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Finding purpose in the pandemic
Pastor Ben Sadler
by Pastor Ben Sadler
April 14, 2020

One reason that this global crisis is so challenging is that, for many of us, we have never experienced anything like it. Yes, we might remember 9-11. And many of us were affected deeply by the housing market crash in 2008. But, for many of us, we have never experienced the restrictions imposed on us by this unseen enemy, COVID-19.

There is a segment in our population that has the wisdom and experience that comes from enduring and surviving the Great Depression and the enforced rationing during WWII. Unfortunately, the people who could help us navigate through this pandemic are also the most susceptible to the virus.

So where can we turn to find wisdom and direction?

Personally, I find the words of Viktor Frankl to be most helpful. Frankl was a Jewish psychologist who survived a Nazi concentration camp during WWII. Through this experience, he discovered that humans are not mere beasts motivated by our instincts of procreation and pleasure. That was Freud’s philosophy. But Frankl found that humans are ultimately motivated by meaning. We are purpose-driven creatures.

Because of this perspective, he lived by a mantra to which he credits his survival: “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.” In other words, if a person still believes his or her life has meaning and purpose, then he or she can endure almost any situation.

Frankl was very careful to distinguish between our limited view of “meaning” and the Big Why of the Creator’s providence. No human knows exactly why God allowed COVID-19 to spread across the globe, and we should be wary of anyone who makes such claims.

And yet, Frankl said that we must believe that our lives are filled with meaning, especially in the middle of suffering. In fact, Frankl went so far as to say, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” Suffering loses its greatest sting when we hold on to the hope of purpose.

That sounds helpful, but is it biblical? Well, consider the words of the writer to the Hebrews:

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (12:1-3)

The writer says that finding meaning in the cross allowed Jesus to endure it. Because he found purpose in his suffering, he could march through suffering, out of the tomb, and to God’s glorious throne with a sense of joy. In other words, Jesus had a big enough WHY, so he could bear the HOW of the cross.

The writer then tells us to take the same perspective. He says run your race with your eyes fixed on Jesus’ example . . . and consider him who endured suffering . . . so that you will not lose hope.

Again, we don’t know GOD’S GRAND PURPOSE of allowing this virus, but we can and we must find meaning in the midst of suffering.

Here are three possible ways that you can find meaning in the midst of this global crisis.

  1. The pandemic leads us to put our trust in Jesus alone. In times of peace and prosperity, it’s hard to see how much we trust in things that are smaller than Jesus. We probably weren’t aware of how much we put our faith in our career, money, family, and health. (All of which are good gifts from God.) But now that all those gifts have been weakened or removed, we are being moved to trust in something that can’t be taken from us, to put our trust in Jesus alone.
  2. The pandemic is rearranging our priorities. Before the pandemic, we might have been caught up in making a name for ourselves, missing the opportunity to see the needs of those God has placed before us. But now as we are confined to our homes and neighborhoods, we might find a renewed purpose in serving our families and loving our neighbors.
  3. The pandemic is exposing our weakness and need for the goodness and greatness of God. As a culture we have successfully pushed the reality of death to the margins of our consciousness. But now our mortality is on center stage. As the news reports the number of deaths, we are reminded that one day we will be counted as well. But as we celebrate Easter, we can find a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in repentance and trust in Jesus as we await with joy his glorious return.

Purpose leads to action
Living under this new normal has been challenging. I find myself endlessly scrolling through social media to kill my boredom. I’ve often felt paralyzed by fear and doubt. But remembering Frankl’s words wakes me from my slumber. I know, even now, God has called us all to something greater. Our Savior and King has called us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). He has given us good things to do even in isolation. He is leading us back to himself. He gives our lives true meaning and purpose, and that gives us a big enough WHY to endure the pain of this pandemic.