Responding to the Crisis: Turning to the Words of Jesus
by Allen Hood
The following is adapted from a letter Allen Hood wrote recently in response to the coronavirus global pandemic.
I am sitting in my home today like many others around the world checking the news and tracking the number infected by the coronavirus. The number that have died from it is in the tens of thousands and rising daily. The sports, entertainment, and service sectors are all but shut down, and the business sector is reeling. It seems the world has significantly changed with the entrance of COVID-19.
As believers in times like these, we are invited into a dialogue with the Scriptures to search for understanding. As a minister, the gospels are the first place I search. The life and sayings of Jesus become the window by which I watch God in the flesh respond to all kinds of human suffering and pain.
Jesus’ Response to Tragedy and Crisis in Luke 13:1–9
In the gospels we see Jesus confronting the issue of suffering and death on many fronts. As the King of a heavenly kingdom, He releases God’s power to the oppressed, touching and healing the sick, casting out devils, and raising the dead. We also see His compassionate heart as He weeps over Lazarus’ death and as He laments with tears over the coming destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). There is one passage in the gospels where Jesus specifically weighs in regarding a mass killing and natural disaster. What will Jesus’ counsel be to God’s people in times of great tragedy?
At first glance, Jesus’ answer in Luke 13:1–5 is quite disturbing and seems to lack the compassion and decorum of a seasoned leader. In fact, in my 25 years of ministry, I have only heard one national Christian leader quote this verse in response to any crisis.¹ To be honest, as I ponder Jesus’ words, I am also hesitant to quote them. Yet we need more than conventional wisdom today that seeks the premature easing of our fears or the presumptuous moving forth with false confidence. We need a window into God’s heart and mind, where we gasp and fall silent before an unordinary, heavenly wisdom.
I must acknowledge to you that the more I read these verses, the more my heart has been humbled before the Almighty, and a surprising tenderness to the Lord and neighbor has begun to emerge.
The chapter begins with a preceding conversation over two recent tragedies—a mass killing of innocents and a natural disaster. Some who are present carry over the conversation and pull Jesus into the cultural discussion.
There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, “Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” But he answered and said to him, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.” (Luke 13:1–9)
Let the Pain of the Crisis Touch You
The story is especially shocking with regard to whom it happened and where it took place. Pilate is depicted as killing innocent religious observers in the very act of worship and mingling their blood with the blood of their sacrifices in the holy temple. The place of prayer, worship, and peace had become the place of violence and murder.
As they talk to Jesus about this event, one gets the impression that they are doing what humans do when tragedies like this happen. They discuss why it happened and debate possible solutions. Jesus responds with a seemingly out-of-place question that lacks decorum. “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things (v. 2)?” Imagine the strange looks and awkward silence as Jesus ignores the obvious injustice and tragedy and turns the conservation quite personal.
Personal, Not Political
It is as if He meant to shock the group of listeners and clear away all the cultural and religious opinions of the day by making the national tragedy a personal confrontation. Crisis takes us all by storm, and the usual first response is to comfort our consciences and ease our fears through a multitude of opinions. This is true in the church as well as society in general. The human response is to do damage control and turn to sources that relieve our fears and bolster our particular opinions. Our various Christian movements and denominations usually rush to our go-to verses and ascribe both causes and solutions to the crisis that fit with our particular theological bents and ecclesiastical practices.
Examples today abound. The prayer movements I am involved with are calling for solemn assemblies that stand in the gap and push back this demonic disease. The signs-and-wonders movements with a postmillennial bent are calling on us to embrace the Church’s finest hour and release Christ’s healing power to the sick and infirmed. This will all turn out for the release of revival and the vindication of the gospel. The sacramental parts of the Body of Christ are appealing to us to embody the gospel and sacrifice our lives in care for the sick and the poor, pointing to the Lord’s admonition in Matthew 25:34–36 that when we care for the sick and poor, we care for Jesus Himself. The missional churches and movements are calling for us to give ourselves to an expression of church that is centered in neighborhoods and entails small groups that can endure the government’s gathering restrictions and are able to reach and disciple our unsaved neighbors. Thus, each calamity becomes a soapbox moment for our particular burden or opinion.
While each of these particular opinions and approaches to the pandemic carries valuable insight into the heart and mind of God, it is not the first response Jesus is desiring. He is looking for something more personal at the outset of the crisis that will deliver us from both false comfort and false bravado. His question cuts right through the cultural, popular responses to the tragedy and goes right to the heart of the matter. As the Creator and Redeemer, Jesus knows the human heart better than anyone. When tragedy occurs, people stay in their comfortable lanes, reverting to easy answers, blame-shifting, political and religious opinions, and anything else to shield them from facing the core, fundamental human problem of our shared sinful state in a fallen world.
The Problem of Sin
Jesus immediately removes the deflection and the self-protection and responds to His own question, “Do you think you are less sinful than them? I tell you no!” Do you hear His emphatic response, “I tell you no!”? Jesus forces us to put ourselves right in the pain. You are in the same shared predicament as everyone else. You have the same core problem. The same potential to hurt and the same possibility to be hurt. I hear similar overtones from Joel in Jesus’ voice.
In the book of Joel, we find Israel in the midst of a national crisis. A locust plague has swept through the land, and in a matter of days, the agricultural engine of their financial system is shattered. The crops are destroyed, the trees are stripped, and next year’s seed is in danger. Drought is compounding the problem as fires spread and herds of cattle perish.
At ground zero the prophet Joel draws the nation’s attention to the urgency of the hour through one simple question: “Has anything like this happened in your day, or even in the days of your fathers (Joel 1:2)?” It is as though he cries, “Stop pacifying the pain with your multitude of opinions and keen rebuilding strategies and just look at the crisis. The crops are destroyed. The food is cut off. Fires are breaking out, and the cattle are dying.” He exhorts every class of society to wake up to their current situation and wail over the loss. Before you move on to the public debate grounded in political and religious positions, look at the crisis and let it touch you. Let your heart feel the pain! Later, the prophet would say, “Rend your heart and not your garment.” Quit moving on to religious opinions and ceremonies around this tragic event. Let this tragedy touch your heart. Place yourself right in the pain.
Few things are worse in the midst of a tragedy than a clearly stated opinion from a disconnected and untouched heart that has shed no tears. God’s desire in times like these is that the eyes would cry before the mouth would speak. Hollow words from faces that shed no tears bring no true change.
Days into the pandemic, I personally found my heart somewhat untouchable, moving quickly into critiquing the multitude of voices speaking as to what God’s role is in the crisis and what our response should be. I even joined the debate and publicly released my two cents’ worth, pointing to an article I had previously written for Ministry Today.² Yet Jesus was calling me to stop and connect my heart to the pain. If I am honest, I have shed little to no tears over the 14,457 deaths.³ Even worse, the tragedies now come so often I hardly skip a beat in my normal routine over any tragedy. I have already compartmentalized entire areas of my heart and mind where subcategories of horrors—like lone shooter mass killings, deaths from military conflicts, natural disaster casualties, and infectious disease statistics—stay filed away. A new one comes. I seemed shocked for a moment, and then file it away without many feelings at all. This moving on devoid of an emotional response is the death knell to the spiritual life, for a hard heart does not feel and cannot pray.
In this current global pandemic, I found myself listening to all the prophetic voices of the day ascribing this and that as the cause and this and that as the solution for the Church. Even as I was already in an extended fast for revival, I heard the Lord whispering to me this week, “Let it touch you, Allen. Let it touch you!” Don’t move on to the popular cultural and religious opinions of the day and the pointing of the fingers as if we are not all in the same sin predicament. Let the pain of human sin and the fallenness of the world touch you. Let your vulnerability to a fallen world touch you. Don’t be so quick to turn away from the common human mirror. Connect your heart afresh to the fact the world is in desperate need for a Savior and Redeemer.
We must embrace the pain, let it touch us, turn to God in sincere repentance, and salt this nation again, not with false comfort and false bravado but with a broken and contrite heart that trembles before His Word. We must humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord and purge ourselves from all that is not holy, kind, and filled with faith. We must cast off all sin that hinders us and weighs us down, and love like we have never loved, even unto death.
We have an extended period of time to gather our families in our homes to reflect, repent, and pray to God, who alone can save us and the nations. We must use this crisis to prepare the way of the Lord. We have a mighty calling to be in this world yet not of it. We must do more than alleviate the shock of the moment with quick public statements, sermons, and prophecies. We must let this crisis touch us to the core, embrace the fear of the Lord, repent, and bear fruit! Lest we hear the words of the prophet ringing through the ages, warning religious people everywhere:
Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Luke 3:7–9)
How am I responding during the gathering restrictions?
- I am weeping with those who weep and praying with fasting for God to have mercy on our nation and the nations of the earth facing this awful disease.
- I am uncomfortably letting Jesus’ words as they are without caveat and disclaimer chafe me. His words are not naturally digestible, but they are an unordinary, heavenly wisdom that cannot be improved upon. So, I bend and bow to them long before I even understand them.
- I am asking for the pain of our commonly shared human experience of calamity and crisis to touch me. I want to pause with my mouth shut long enough to experience true empathy, true brokenness over our shared plight and struggle with sin in a fallen world.
- I am turning to the Lord in prayer, reflection, and repentance. I am repenting for any hardness of heart, areas of compromise, and lack of fruit in my life. Oh, precious Jesus, rid me from everything indifferent, violent, sinful, and selfish. Deliver me lest I be a primary shareholder in the sin of this nation, content to repeat the party line and religious opinions of the day while our national sin accumulates and mounts up to heaven.
- I am setting my heart to embrace my city and to love as I have never loved. The gospel must be preached, and it must be lived. At some point, I must come out of my home to love, heal, deliver, and save. I may have to join many of the saints of old who entered the plague with Jesus’ compassion, armed with service and faith.
I am setting my heart to be humbled by Jesus’ words concerning my common experience with my neighbor of the internal and external effects of sin. I am repenting of and seeking deliverance from all personal sin. I refuse to rob myself or the Body of Christ from the fear of the Lord and the gift of reflection and repentance. I am leaving the separatist and the fruitless, knowing that piety is found in the struggle, crucified outside the camp, and in loving the lost one made in His image. I am asking for a silent trembling, a holy life, and a bigger love, lest I perish with a cold, sterile heart. I am praying for God in His mercy to deliver us from the impact of human sin, Satan’s rage, and a fallen world’s effects. I am also praying for God’s mercy and grace that I might be a vessel of light and love from a place of humble contrition and unwavering faith.
Somehow, the words in red, which at a first glance seemed like the words of an unseasoned leader, are humbling me. I am now praying for them to escort my heart into the fear of the Lord and the boundless love of Christ. With the arrival of COVID-19, it seems the world has truly changed. My hope and prayer are that we will too.
What is one way you can respond to Jesus at this time?
For more from Allen Hood, we recommend his article The American Church Standing at a Critical Juncture: What We Can Learn from Joel and Jeremiah in the Midst of National Crisis. You can read it on his blog >>
- John Piper, interview shortly after September 11, 2001.
- “Church on the Brink,” Charisma Leader (formerly Ministry Today), June 29, 2011, https://ministrytodaymag.com/~ministry/281-features/19195-church-on-the-brink.
- “Coronavirus Cases,” Worldometers, accessed March 22, 2020, https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus.
Allen Hood (MDiv, Asbury Theological Seminary) served on the leadership team of the International House of Prayer for more than 15 years. He served as the president of International House of Prayer University from 2003 to 2016 and also served as the associate director of the IHOPKC Missions Base and as the executive pastor of Forerunner Church, IHOPKC’s church expression. Allen is an intercessory missionary called to partner in fulfilling the Great Commission by advancing 24/7 prayer with worship in every tribe and tongue and by proclaiming the beauty of Jesus and His glorious return. His highest joy is to see the Church manifesting the fullness of Christ’s life in the nations. Allen is married to Rachel, and they have three sons.