At the start of the lockdown, one of our cherished church members acutely observed that ‘this is a good time for us to get to know ourselves.’ How right she was. I think we have learned more about ourselves during this difficult time and discovered more about what we are really made of. Psalm 139 is a most wonderful, profound, and intense hymn of praise recounting God’s personal and intimate knowledge of every single one of us. The Psalmist tells us here ‘that God knitted us together in our mother’s womb’ (v.13). He literally wove our DNA in such a way as to produce our moral fibre. God knows what we made of because he made us.
The Apostle Peter tells us to ‘cast all our cares, all our anxieties on God because he cares for us’ (1 Peter 5:7) … as he does for every part of his creation. As Jesus himself tells us: ‘What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail – even numbering the hairs on your head!’ (Matthew 10:29-31 The Message).
This time of lockdown is a time of stripping back, of shaking, of sifting, of laying bare. We are beginning to see things as they really are. Pretence, hypocrisy, sham, hollow rhetoric is being exposed … and may it long continue. I wonder if all we are experiencing right now part of God’s judgement. It depends on how we see God’s judgement, of course. The Bible is clear that ‘people are destined to die once, and after that face judgement’ (Hebrews 9:27). For many the ‘great assize’ has lost its power but it serves to safeguard important truths: judgement is serious, just and inescapable but conducted under the gaze of gracious love by Christ himself. As Jesus himself said: ‘you haven’t seen the half of it yet, for in the same way that the Father raises the dead and creates life, so does the Son. The Son gives life to anyone he chooses. Neither he nor the Father shuts anyone out. The Father handed all authority to judge over to the Son so that the Son will be honoured equally with the Father’ (John 5:22 The Message).
There has been discussion over the centuries about whether divine judgement can be perceived through the events of history. Certainly in previous generations a plague would have been viewed in these terms. What then are we to make of this current pandemic … and others like it? What is God seeking to say to us through it?
Perhaps though it would be better to understand God judgement as an exposing of truth. There will be a day, ‘The Day of Judgement,’ when this will be done in totality and perfection. One day all the wrongs will be righted, all injustice rectified. However, in another way, we are always under God’s judgement in that God always sees things as they really are and the exposing of truth is ongoing: ‘Nothing is hidden to him. He is the One who brings to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of people’s hearts’ (I Corinthians 4:5).
For those in Christ by God’s grace, this is not a fearful thing but a matter of deep peace, assurance, and thanksgiving. Whatever is happening in the world, God sees and knows everything. No-one can hide from God (Psalm 139:7-12). All the secrets of our hearts are revealed: ‘Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account’ (Hebrews 4:13). God is bringing things to light and ‘everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are’ (Matthew 10:26 The Message). Now, today, we are living in days when no-one anywhere can hide from God’s penetrating gaze. God is searching our hearts. We are laid bare.
God of grace, I turn my face
To you, I cannot hide
My nakedness, my shame, my guilt
Are all before your eyes
Strivings and all anguished dreams
In rags lie at my feet
And only grace provides the way
For me to stand complete
And your grace clothes me in righteousness
And your mercy covers me In love
Your life adorns and beautifies
I stand complete in you
~ Chris Bowater