Where were you? When the pandemic “out there,” on the news and social media, became the pandemic right here where you live, making a direct, jarring impact on your life? And where was God—at least where did you feel he was? If you tried visualizing him in your life, where would he be? What posture would he be taking? Standing aloof, arms folded, or smiling, drawing you close?
In the days when COVID-19 was still little more than a whisper across social media and news feeds, Jesus felt really close to me. I was diving into what it means to more deeply sense his presence and love in day-to-day life. I was growing, overcoming past struggles, and experiencing victory. It was amazing.
Then came the Safer at Home order for my state. People started going around grocery stores with masks and gloves on tight. Contagious fear hung thick in the air. Easter came and went—the first one I spent away from my family.
I could almost see a wall rising up, cutting me off from Jesus. I still prayed, still did my devotions, and journaled just like before. But it felt like all my prayers just ricocheted off that wall, lying in a sad little pile on the ground.
I spent a couple weeks like that, wrestling and struggling. Finally, the Lord used his Word to get something I already knew in my head to finally sink into my heart: My perceptions and emotions aren’t the same thing as reality. Even though Jesus felt more distant, the truth is that he isn’t an inch further from me or you than when this pandemic broke out.
Already at the Door
One morning, while I was still in my weird funk, God led me to Revelation 3:20, where Jesus says, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”
Notice he doesn’t say, ”I might stop by if you finally get your life together, if you stop worrying about what’s happening in the world and just listen to me.” No, Jesus says he’s already with us, patiently knocking on the door of our hearts, waiting for us to let him in, to sit down together to fellowship as close friends.
That’s beautiful. And it’s a promise. If we just allow God into our lives, he will come in. This verse helped me realize that Jesus hadn’t changed his attitude or posture toward me. Distracted by the fear and drastic changes happening around me, I had withdrawn from him, letting the door to my heart shut behind me. But I could choose in that very moment to open the door and welcome him in again. So can you. It’s a daily, moment by moment choice, for his mercies are new each morning (Lam 3:22–23).
We see this reality of God’s presence so many other places in Scripture. The psalmist writes, “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!” (Ps 42:5). It takes hardly any imagination to picture him saying that right now in the middle of this pandemic with his emotions locked in a downward spiral. But then he reminds himself that God is still his Savior, still the foundation of his hope, and still worthy of praise!
Romans 8:35–39 also reminds us that nothing—no hardship, sickness, not even death itself—can separate Christ’s followers from his abiding love. And Acts 17:27 flat out says, “God is not far from any one of us.”
So for my sake (if no one else’s), here it is plainly: Jesus isn’t socially distancing himself from us. He’s right here with us, even now. He’s not frantically trying to make Zoom calls over a spotty Internet connection. He is Emmanuel, “God with us.” From scientists and politicians to you and me, nobody really knows what lies in store for us with this pandemic, what its effects will be on our economy or our psyche as a nation and world. But God is still faithful, still present, and still with us.
Nathan Peterson is a writer on InterVarsity's Communications Team in Madison, Wisconsin. He formerly was the Urbana 18 writer. When he’s not at work, you can find him working on his book, at the gym, or watching movies at home.
God’s invites us to not only join him in the suffering around us; he is also inviting us to explore our own personal disappointments and losses on a deeper level. This difficult time can be an opportunity to cultivate newness.
I don’t know what you are facing, but God does. He wants to meet you in the reality of the finished work of Jesus Christ, the gospel—our hope. Let him meet you there and, if necessary, seek out others and let them help you as well.