As the world struggles with the financial fallout from the COVID-19 lockdowns, how might we be called to help?
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the face of society for several months, but it’s effects are unlikely to stop there.
Many financial forecasters in the West are predicting a significant recession with widespread job losses and resource scarcity. Our experiences in upper-income countries, however, are exceptionally mild compared to what millions of others will know around the globe.
The executive director of the World Food Programme recently spoke out and “painted a grim picture of 135 million people facing crisis levels of hunger or worse, coupled with an additional 130 million on the edge of starvation prompted by Coronavirus, noting that WFP currently offers a lifeline to nearly 100 million people – up from about 80 million just a few years ago.
“’If we can’t reach these people with the life-saving assistance they need, our analysis shows that 300,000 people could starve to death every single day over a three-month period’, he upheld. ‘This does not include the increase of starvation due to COVID-19’.”
300,000 people starving to death each day is a staggering number, and it’s likely to grow worse as the pandemic makes global economies stagger.
“Well-nourished citizens in wealthy countries may weather a couple of months without some fresh or imported produce, but in the developing world, a child malnourished at a young age will be stunted for life,” said FAO Director-General Dongya Qu.
The impact of a worldwide recession has monstrous potential for damage in the lives of untold millions.
Why the Doom and Gloom News?
Tony Reinke, senior writer for Desiring God, pointed out, “2020 — the year of the ‘Great Lockdown,’ leading to what some are now calling the ‘Great Coronavirus Recession.’ It was triggered by a strategic wager: sacrifice economic momentum in order to physically distance people, all with the goal of starving and killing off a spreading virus. It was a huge gamble and it hurt.
“Our Great Coronavirus Recession has been compared to the Great Recession of 2007–2009, even to the Great Depression of 1929–1933. Looking forward, some think the economy will bounce back to normal as soon as the virus is under control. Others are less optimistic and see a long road ahead.
“But the recession is here, and it will remain until God is done with it.”
These aren’t happy reminders. It’s much easier to focus on other, happier things. Just this morning I was searching for GIFs of baby rabbits because reading miles of COVID-19 reports and news on riots is, frankly, depressing.
“Why such apocalyptic warnings?” David Wilkerson asked. “You may wonder: what good can come of these prophetic messages? Why should anyone have to live under such anxiety?
“I remind you, Jesus warned Jerusalem of sudden devastation to come upon that city. It was going to be burned to the ground, with over a million people murdered. Christ explained his warning: ‘I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe’ (John 14:29). He was saying, in essence, ‘When it happens, you’ll know there is a God who loves you and forewarned you.’
“Paul calls such warnings ‘light,’ insights that expel darkness. He says, in short: ‘You are children of light, because you know what’s coming in the future. So, when destruction comes, and there’s panic all around, you will have the calm of the Holy Spirit.’ Something will quicken inside you, and you’ll remember, ‘God warned me.’ This prophecy isn’t a message of wrath to God’s people, but a wakeup call to begin preparing.”
The wise take warnings and gloomy news and prepare. That’s great, but how exactly should we be preparing?
Cultivating a Heart of Compassion
Some preparations might be making sure we can provide for our family and dependents or putting ourselves in a position to better help others.
Other preparations may be internal. There may not be more time for Bible studies; in fact, there might be less time if childcare is no longer an option or we have to take up a second job; but times of strain give us more opportunities to offer up a vice-grip of fear or nagging anxiety over the future to God. High levels of stress open our eyes to exactly where our faith fails to inform our everyday lives.
Rather than only seeing failure in that time we shouted at our kids or fought with our spouse or panicked over an unexpected bill, we have a chance for the Spirit to enter and begin work.
Most often this work involves moving our attention from ourselves to others, their struggles, their needs, their fears.
Pastor Jason Meyer called for “Christ-exalting compassion. This compassion comes at a cost to us (weeping with those who weep), but it came to us at an incomparably great cost to Christ (his incarnation and death). No religion comes close to Christianity here. What other religion has a God who cried and bled for his enemies? How, then, can Christians settle for knowing the suffering of others from a safe intellectual distance?
John Piper echoed this thought, saying, “It’s astonishing how blind prosperity makes us to the miseries of the world. God has some remedies for that kind of indifference.”
Around the beginning of 2009, as the recession was deepening but had not yet hit its lowest point, Piper preached about God’s intentions for the economic hardship. “He intends to wake us up — I’m thinking of us in the West in particular — to the constant and desperate condition of the developing world, where they always have mega recession and nothing else. He intends to relocate the roots of our joy in his grace, not in our goods; in his mercy, not in our money; in his worth, not in our wealth.
“He intends for the church to care for its hurting members, and to grow in the gift of love, so that no one is in need in the church of Jesus Christ. Period.”
The Generosity of Pennies
Jesus had good reason to call his disciples’ attention to the poor woman who donated two pennies in the Temple. The religious rulers had just been testing him with questions about what God’s greatest commandment was and lofty theological debates over the prophesied Messianic king. After all of this “he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box” (Mark 12:41, ESV).
There he rested and watched with his disciples, most of whom came from poor families but all of whom were well-versed in the Jewish view that riches were a sign of God’s favor.
“Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on’” (Mark 12:41-44).
Jesus was much more interested in this simple act of faith and generosity than he particularly was in the scribes’ theological debates.
Our acts of kindness or generosity when times are tough, even if they seem so tiny that they’re unworthy of a passing mention, catch God’s attention. As all the world clamors about self-preservation, our generosity will point to security that has nothing to do with our own power and everything to do with a wise and providential Father.
While we may not be able to do anything monumental or give more than a few dollars — pennies, in some cases — we must not forget the rest of God’s children who are suffering right now.