As Covid-19 continues to dominate the headlines and stretch our health services like nothing before, it is, of course, a very concerning time for us all.
But now is not the first time that the people have found themselves unnerved. Nearly 3000 years ago King Uzziah died, and the future then seemed very uncertain for the people of Isaiah’s day. Isaiah, however, saw beyond the immediate uncertainty.
This is what he wrote:
‘In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.’
There is an image of one who is utterly in command. Uzziah may have died but God was still on the throne. And, despite the difficulties and uncertainties we all are currently facing, I believe he still is today
As one who works in the NHS, it was heartening to hear the applause that rang out on Thursday night for those who work in it. But we do need to be careful that we don’t begin to misplace where we put our hope. Because if we hope only in the NHS we are lost. I don’t doubt the NHS will go above and beyond in the coming weeks, many will show huge devotion to the care of others, often at risk to themselves, and I pray that I may play my part well in that great effort too, but what we are facing is beyond the best efforts of even the worlds greatest health care system.
Furthermore, amazing though the NHS is and though we will rightly all be immensely grateful for the no doubt many many people who will be kept alive that might not otherwise have survived, it cannot save everyone. Indeed it can not, in eternal terms, save anyone. Whilst many will be preserved through this coronavirus pandemic, each of those whose deaths are thus delayed will still face that great enemy in time.
So whilst there is a place to applaud the NHS, and, really, thank you if you did, I don’t want to appear churlish, it really is appreciated, we must not allow it to become an idol in which we put our ultimate trust. Maybe it’s just me but this week I have found myself trusting in the statistics, the news of a 4000 bed coronavirus unit being provided in London and, in the absence of proper PPE, the sourcing of some suits designed for those working with asbestos to offer a little more protection than the flimsy plastic aprons we would otherwise have to rely on.
It was Martin Luther who described the human heart as an idol factory. In my case at least, he wasn’t wrong. Whilst it is right to be grateful for these things, and while I really should be striving to adhere to the government restrictions regarding social distancing, I am wrong to imagine my ultimate security is found in such things. Rather than drawing comfort from the degree of safety that these things provide, I should be trusting the one who truly holds my future in his hands. I should be on my knees crying out to the one who can secure for us the eternal salvation we require. So let’s appreciate the NHS by all means, it is after all undoubtedly a means of God’s grace to many, but let us not forget to honour the one who is truly worthy of all our praise
God has made promises, promises that there is a day coming when He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more’, a day when ‘neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things [will] have passed away.”
The NHS cannot deliver this – it simply isn’t up to the task. If we demand this of the NHS it will let us down, if not in the next few months then later in our lives. Expect the NHS to solve all of our problems and not only will we be disappointed but we will also put a burden on those who work in it way beyond that which they can bear.
I am part of a fantastic primary care team and I value each and every member of the team including those wonderful retired partners who are even now considering how they can help. I am fortunate indeed to have them around me but, for all that, I know they are all only human. And so, as well as being immensely grateful for them, I am currently praying for them daily – and please if you are minded to, join me in this. The NHS may be the greatest health organisation in the world but the truth is that there isn’t any organisation anywhere that can possibly deliver what we would really like it to.
But God can. The same God who has demonstrated His ability to keep his word most vividly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So let’s be grateful for the NHS, let’s applaud it, every week if we wish, but let’s not forget where our real hope must lie.
As I have said, God has has made promises – promises that he can and will keep.
Now there may be some that ask how I can be so confident in God when there is plainly so much suffering in the world and which some of those reading this will have had all too real experience. There is, of course no easy answer to that. But I trust in the God that entered into our suffering that He might redeem us through that suffering. It may not be the way that we’d have chosen to do it, but then we’re not God and his thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are our ways his ways. [Isaiah 55:8].
And I for one am very comfortable in accepting that God is wiser than I am – consider the arrogance it would take for me to think otherwise. And I believe that I can have every confidence in believing it when He assures me that ‘though weeping may tarry for the night, joy comes with the morning. [Psalm 30:5]
So we can rightly be very grateful for the NHS but we must put our hope ultimately in God, banking on his promises.
Rather than boast in man’s abilities, we need to humble ourselves. God is for those who know their weakness. He blesses the poor in spirit, blesses and comforts those who mourn. [Matthew 5:3]: a bruised reed he will not break and a faintly burning wick he will not quench, he will faithfully bring forth justice. [Isaiah 42:3] My God gives rest to all who labour and are heavy laden.[Matthew 11:28]
So, ‘shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? [Genesis 28:25] I believe He will and it’s what will get me to sleep tonight despite the world’s current uncertainties.
‘Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. ‘[Psalm 20:7]
And I for one am convinced that we are right to do so because He is one who can be trusted.
‘And [Jesus] told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. [Mark 3:9-10]
I read these verses recently. What a contrast to these days of social isolation. The diseased press around Jesus to touch him in search of a healing.
When the diseased touch the clean the clean are made diseased – except when the one who is clean is Jesus, the only one who is truly clean. Then the diseased are made clean by his touch.
In these days let us draw comfort from the fact that he has cleansed us from our sin, a far more deadly thing than any coronavirus. We are clean in the sight of God because of Jesus. His death, by paying the penalty for our wrongdoing, has bought us life. And may there be many who are touched by this gospel. It is the good news we all need to hear today.
‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ [2 Corinthians 5:21]