we should focus on the things that will not change and have been the same since the Church began in Acts 2.
In Hebrews 2:1 we are told, “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.”
Stress and change can cause us to forget that the most important things in our lives do not change in the face of a pandemic or any other physical event. If we allow these events to so consume our time and energy that we lose sight of the spiritual reasons we are doing what we are doing, then we run the risk of losing everything—drifting away from the most precious thing we have been given, our calling and relationship with God.
The core values of Christianity never change
Keep in mind that the core values of Christianity have not changed. Here are just a few to consider:
- God does not change. “For I am the LORD, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6).
- Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
- The truth of God’s way of life does not change (John 8:32; 17:17). When it comes to God’s Word, what was true yesterday is true today and will be true tomorrow. This is the standard we must live by.
- The gospel of the coming Kingdom of God has not changed. The same gospel Jesus and the apostles preached should be taught today (Mark 1:14-15; Matthew 24:14).
- God’s law has not changed. We obey the same commandments that were given to Israel on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20) and that are summarized in the two great commandments of loving God and loving our neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40). These commandments are to be written in our hearts (Hebrews 8:10), not just on slabs of stone.
Focus on the things that never change
Life isn’t going to get any easier as we approach the end of this age. Paul called these days “perilous times.”
It is easy to get distracted when the world is in the throes of a pandemic. It is easy for leaders, driven by the desire to protect their citizens, to alter the building blocks of society during such confusing times. The motives may be good, but in the current times, when people are “lovers of themselves,” the end result has been a tumultuous, divided society.
Christianity teaches us a different approach and reminds us that the most important principles of life will never change.
For more about unchanging values, see our booklet God’s 10 Commandments: Still Relevant Today.