Blessing in the desert
A few years ago, I enjoyed one of the most wonderful experiences in my ministry as a teacher of theology. It happened in a not very wealthy Islamic country. While I was taking a nap, my students studied the advantages and disadvantages of living in the desert. I had instructed them to do so by comparing a number of texts, including Hosea 2:14-17 (2:16-19 in many non-English versions). When I got up and met them again, they greeted me with unprecedented enthusiasm. ‘God has spoken to us!’, they shouted. They were so grateful because they had discovered the blessing that may arise from living in the desert. Sometimes, God deprives his people of things that, in our view, are almost indispensable. He may take this painful step to remind us of the fact that he is the only one providing for us and that he always does so in a sufficient way. Many of us probably experience these days, in which we are suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic, to a certain extent as living in a desert. We cannot conduct our worship services in the way we love to have them. Last summer, we were unable to meet for the biennial FEET conference in Prague. Instead, we had to content ourselves with an online meeting of merely two days.
We discovered, however, that this undesirable situation also offered new opportunities. In April, we had a similar experience when we had an online conference to celebrate the life and work of John Stott. We could not meet physically, but thanks to Zoom we did meet with several people who otherwise would not have attended our meeting since they cannot afford the costs of travelling and accommodation.
At the same time, this interesting experience confronts us with new challenges. How shall we meet in the future: physically, as in the past, or online? Or should we try to combine both means? And, perhaps even more important: how do we have to deal with the specific needs and interests of people who can only afford to attend online, as these may differ from those of our more affluent conference participants?
Just like living in a real desert, living and working after Covid 19 requires both trust and creativity. Yet we can be full of trust because our Lord Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven and now reigns at the right hand of God. Likewise, we may expect the gift of creativity because he has poured out his Spirit, who was already involved in the creation of the world, on all who trust in him.
Professor of Old Testament, Faculté Jean Calvin, Theologische Universiteit Kampen
Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians