Quarantine. Lockdown. Stay At Home. The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has rocketed these terms to the top of our shared lexicon. By some estimates, more than 80% of counties in the U.S. restricted normal activities in recent weeks to help curb the spread of COVID-19. At this point we’re all familiar with the statistics, the graphs, the policy debates, and many of the public health dimensions of the virus.
Much has been written about the disruption the coronavirus is to global health. Christians are right to lament the ongoing suffering, loss of life, and economic hardship in the wake of the virus. But there is another disruption in this strange season that has touched almost all of us: a disruption to our time. Plans have been postponed or scrapped altogether, at-home work has become the norm, and the leisure or work activities that took us outside the home are effectively on hold. As a result of this disruption to our time, with important exceptions like medical professionals and other “essential” workers, many of us have more free time than we did mere weeks ago.
As Christians, it’s important for us to reflect biblically and theologically on the lessons that coronavirus teaches about our time. These lessons were true before the stay-at-home orders and they’ll be true long after they expire. But these are some of the lessons God is using at this time to “teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
Perhaps you diligently planned your 2020 calendar back in January. Maybe you even booked flights and were looking forward to spring travel. And now, in light of coronavirus, your calendar is filled with question marks and spring travel seems unlikely. These are slight inconveniences compared to the ways time has been disrupted for others through the loss of a job, through illness, or even through death. Whether you’ve experienced major or minor disruption, the biblical lesson is the same: our time is never certain. James makes this clear in his epistle:
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15).
Time is fragile. Plans are fragile. In a fallen world, none of us knows the future with certainty. Notice what James says: all of us and, thus, all our plans, are a mist. Does this mean we should never make plans or think about stewarding our time? No. But it does mean that the plans we make should not be held with a tight grip.
It is healthy to recognize the fragility of time. Yet, though our time is uncertain for us, it is always certain for God. The providence of God, his governing and preserving of all things with holiness, power, and wisdom, is a great encouragement for the people of God in light of the disruptions brought by COVID-19. He is the Creator and the Sustainer. Nothing, including coronavirus, happens apart from his will and outside of his wisdom. He is firmly in control at all times. A global pandemic does not take our God by surprise. In fact, it could not happen at all apart from his will. This gives the Christian great comfort. Understanding God’s providence allows us to simultaneously say “how unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways” (Romans 11:33) and “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). We don’t see the full picture or know completely what God is doing, but we can rest assured that it is all for our good.
In other words, we can rest in the providence of God. More than that, we can know that he has planned this specific time to achieve those ends of his glory and our good. Nothing about this pandemic—even down to you and me sitting at home—is an oversight on God’s part. He is the Potentate of time. We should hold our future plans loosely because God, in his wisdom and love, may redirect us.
If our time is both uncertain to us and completely under the control of God’s sovereign care, our time—years, months, days, hours—is not our own but is a gift to be stewarded for God’s glory. Ecclesiastes holds these truths of time together: life and time is vanity under the sun and, yet, still a good gift from God. “Fear God and keep his commandments,” the Preacher ends his reflection in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “for this is whole duty of man.” Our time, fleeting and fragile as it is, is to be stewarded wisely and for God’s glory. Because our lives are ordered by a loving and faithful God, our use of time during the coronavirus pandemic leaves no room for grumbling or wishing our present reality was different (Philippians 2:14). Rather, we are to view ourselves as God’s stewards, wisely investing our time—perhaps even ample free time—to bring him honor and praise.
This final biblical lesson of coronavirus and our time is really a coming together of all the other lessons. If our time is never certain but always ordered by God’s providence and if we know our “standing orders” are to glorify God, our free time during COVID-19 is time that must be redeemed. “Look carefully then how you walk,” wrote the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:15-16, “not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” The virus, the economic fallout, and the contentiousness of debates about both have provided a stark reminder that we do live in evil days. But how can we, as believers, make the best use of time during these evil days?
Our culture has an answer to this question. It’s become a familiar quarantine refrain: get comfy, fire up Netflix, and binge watch your way to the other side of the curve. While there’s nothing wrong with relaxation, this popular answer is, at best, incomplete. Instead, try the following thought experiment to think creatively about redeeming the time: since God is providentially governing and preserving all things, including the coronavirus, what is possible now that was not possible before?
Before COVID-19, busyness was worn as a badge of honor. A frenetic pace seemed to be the only pace. Time was zipping by. The virus brought all of that to a temporary halt. In God’s providence, many of us have a fleeting opportunity unparalleled in recent history: to slow down and grow in grace. We can read the Bible without rushing so that we really hear God speaking. We can pray with greater focus and wait expectantly for the Lord to show his goodness. We can pick up the phone and encourage a fellow believer. Perhaps for some of us the most God glorifying thing we can do in this season is to learn how to rest. Even if you only have 15 minutes extra in your day, all of these are possibilities for Christian growth. If we seize the opportunity we’ve been given, our lives could look very different long after COVID-19.
Above all, we can redeem this time—even the free time—by placing all of our hope in the Lord. There is nothing you can do with ample free time that will make you more acceptable to God. If you are in Christ, you have all the acceptance you will ever need. The best way to use newly found free time is to grow in grace and to use the means God has given us to place all of our hope in him. COVID-19 has shaken the kingdoms of this world and exposed many contemporary idols as worthless. Yet in the uncertainty of our times, we can be sure that God is, as always, accomplishing his work. Jesus is risen. As his people, our future is incredibly bright. Therefore, we can redeem the time out of gratitude for the great salvation that is ours. So, use your free time in this season to glorify the true King. Here is the bedrock truth: the disruption of COVID-19 is temporary and time is marching toward the day of the Lord when the risen King will return. Therefore, in our use of time we can “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Andrew Canavan is pastor and church planter at Corona Presbyterian Church (https://www.coronaopc.com/), a mission work of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He lives in Corona, CA with his wife and three young children.