International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is Monday, March 8. Why have such a day? Despite all of the differences among women worldwide and the fact that men struggle internationally as well, there remain some sobering norms about women that are worth considering, norms that give insight for why women internationally might benefit from a day of attention.

Did you know that around a third of women internationally have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner? While women’s acceptance internationally of being beaten by their partners has decreased over the last seven years, laws addressing such violence are still not universally available. About one-fourth of the world’s nations still have no laws prohibiting violence against women.

Did you know that in this pandemic, twice as many moms as dads report ongoing depression related to a change in circumstances? And four times as many women as men lost or left jobs in September last year.

Here’s an odd statistic that hints that there may be a great deal more going on internationally than meets the eye that is NOT in women’s favor. In a study of 45,000 crash victims over 11 years, the University of Virginia found that women are 47% more likely to suffer serious injuries in car crashes. Why? Because safety features such as the position of head restraints in relation to seat position are designed for men.

Many folks who are concerned about such statistics wonder if the Bible too is biased against women. How do we answer that question in our own heart? As Christians, or those maybe even just considering belief in the God of the Bible, we wonder, can I trust God as a woman? Can my sister who has been harmed trust God? Can I submit to Scripture as a woman? Can the Jesus who uplifted God’s word, even the hard parts of the Old Testament, be trusted with my own concerns today?

Or maybe concerns over women’s rights internationally, or even locally, are not on your own personal radar. Maybe you are even suspicious of such concerns. Consider then that they likely are on the radar of someone you know and love. How do you answer questions of those you love? Do you dismiss their questions? Do you deride them for having the questions? If so, I encourage you to instead respect their questions. In my experience, they come from a place of genuine hurt and concern.

I have wrestled with these questions for myself. I have great confidence now that the God of the Bible can be trusted with every last concern I have as a woman. He can be trusted with my body. He can be trusted with my spirit. He can be trusted with my soul.

{I model how I’ve wrestled with these things in this post on a difficult passage from Numbers 5.}

If you’d like to read more of a defense of the goodness and trustworthiness of Scripture, Is the Bible Good for Women? Seeking Clarity and Confidence through a Jesus-centered Understanding of Scripture is on sale for $1.99 in honor of International Women’s Day. I hope it will aid you and/or someone you love with confidence in the God of the Bible and His revelation of Himself to us all through the Scriptures. He loves His daughters, and He is very good.

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On Monday, International Women’s Day, I will be hosting a live event through Intervarsity Press to encourage weary sisters in these long, hard days. If you’d like to come, you can preregister here.

A More Excellent Way

I’m welcoming Alex Keen to the blog today. I appreciated her careful handling of Philemon as guidance for relationships in the church with cultural power differentials.

Several years ago, I was encouraged to consider writing a piece on navigating authority as a woman in a complementarian church. During this time, quite a shake-up was happening in both evangelicalism and the world at large. There was a heated kerfuffle in the reformed internet world over trinitarian doctrine as it related to the roles of men and women. There were abuse allegations mishandled in the world and in the church. In all of this, the voices of leading women rose against the abuse of male authority in both spheres. Frustration spread like wildfire through hashtags and hateful words. While the heat has cooled a bit for now, the issues themselves have yet to be resolved and full familial restoration may be a long way off for many. I would like to propose a way forward by examining the book of Philemon and offering four principles derived from this very short letter. Late? Yes. Timely? I hope so.

To begin, there are three men involved in the story behind the letter: Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus. Paul is in prison at this point, writing letters to churches. He not only wrote a letter to the believers in Colossae (where Philemon lived), but a personal letter to Philemon who hosted a church in his house. Onesimus, a slave of Philemon, had abdicated his responsibility and somehow found his way to Paul. There, he is brought to saving faith by Paul’s testimony. Now Paul is faced with a decision. To use his authority to keep Onesimus? Or to send Onesimus back into a situation that might result in his suffering? 

1. Acknowledge Authority

First, Paul acknowledged different spheres of authority. All three men had authority in some way. Paul had authority over others as an apostle and elder. Philemon had authority over others as a church leader and master. Onesimus had authority over himself as a fellow believer and brother. Though Paul could have ordered Philemon to do what is right, he instead acknowledged and honored Philemon’s authority by making requests instead of making demands.

Though I am not certain, evidence seems to indicate that Onesimus returned to Philemon freely. Paul, in Colossians 4:9, calls him “our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your number.” Onesimus came as an equal in order to be restored, not as a slave to be punished. Paul most likely did not use his authority to force Onesimus to return, but honored and encouraged Onesimus’s choice as a brother to return.

Acknowledging the authority of others instead of using authority to coerce obedience highlights the equality of all people in Christ, regardless of gender, race, or social status.

2. Appeal to love

Second, Paul appealed to Philemon for love’s sake. In doing so, he left room for Christ to exercise his authority in Philemon’s heart. He pointed to Philemon’s love and faith in Christ, and how he had comforted and refreshed fellow believers, and encouraged him to treat Onesimus the same way. Paul explained, “without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will.” He knew that using authority to demand a certain action would not bring about Christ’s work. The fellowship of love is the fertile soil for God’s work to come to fruition in the lives of others. 

Appealing to love honors Christ’s authority to work in the lives of others.

3.Accept Responsibility

Third, each person in this situation exercised their authority by bearing their responsibility. Paul accepted his responsibility as an apostle and elder to care for Onesimus as a father would a child. He did so by bearing true testimony to Onesimus’ salvation and offering to repay Philemon for anything he had lost as a result of Onesimus’ actions.

Onesimus accepted responsibility for his actions by returning to serve Philemon. And as a brother who happened to be a bondservant, he had the responsibility to work heartily for the sake of the Lord, not for men (Colossians 3:22-25).

Philemon was asked to bear responsibility for Onesimus as a brother by forgiving and restoring him. And as a brother who happened to be a master, he had the responsibility to treat his slaves with justice and fairness (Colossians 4:1). 

It is tragic to have either authority without responsibility, or responsibility without authority. I would go so far as to suggest that authority and responsibility are nearly synonymous. All of these men had responsibilities placed on them under Christ’s absolute authority. Thankfully, they were given authority to carry out their responsibilities. 

Accepting responsibility as those under authority serves Christ.

4. Aim for Fellowship

Last, Paul asked Philemon to receive Onesimus as he truly was, an equal, a brother, and fellow heir of the kingdom. He desired that Philemon might “have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (vs. 15-16). In fact, Paul expressed a certainty that Philemon would do even more than simply restore him as a slave (verse 21). From this, we see that his ultimate aim was not justice or proper social order (it is good to note that slavery is not a proper social order), but fellowship. He knew joyful fellowship could not be demanded, so he handed authority and responsibility to Philemon. He knew that only Christ could bring true reconciliation by establishing the social order of the kingdom. In Christ’s kingdom, all are brothers and sisters, equal heirs to the great promises of God, regardless of social status. 

It helps to note that the word for “appeal” in verse 9 is parakaleo, which means to call to one’s side. It is not simply a request, but a request that includes assurance of comfort. Paul wanted Philemon’s comforting presence side by side with him in his joy and as a co-laborer in the gospel.

Aiming for fellowship acknowledges the goal of the gospel, which is the fellowship of love with God in Christ, and with each other as equal image bearers.

So how does this relate to men and women in a complementarian church?

The Way Forward

All of us have some measure of authority given to us by God. “Complementarianism” recognizes that men and women are equal in complementary ways and have different spheres of authority by God’s design. While I do not wish to quarrel over where those lines are drawn here, I do wish to point out that it’s important to be able to discern and honor spheres of authority. In order to do this, we must first acknowledge that both men and women are made in the image of God and are fellow heirs of the kingdom. From here, we realize that we must acknowledge the authority given to each of us, male or female, as image bearers. No one has absolute authority over another, regardless of the structures of our social systems. 

However small or large our spheres of authority, we are called, both men and women, to use our authority to pave the way for Christ’s absolute authority to work itself out in our fellowship. Instead of demanding obedience, for love’s sake, we appeal to our brothers and sisters to act according to the grace of the gospel. We want them beside us as equals to share our joy as we serve our Lord. 

Our ultimate aim in the church is not proper social order, not really even justice, but fellowship in Christ. Yes, we must work against injustice, but we do so by using our authority for the good of those who are in more vulnerable positions. The elders, men charged with shepherding the flock, must accept responsibility for those entrusted to their care by first acknowledging the spheres of authority given to both men and women, and leading them to accept responsibility within their own spheres. This will take a great deal of discernment. Elders are responsible for using their authority to protect the vulnerable, and there are times when fellowship between offended and offender may not be wise, and this might become a matter of church discipline. In the end, no one who belongs to Christ loses anything by allowing God to use his or her authority to order our lives toward love and fellowship with him and with each other. After all, we know that in the end true justice will be served.

In this day of #metoo and #churchtoo, navigating authority within a complementarian setting is complicated. Trust between men and women has been deeply shaken. Constant suspicion is the best defense the world can offer. However, like Philemon, Onesimus, and Paul, those who belong to Christ have been called to trust. It is not a naïve trust, for we of all people should be aware of the evil in human hearts. Our trust is not in men, but in Christ who has all authority in heaven and on earth. Because of this, we can bank on having everything to gain as we acknowledge authority, appeal to love, accept responsibility, and aim for fellowship under Christ’s ultimate authority. 

Paul, in the 13th chapter of his letter to the Corinthians, urged the believers to see that the more excellent way to interact with each other is the way of love. As men and women seeking to walk faithfully in difficult times, this is the way forward. Love overcomes wrongs and restores far more than human justice ever will. For love’s sake, then, I appeal to all of us in Christ to choose the more excellent way.

Alex Kneen is on that journey described by St. Anselm as “faith seeking understanding.” She lives in Gastonia, NC, is married to David, and mother to two boys, Rowan and Bastion.

A Biblical, not Cultural, Worldview

We all need a worldview affected by our understanding of Scripture more than it is affected by how we were raised or the culture in which we currently live. Our culture affects us in profound ways, and for many of us, learning to be Scripture-led, not culture-led, is like learning to write with your left hand after decades of writing with your right. It takes focused thought and intentional steps to break old habits of thinking and put on the new. We have to discipline our mind to take over our hand, because our hand instinctively goes toward what it has always known, what is comfortable, what is natural.

I was raised in independent, fundamentalist, baptist churches. These churches raised me to believe the Bible was the absolute, final authority in my life. For this, I will always be grateful. Those churches taught me to study the Bible and be faithful to church. Again, I will always be grateful for these spiritual disciplines. But several also exposed me to an ugly truth. Not everyone who claims the Bible as their final authority is actually obeying Scripture as their final authority. From Grace Baptist Church in Orangeburg, SC, to Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA, I have learned the hard way that some claiming the loudest the Bible as their final authority can also manipulate the Bible in order to manipulate others. Men controlled by their culture more than their Creator make all of the good guys in Scripture look like them and all of the bad guys look like their cultural opponent. They twist Scripture with the common theme of excoriating their enemy while excusing the evil of their heroes. This twisted refrain shows up again and again, generation by generation. It has forced me to go back to ground zero to think through what the Bible does and does not say about religious culture around me as well as my own religious comfort zone. Where does the Bible tell me to eat with my left hand when my fundamentalist culture trained me to use my right?

I have compiled some Bible principles that have helped me form my own worldview, one I believe is more Bible-centered than culture-centered. Yet, I recognize too that I am capable of manipulation. If you don’t feel constrained by these principles, that is between you and the Holy Spirit. My intent is to explain the principles that influence me, not pressure you to the same. But maybe something here is helpful for others. If that is the case, then praise God.

Here are some Bible principles that have shaped my worldview.

  • I believe Scripture teaches that Jesus is returning to an overcoming Church. His kingdom, Jesus says, is like leaven that leavens the whole lump of bread. It WILL come. There is no stopping it. I believe that Matthew 24 was fulfilled at the destruction of the Temple and Jewish diaspora around AD 70. RC Sproul’s Last Days According to Jesus is a helpful read on this subject. I await Jesus’s return as Paul discusses in his epistles, but I do not hold to a Left Behind understanding of the end times. That view is a relatively modern view of the end times, made popular by Scofield and Darby in the last 150 years of church history. These beliefs free me from worry about a vaccine being infected with a secret tracking agent and other interesting theories that have the government increasingly marginalizing Christians. I don’t believe Covid masks are any more invasive than asking folks to wear shirt and shoes into a restaurant or underwear in public. My lack of fear over Covid restrictions and government control is related to my convictions on the end times.
  • I don’t believe my opponent is my enemy. I have a singular enemy, Satan himself. Paul says our opponents are captive to our real enemy, Satan. This gives me hope for my enemy. I remember that it is the kindness of God that draws us to repentance. I believe this same kindness will be the thing that draws my opponents to Christ as it was for me.

2 Tim 2:24-26  The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

  • The Bible has super strong commands around loving our neighbor as ourselves and is intent we understand that our neighbor is anyone in our proximity, not just people we know and like. Furthermore, the Bible explicitly states that this love is for our opponents. It’s for folks who make us mad, folks with whom we disagree politically. The Bible explicitly describes this love. It is patient and kind. It believes the best and gives the benefit of the doubt.

Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I Cor 13 4 Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, 5 is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. 6 Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

  • I personally try to discipline myself away from conspiracy theories since the Bible explicitly states that we need two or three first person witnesses to establish an accusation.

Deut. 19:15 “One witness cannot establish any iniquity or sin against a person, whatever that person has done. A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

  • While all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, Scripture is also careful to warn us against a particular kind of bad person—the fool, the scoffer, the mocker—whom destruction follows like Pig Pen’s cloud of dirt in the Peanut’s comic strip. In the Hebrew, mocker means one who boasts, scorns, speaks arrogantly, mocks, and derides. When I look at leaders, I note who can and who can’t control their tongue and who can and who can’t control their anger. I note who is consistently sarcastic and rude, who speaks with bitterness and malice, who seeks to stir up strife. I won’t touch with a ten foot pole the unrepentant mocker, because there is a certain kind of destruction they bring to all those around them. The wise avoid them.

Proverbs 19:29 Condemnation is ready for scoffers, and beating for the backs of fools.

Proverbs 22:10 Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease.

Proverbs 24:9 The devising of folly is sin, And the scoffer is an abomination to men.

Psalm 1:1 How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers!

  • I firmly believe that the Biblical instructions on Christian language and tone should still constrain me today. Malice, slander, lying—these are nonnegotiable for Christians seeking to be faithful to Scripture. Remove slander from your presence. Put away clamor and bitterness. If it’s coming in your house over your TV, turn it off. Put it away. If it’s coming into your presence through your social media, remove it from your presence.

Ephesians 4 31 All bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice.

James 1:19-20 My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry, for the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.

  • Finally, I do not hold to a Christian/American Nationalism that views American patriotism as synonymous with Christian righteousness. I am quite thankful to be an American and am particularly thankful for the freedom of religion we take for granted here. But I also believe our founding fathers were flawed men with major blind spots and some outright denial of Biblical truth. This is fairly easy to prove since the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights rejected Jesus’s resurrection along with all supernatural events in the gospels. I thank God for the place and times I live, and the religious freedom I enjoy, but I also acknowledge the pervasive depravity of man as a core doctrine of Christianity. Our nation isn’t perfect, and as God sanctifies His church and His kingdom comes in our world, I expect to see changes in our nation that reflect a more just union, respecting the full human dignity of people made in God’s image, born and unborn. Our nation has been subject to the same pervasive depravity which has affected the whole world, which is why the whole world needs a Savior. To deny this seems to deny the most basic tenets of Christianity.

In summary, I believe Jesus returns to an overcoming Church, and even now, His kingdom is advancing just as Jesus said it would. This confidence equips me to engage politics with hope, not with defensive anger. I believe Christians are called to a hopeful posture in our nation and our world, confident that God will do all He said He will do.

I hope something there is helpful to you as you navigate these confusing days for believers in America.

Childbirth Redeemed by Anna Vroon

How can you put into words what you do not understand yourself?

In Childbirth Redeemed, Anna Vroon asks this poignant question as she shares, years after the fact, the complicated emotions around her difficult pregnancies and child birth experiences. How do you reconcile a deep and fierce mother’s love with fear, anxiety, and disgust at your pregnant belly? How do you bond with your child when you are still experiencing deep trauma after an excruciatingly painful birth process?  How do you live in light of the truth of God’s love and His purposes for you and your children when your emotions do not match any of it?

Anna faces these questions honestly because she experienced them all personally. In recounting her own painful journey, she has given the Church a unique and invaluable resource on pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. She gives women permission to be honest about their own painful stories around pregnancy and childbirth, something, frankly, few resources in the Church do. And she leads those with painful stories to the foot of the cross, where they meet the suffering Savior who is well acquainted with searing pain and grief.

If you have wrestled with pregnancy and childbirth, despaired of giving birth, or struggled to bond with a child—or if you love someone who has—Anna has written a book you need to read. Her story is compelling, and the hope she shares in the good news of Jesus will bless every reader. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Check it out here.

What is Suffering?

A friend asked me recently how I would define suffering. I panicked for a moment. I just published a book on suffering, but I didn’t seem to have a quick definition for it in my head. How had I allowed such an oversight?! But it didn’t take me long to find succinct words. Deep down, I know exactly what suffering is and what is its cause.

All suffering, at its most basic level, is our groaning under the weight of the effects of the Fall.

I have found it deeply helpful to ground my understanding of my own personal suffering in terms of the Fall. God did not intend husbands and wives for divorce. There was no cancer in Eden. And in terms of the communal crises facing us today, there was no disease in Eden. There was no racial bias.

Every ounce of suffering in your world, whether from your sin, another’s sin against you, sickness, death, job loss, relational crisis, or any other cause, stems initially from brokenness that came to our world as a result of the Fall of Man. The good news, in the midst of such widespread groaning, is found singularly in Jesus. No one has groaned under this weight more than Christ. He stood up under that weight for His years on earth, clearly troubled over and over again by what He witnessed. He felt compassion, in other words, suffering with those He saw suffering. And then He suffered FOR all of us on the cross. In our place. Bearing the heaviest weight of the Fall, a weight that would have crushed us.

As you bear up under the effects of the Fall on your own life, and on our world as a whole, know that Jesus understands. He more than understands. He carries this weight WITH you. And He carried the heaviest weight of it all FOR you on the cross in your place.

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Companions in Suffering is now available on Amazon. I also have two free copies of the audio book from Audible. If you are willing to share this post on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, comment below where you shared it, and I will enter you into a drawing for the free audio books. Winners will be announced on Wednesday June 24.

Practical Help for Sufferers

Suffering plays with our body, and suffering plays with our mind. As I was going through the worst parts of my personal struggles, particularly around my cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgeries, my mind was affected every bit as much as my body. Many people find praise and worship music helpful. I’ve particularly enjoyed Latasha Morrison’s music. But I also found unexpected help to settle my mind when a friend in my inner circle sent me a coloring book of Bible verses. I had not colored in decades, but this coloring book became a dear friend in the days of waiting for doctors’ appointments, test results, and surgery dates.

So. Much. Waiting.

Waiting on test results was the worst. I couldn’t plan on the next thing until we knew exactly what we were dealing with medically. So I colored. One picture a day was all I could handle. But one picture a day gave me a tactile thing to do with my hands that stimulated me visually and gave me some minor sense of accomplishment when the picture was finished.

I am not an artist, so the coloring books that worked well for me were fairly simple to color. Others may have different tastes. Now, when a friend receives a troubling medical diagnosis, a coloring book and colors are one thing I like to share (though I make it clear I am not offended if it doesn’t really work for them). And, to go with the release of Companions in Suffering, my publisher made up some coloring cards with verses and quotes that we can give out with it. Here are a few of my favorite coloring books and some reasonably priced sets of pencils.

Inspiring Words Coloring Book

Favorite Bible Verses Coloring Book

Bible Blessings and Promises Coloring Art

Crayola Adult Coloring Pencils 50 count

Crayola Dual-ended Coloring Pencils 36 count

Coloring isn’t for everyone, but if you or a loved one needs help settling your mind, the simplicity of coloring a Bible verse may be helpful. It definitely was for me.

Comfort in Communal Suffering

When I wrote Companions in Suffering: Comfort for Times of Loss and Loneliness, I could not foresee the suffering that would be thrust upon the world just a few months after I turned in the final manuscript. I, and many others, had experienced solitary suffering, the kind of suffering that seems to alienate us from the masses. Now, the world, and the church in the world, are experiencing communal suffering on top of our own individual struggles. We are both together and separate—suffering together in our counties, states, and nations. But our circumstances also force us to isolate, with little face to face conversation and virtually no physical contact. In the United States at least, this type of crisis is unprecedented in our lifetime. We are all in new territory.

But this is not new territory for the Church.

As I was researching the history of hospitals and the Church, I cried as I read the introductory paragraph on Wikipedia’s article on the history of hospitals.

“… no civilian hospital existed in the Roman empire until the Christian period. Towards the end of the 4th century, the ‘second medical revolution’ took place with the founding of the first Christian hospital in the eastern Byzantine Empire by Basil of Caesarea, and within a few decades, such hospitals had become ubiquitous in Byzantine society. The hospital would undergo development and progress throughout Byzantine, medieval European and Islamic societies, until the early modern era where care and healing would transition into a secular affair.”

An article at The Gospel Coalition argues that it was the very type of medical crisis that we are experiencing today that caused the Church to flourish in its early history. Believers stepped into such crises with a totally different mindset than secular authorities of the day. The humane care of the critically ill we see in hospitals today is entirely tied to the Christian ethic of the value of human life. When the rest of the world discarded human life, we believed that human life was valuable because we are made in the image of God. Our historical practice was to step into medical crises, not run away from them. And, now, this Christian influence has leavened the whole lump, in you will. Instead of Christians adopting a secular view of life, secular medical professionals have in many ways adopted a Christian one.

Today, our hospitals and health care workers are the soldiers on the front lines, battling this epidemic. Though many are believers, we have a largely secular infrastructure in our modern health care system treating the critically ill. And, in a weird contrast to pandemics in history, most Christians can best help today by staying away from the sick. My own dad was in the hospital in March with a medical emergency unrelated to Covid-19. I felt strongly that I should be with him, helping him, easing pressure on his nurses. But instead, the hospital insisted I stay home. I could best help by talking to him on the phone, not helping him in person.

Perhaps you are a health care worker (or someone working in another essential industry) called to step up, exposing yourself in care of others as Christians have throughout history. Maybe you have been called on to quarantine at home, carrying a different, though still very stressful, set of weights on yourself. Whatever your current circumstances, remember that you are not alone in history. You are not alone in the Body of Christ. Each of us is carrying new weights on themselves these days. And it is normal for these weights to seem more than you can bear on your own. If Scripture teaches us anything, it is that we do indeed carry weights we can not bear without the community of Christ. But, Jesus’s striking words from John 14:18 are still true today. He has not left us as orphans to navigate these dark times alone.

Who walks with us in these dark days? Who sits with us in our quiet home offices? Who holds up the arms of the believing nurse at the end of her ability to cope? Who holds our hand as we sit on the sofa stunned at announcements on the evening news? Who waits with us and guides us when we are sick with a fever but confused about what to do? The community of Christ that accompanies us first includes Christ Himself. He is the Head of the Body. He is the keystone, the rock strategically placed in an arch to hold all of the others in place. He is the cornerstone, the large foundation stone on which the others can be built, bearing the weight of all the floors built on Him. If ever there was a time for believers to believe in Him, abide in Him, and keep our minds stayed on Him, it is these stays. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. But, in Him, we can do all things—things impossible to do or endure on our own.

“… apart from Me, you can do nothing.” John 15:5 NASB

The community of Christ also includes our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are the hands and feet of Jesus’s Body. We need our living brothers and sisters in Christ. I am thankful that I spend these days of social distancing still in contact with my pastor and church family by way of Sunday services and Zoom Wednesday night bible studies. But the Cloud of Witnesses in Hebrews 11-12 include our dead brothers and sisters in Christ as well – dead on earth, but quite alive in heaven.

When I was going through the hardest, most alienating days of my own individual suffering recounted in Companions in Suffering, I found great comfort in the Cloud of Witnesses that the author of Hebrews speaks about in Hebrews 11 and 12. I found great encouragement from the biographies of modern day saints as well, including Elisabeth Elliott and Amy Carmichael. In these new days of communal suffering around the Covid-19 pandemic, I am rethinking the encouragement these witnesses offer us. Joseph experienced the communal suffering caused by a famine that affected all of Egypt and beyond. He bore the pressure of preparing an entire nation for that famine and distributing supplies throughout the land for years, not months. Moses experienced the communal suffering of an entire nation enslaved by an oppressive pharaoh. But their cries did not fall on deaf ears. God heard their cries as well as Moses’s fears as God called him to lead them.

The author of Hebrews writes of these witnesses to believers experiencing great hardship and persecution. His Hebrew audience had been dispersed, pushed from their homeland because of increasing persecution. They had lost the land they had lived for generations and with it their livelihoods and any sense of stability. But God had not left them as orphans to figure out their unstable future on their own. The author and finisher of their faith was there with them, holding them securely. And the Cloud of Witnesses, who had endured their own communal suffering and national instability, gave testimony to them that God was faithful during societal upheaval as much as individual ones. They testify to us today as well.

13 These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 14 Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. 16 But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11

Medical and financial hardship has fallen on the world. It has fallen on my community. But we have witnesses testifying to us today of God’s faithfulness in such times. This world is not our ultimate home, they remind us. We are moving toward something better. So abide in Christ, believing in Him, meditating on Him, hoping in Him. He will not default on His promises to us. You can count on these things as you endure suffering with your community now.

“I will not leave you as orphans.” John 14:18