As I write this, the news is all about the coronavirus. Cases have been reported in the UK and Ireland and — at the time of writing — four deaths from the virus have been recorded in the UK.
Fortunately there’s plenty of advice available on how best to keep ourselves safe and we all ought to take every reasonable precaution to avoid infection.
However, the news of the coronavirus is one more sign to the world that our present life is full of troubles, trials and sorrow and that perfect happiness will not be obtained until the resurrection.
John Calvin, the reformer, wrote a great deal about our present suffering. In his booklet, A Little Book on the Christian Life (which is really an extract from his most famous work, Institutes of the Christian Religion), he wrote the following:
In whatever trouble comes to us, we should always set out eyes on God’s purpose to train us to think little of this present life and inspire us to think more about the future life. For God knows well that we are greatly inclined to love this world by natural instinct. Thus, he uses the best means to draw us back and shake us from our slumber, so that we don’t become entirely stuck in the mire of our love for this world.
When Calvin refers to ‘the best means to draw us back and shake us from our slumber’, he’s referring to the troubles of this life. Calvin refers to ‘wars, uprisings, robberies, and other injuries’ including poverty, bereavement, marriage and family troubles. We might also add the coronavirus to his list. God permits us to suffer these things so that we will wake up from our slumber and yearn more and more for the new and better life to come, which he promises to all who trust in his Son.
Calvin is careful to say that we must not hate this present life or seek to end our life. Neither should we be ungrateful to God. Even in this troubled life, God surrounds us with his blessings and he fills our life with good things to enjoy. Calvin wrote:
Before he openly presents to us our inheritance of eternal glory, God desires to declare himself our Father through smaller proofs. Such proofs are the good gifts he daily bestows on us.
Therefore, we ought to give thanks to God for the good gifts he sends us every day. Among those good gifts, we can include the fellowship we enjoy as members of Immanuel and the comfort we receive from our fellow believers. But even as we give thanks to God for his gifts, we ought to remember and believe that true happiness and perfect peace and rest will always elude us in this life and will only be found in the presence of God in the life to come. And while we wait for it, we should continue to meet together, ‘encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near’ (Hebrews 10:25).