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Emmanuel Church, Plymouth
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St Paul's, Efford
Tony's Reflection 15
As a small child, my parents' sideboard was a real treasure chest. Full of fascinating bric-a-brac and curiosities, from old paperwork to family photos. Most important, though, it housed the family chocolate supply.
I knew where the chocolate was, but access was only at certain times of day and then with parents' permission.
One day a heinous crime was committed. My father opened the sideboard door and there was a Mars bar, with a bite missing. Taken without permission. I was shocked. All the more so, when my sister said it was me. My father turned to me sternly. I protested innocence. Dad soon worked out that the tell-tale bite mark fitted my sister's teeth, not mine. Justice was done…
I can still remember the mixture of emotions I felt when my sister got the deserved telling off.
A very trivial example… but how do we feel, when we see the bad guys getting what they deserve?
"It serves them right!”… “Good! They are getting what they deserve!"
If we are honest, this is sometimes what we feel. Somehow, though, it doesn't seem right. Should we rejoice in someone else's misfortune – even if they deserve it? That, though, seems to be what Psalm 91 is inviting us to do, in verse 7-8. Let’s take a closer look …
We have been focusing on the safety from "plague and pestilence" which is ours as we come close to God. People may fall all around us in their thousands and tens of thousands (verse 7), but "plague and pestilence" can't touch us. We are out of harm’s way, under God's protection. From that vantage point
"You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked" (verse 8).
Tens of thousands have fallen around us, from Covid 19. So what is this verse telling us about how we should look at this?
It is not for one moment telling us that the people who die of Covid 19 are any more wicked than the rest of us. You can see Jesus correcting that way of thinking in Luke 13:2-5.
So what is it telling us?
In some ways, this cruel and destructive virus is a punishment for wickedness. We know from Genesis that God didn’t design disease into this world. All the ills of our planet only came because Adam & Eve chose their way rather than God’s.
When we see the death and suffering that the virus has brought, it sends a shudder up our spines. Why? Because it is a graphic illustration of what happens to human life, when we turn our backs on God.
The virus is unpleasant and destructive beyond words. But it is just a pale picture of the grim reality of the eternal consequences of life without God.
We have seen how disease holds no fear for those who run to God for refuge and stay close to him. Even if we die from it, we will only move address from this world to heaven. As we saw last week, we are invincible.
Those who live without God have no such comfort or strength. They have hidden in their homes for three months. Now they face the prospect of going out again … and the virus is still there.
We can “observe with our eyes” (verse 8) the impact this virus has on those who choose to live without God.
What should we feel as we look?
Surely it is gratitude to God.
Gratitude that he has shown us something of himself. We are not among those for whom this virus holds dread, or is a sign of what is to come.
God has given us hope. The hope of his protection in this life, that keeps us strong. The hope of heaven in the next, that makes us utterly invincible.
We are so privileged.
What have we done to deserve such kindness from God?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
That's why the kindness you have received is absolutely astounding. It really is “amazing grace”.