Whether you believe in a literal six day creation week 6,000 years ago or evolutionary processes that took eons, conservative Christians and anthropologists agree that before societies developed humans were hunter-gatherers. During times of plenty the human body stores extra in fat cells, using those reserves in times that are lean. Evolution at work or God’s providence? Since you’re reading a religious blog, and I’m a Baptist preacher, we’re probably on the same page. We probably agree on what happened next. Technology improved, life got easier, and since none of us have to spend the majority of time making sure we have enough to eat we have to go jogging or walk a treadmill to stave off morbid obesity. We are designed for the struggle. When we are provided an abundance, with no hard labor required, we get fat.
Think back over the past 100 years. The 1920’s, referred to as the “Roaring 20’s” in history texts, was like one giant party. Manufacturing was going strong, construction projects were making steel and oil magnates rich, electric lights and radio broadcasts were all the rage; in short life was good. The belief that things would always be good, and the economy would continue to grow unchecked forever, led to the stock market crash of 1929. Panic and short sightedness led to banks closing, stockbrokers jumping from skyscrapers, and an economic crisis that was much worse for much longer than it needed to be. The Great Depression lasted another full decade, wiping out many of the gains of the 1920’s and leaving many in worse shape than before. Do you know what brought us out of that? Oddly enough it was World War II. And it’s not just about government spending or full employment. The kids that grew up during the Depression fought with the Allies in Europe and the Pacific. Others stayed home and supported the war effort; kids collected steel and aluminum for recycling, women not only went to work but went into factories building military equipment and munitions. We call them the greatest generation. The invasion known as D-Day was an all out offensive against incredible odds. If they could not cross the English Channel and retake France from Nazi occupation, losing the war in Europe was all but certain. It was almost impossible but they rose to the occasion and did it anyway. That’s the generation that bought homes in the 1950’s, made black & white television a national phenomenon, and produced presidents such as Eisenhower and Kennedy.
The coronavirus pandemic and spread of Covid-19 is a serious issue. But your local big box store running out of 30 pack rolls of toilet paper is nothing like food rationing in 1940’s. The cancellation of professional sports spring break do not compare in any way to what happened in this country during the Great Depression. We as a society have grown complacent with so much provided with minimal effort. Now that’s the world I grew up in; it’s a good problem to have in some ways. But while eating well is nice it does make you fat, and also weak. To grow strong you have to have something to push against. It could be resistance bands or stair machines at the gym, or an enemy we work together to defeat, but it always involves working against an opposing force. The same is true of Christianity. I’ve heard talk of the CDC guidelines on large gatherings being government persecution of religion. American Christians have had it so easy for so long that many don’t even know what persecution even looks like. Again, a good problem to have from a certain point of view. When the Soviet Union collapsed we learned that the underground Christian church had actually done better than we imagined. Look at China or the Middle East today to understand persecution of Christians… and how the church grows in the face of adversity. Consider the rise of the Christian church in the first century, when Roman power was at its peak and conversion to Christianity was illegal. Who joins a religion and runs the risk of being fed to lions or set on fire? When that religion offers hope, a hope of salvation and a personal relationship with a God that loves you, a hope in a future eternity that is beyond what the empire can offer, it grows in the face of institutional persecution. The worst the state can do is kill you. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. -Matthew 10:28
I grew up listening to my grandfather tell stories about planting wheat during the Depression because you couldn’t eat cotton. I did an oral history report featuring him in high school, and by that time wanted to hear all about the Battle of the Bulge and his march across Europe. The current situation is probably going to get worse before it gets better. A generation of kids growing up right now, and our 10-year-old is one of them, will tell stories of this time to their kids and grandkids. Think about how you respond to news reports and health warnings; more importantly think about how you spend time with your kids and what you are doing and talking about. This will be their two-mile walk in the snow, uphill both ways, to school. It’s something of a struggle right now. That will be good for them. Churches are not meeting. It may be more of a struggle to engage family, friends and neighbors with the gospel than we’re used to. Easter is usually a soft sell, a sure thing for a big turnout. Being the church is something of a struggle right now. If we put a little bit of hard work into it, if we function as the body of Christ even without meeting in the big building, it will be good for us. Sometimes Paul talks about the Christian life in terms of running a race. But in Philippians 3:14 he says that he pushes on toward the goal. Sometimes the race is uphill, into the wind or against the crowd. Running is great, but sometimes it’s a challenge. The struggle makes us stronger. We need something to push against. This is a good time to make your family and faith commitments stronger. Be deliberate and intentional. Focus on the good things. And remember that this is a season; it will change.