Rome, in the early 200's AD, was generally safe for Christians. For almost 50 years, Christianity was mostly left unchecked by the empire, which created an atmosphere, for the first time, where a generation of Christians had not experienced martyrdom. Christianity had spread to the wealthy and the power brokers of the day, and it looked as if the church was seeing its best days; then, Emperor Decius became emperor of Rome.
Decius was connected to old Rome and longed for the empire to return to its former glory. He surmised that during the height of its power, Rome worshipped its gods and goddesses. So, Decius issued an edict that all Romans citizens were required to worship the ancient gods of Rome; those who complied were issued a certificate that attested to their compliance with the new decree.
Decius' edict was nefarious in that it did not directly outlaw Christianity, but it created an environment in which Christians were forced to either comply or face torture, confiscation of property, and possibly death (even though martyrdom was rare). As a result, many "cultural" Christians who had never faced persecution, due to the ease of the era, wanted to keep their property and status, and so lapsed in their faith. The church labeled them "lapsi" or "the fallen" from the Latin word "Labi" which means to sink or fall.
Today we face a different test, and yet the same. The coronavirus or COVID-19 has attacked the entire world. It has been relatively easy for this generation. Indeed, we've had our troubles, but we stand on the backs of those who came before. In the year 1918, world war and the Great Influenza or the "Spanish Flu," challenged a young century. Our forefathers faithfully and bravely met the challenge and overcame.
In the 1930s and ‘40s, the next generation, refined by the fiery trials of the Great Depression and a Second World War, went on to usher in an era of unprecedented peace for the world.
So, how did previous generations do it? How did they form the inner fortitude to rise to the challenge of their age? Some, when met with a difficult obstacle, lapse, or fall away. And yet others, even in the face of grief and death, lift their heads and soar.
In times of considerable uncertainty and pain, stripped away is our elaborate mask to reveal the inner core of our being. Trials have an innate way of exposing what is essential, or our heart. Jesus asked a similar probing question, "On what are you building your life?" When storms come, and they always come, the trappings of our life are torn down to expose our foundation.
When a follower of Jesus Christ stands at the edge of the cliff of life, they have one choice - faith. Faith is not a feeling or emotions; it is the expressed trustful action of the believer. Faith realizes the inadequacies of our heart and reaches for something greater. Accordingly, it matters in what, or to whom, you put your trust.
For the Christian, faith is not an ideal or a restated doctrine, but the intentional humble trust of an expressed weak believer, into someone greater, namely Jesus Christ. Faith and hope are cousins of change. Once faith is demonstrated, hope maintains the connection of trust in a loving God. Christians have hope, not because we memorized the tenets of our faith, but because we met the source of all that is love. Christ revealed his heart to us and changed our world.
You've never known love until you met God. The love we share in this life is but a shadow or an echo of the source of love. The Bible tells us that God is love. This means all love, however imperfect we might share it, has at its source God. This, above all else, explains Jesus and the cross. Two thousand years ago, in a small Galilean village, a man walked forth and changed the world. His revolution of love toppled governments and kings.
So what does an all-loving God have to say to us as sickness and death surround us? We have a choice. Will our quarantine be our tomb, as we slip away into paranoia and fear? Or will we reject fear and allow this time of rebirth. A cocoon is not a place of death; however, there is a death in every cocoon. For what went into the cocoon will not break forth the same. The question is, "Do you want to lie still and die, or be reborn and live?"
Soon we will emerge from this time. How we emerge will depend on the empowering presence of faith, hope, and love. For now, we lie in wait, but as Easter teaches us, there is a resurrection coming!
Dr. Larry Sterling, Jr., lead pastor of the Eastpoint Church of God, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.