Friday, November 6, 2020

The Key to Surviving Physically and Spiritually Today images

Those of you who had the privilege and blessing to know my mother remember that her favorite response to “How are you doing, Helen?” was “I’m persevering.” So, much was this her watchword and life theme that we put on her memorial stone: “Persevering in Jesus.” These days, with yet another new surge in the saga of the Corona Virus, we think my mom’s message is one to live by. Especially, since this week our governor has issued a lockdown mandate with a mandatory curfew: restaurants must stop serving at 9:30. Indoor gatherings are limited to ten, outdoor gatherings to twenty-five, and all must disperse by 9:30, so, no late-night parties, rather a stay-at-home advisory in effect from 10:00 p.m. – 5:00 a.m., and everyone five years old and older is required to wear masks in public, or face a $500 fine.[1] It seems some of the young and restless have lost patience with wearing masks and, as a result, Monday’s tally reports those under age 39 contracted the virus at over a thousand per day for the previous nine days here in Massachusetts.[2] This is devastating news: our young are our future and precious to us. A recent photo of an anti-mask protest (thankfully in another state – ours apparently has been dumb enough without having a protest) shows a young man sporting a sign that reads, “A freedom worth dying for!” How on earth did protecting oneself and one’s fellow humans from a marauding virus ever become mixed up with human rights? Where’s the logic here? I’m going to infect myself and everybody else because of my unimpeded, inalienable freedom as an American to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the right to contact Covid19 if I want to? Last blog, I noted the thwarting of the plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor “over her handling of the coronavirus pandemic,”[3] meaning her strict requirements for everyone to wear masks in public and take similar protective lockdown measures to save lives. When did normal citizens decide to emulate would-be mass murderers, not with assault weapons, but with breathing on their victims? In a wonderful Father Brown story by the wise G.K. Chesterton, “The Resurrection of Father Brown,” everybody is misled to think Father Brown has somehow raised from the dead. Appalled he gives the crowd this benediction: “‘Bless you, bless you,’ said Father Brown hastily. ‘God bless you all and give you more sense.’”[4] That advice seems back in vogue now.

But persevering is a common need throughout our lives. The courtesy to wear a mask to protect others is one example of it. In a way, it’s a symbol of a whole attitude that the Apostle Paul captures when he speaks about the Christian life as a race, or a contest, and encourages the Corinthians to “Run to obtain [or attain]” the prize of heaven (1 Cor. 9:24). The writer of Hebrews agrees, “Through patience, we run the race [or fight the fight] set before us” (Heb. 12:1). The struggle to achieve the Christian life is a life-long commitment. It’s not a cash-in on a lucky lottery ticket.

For some forty years, my wife and I have been teaching seminarians, AĆ­da as a New Testament professor and I as a theologian. It is a wonderfully rewarding privilege. I notice that there are patterns as our seminarians learn and progress. One is that in the intellectual life of many seminarians comes the moment when they struggle with the whole Calvinist versus Arminian challenge: am I going to go with St. Augustine, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon and embrace predestination as the key to God’s plan of salvation, or am I going to emphasize with St. Irenaeus, Jacob Arminius, and Charles Wesley free will as the trigger that reconciles us to God our maker and redeemer? For some thoughtful students, this is a torturous time of great anxiety to get it right. Respecting this struggle, I devote two of my classes to unpacking the issues slowly without trying to push my students into either camp, since they are loyal to churches on either side. Some stay with their church’s positions and some switch sides as they explore the reasons these thought-filled scholars have given for their positions. At the end of this journey, I set out what is commonly shared between the two positions which will give their hearts rest as they see these separate poles of argument agree completely on one final assurance: If one perseveres to the end, one can rest assured one is saved. How does that work exactly? For the Calvinist side, if a believer perseveres steadfastly in the faith, she or he demonstrates empowerment has come from God to do so, so that is the assurance that he or she is one of God’s elect. For the Arminian persuasion, if a believer perseveres steadfastly in the faith, that person demonstrates she or he has fought the good fight and won the crown and God’s favor. So, all any believer has to do is persevere to the end and he or she wins according to both systems.

This brings us back to lockdown. As in the spiritual life, there are ups and downs in the physical life, surges and ebb tides. The point is: Don’t Give Up! There is nothing efficacious about putting oneself or others at risk just because we are sick and tired of restraints. In the physical life, our goal is one day soon to hear these blessed words, “Roll up your sleeve and I’ll give you your immunity shot.” In the spiritual life, the most blessed words we are all striving to hear are: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Welcome to Paradise.” Each reward is worth the patient struggle.


[1] And that would be quite a hit on anyone’s piggy bank. See Mary Markos and Monica Madeja, “Coronavirus restrictions: Coronavirus Rules, Mask Order Effective in Mass. Friday,”10 Boston (WNBC), posted 11/6/2020, accessed 11/6/2020

[2] Matt Murphy, “State revamps COVID-19 data dashboard, Chronicle and Transcript (Beverly, MA: Gannett) 11/5/2020, A5.

[3]Christina Carrega, Veronica Stracqualursi and Josh Campbell, CNN, “13 charged in plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer,” CNN News: Politics, , posted 10/ 8/2020, accessed 11/6/2020.  

[4]You can read this story, collected as the first tale in The Incredulity of Father Brown, The University of Adelaide, Library, University of Adelaide 5005, posted by Steve Thomas, ebooks@adelaide, for free at, posted 2004, accessed 11/6/2020.