Written by Paul Betts.
During lockdown we have heard a lot about Covid Testing. Via work, I had the swab test, but my results were lost so I never heard if I had been positive or negative!
Many of our young people and children have also experienced uncertainty of their results in these strange times - from their academic tests be it in P7, GCSEs, A Levels or University degrees.
I guess all of us have had a wide range of ‘tests’ during the pandemic, and it can be interesting to reflect on “our results” and learn from the experience before moving on.
Some people of course have had the ultimate test, literally of and for their lives during this time, including some in our church family. So so many families have lost loved ones during Covid-19. I have to admit, I have struggled with the loss of three friends since lockdown, all male, all in their mid 50s, all great characters, all Christians, and nothing to do with Covid. We have had to grieve at a distance and it has just felt so unnatural, inadequate and added to the pain. Yet I have witnessed the dignity, resilience and Grace of God as these families have stood the greatest test any of us could, and will, face.
In 1982, when I was at school in 6th form (Year 13), we had to sit a test called Use of English (who remembers it? – we called it ‘Useless English’ as it neither counted as a GCSE or ‘A’ level so no one took it too seriously). However, you still had to sit an exam and I remember the essay question where we were asked to write about: “What will life be like in 2020”.
Like Dr Who or Back to the Future or George Orwell, we had project into the future. I decided not to write about scientific breakthroughs, technological game changers, medical advances, global travel or flying to Mars as I thought everybody else would be doing that and the examiner would get bored!
Instead I tried to write about what I think many of us have experienced during lockdown. A reminder that there is nothing new under the sun, a focus on what it means to be human, the importance of local and simple things, the ongoing wrestle between right and wrong, a challenge of what is/should be most important to us, a battle for our values and a respect for those with good character.
I projected that in 2020, we would still need to care about family, the elderly, the vulnerable, about community, how we relate to the earth, to each other and to God, that love would still be the greatest virtue that can heal a broken world and hearts. It was probably not the best strategy for a Use of English exam to seek to evangelise the examiner by quoting from the letter of James about my understanding of true spirituality whether in 1920 or 2020!
Quoting James Chapter 1:27 as best I could remember it: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
And to further declare the pointlessness of projecting 40 years (and so the pointlessness of this exam) into the future when James very clearly tells us…
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
They say the most useless Christmas present in 2019 was a 2020 Calendar, we just can’t plan ahead. However, perhaps that is not a bad thing to help keep us humble, reliant on God’s sovereignty, more conscious of our mortality, thankful for today and those around us (ie our new found neighbours living next door or across the street).
Good old James has a deep and profound challenge in the introduction of his letter written to his spiritual family who were isolated / distanced and scattered across the globe.
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
I suspect most of us have had elements of our character tested this year. Perhaps our patience, or faith, or integrity, or our very foundations. Maybe our priorities, what it means to be a Christian or to be “church” or do family. As Owen discussed on 19th July - we all carry wounds and create wounds, we are all dust and have fallen short of the requirements of a Holy God. Our character is flawed. So thank God for grace, mercy and Christ’s righteous sub statutory sacrifice that paves the way for forgiveness and a new character empowered by His Spirit to display love, pure joy, peace etc etc.
The testing of our character is intended to produce a resilience that keeps us going in God’s direction and becoming more like Him and ultimately more prepared for the life to come.
Oh to be like the men of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12 who knew how to interpret their times, “to know what Israel ought to do" and how we should respond to the new world around us.
He or she who has ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. I suspect it has something to do with sparing us on towards love and good deeds and becoming more Christlike.
PS. How do you think I did in the Use of English paper ?
(Let’s just say I’m glad God will be my ultimate examiner and not man!)