‘And I will heal their land’: what can you do when there is not much you can do?

I’ve tended to be very cautious when I see Christians who are quick to appropriate 2 Chronicles 7:14:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

As ever, we need to pay attention to context. Who are ‘my people’ and what is ‘their land’? Clearly the promise was given to a specific people (Israel at the time of Solomon) and in a specific place. As far as I know, Ireland (north or south) is not the Promised Land, nor are its people ‘the Lord’s people’. The same is true for the England, or America, or any nation that might like to think of itself as Christian – or at least that acknowledges its Christian influences. The Lord’s people are scattered across the face of the earth awaiting the time of a new heaven and new earth.

And yet.

This current crisis makes me wonder if I might be too quick to dismiss what lies within this promise.

As Solomon competed the dedication of his temple the Lord appeared to him to confirm his acceptance of the temple as a chosen place. He would listen to the prayers that were prayed from the temple: his eyes and heart would be upon it: wonderful promises!

Yet there was also a note of caution. What about those times (presumably times of judgment for unfaithfulness on the part of his people) when God would shut the heavens so there would be no rain, when locusts would devour the land, or when he sent pestilence among his people?

This was climate disaster, nature out of control, dreadful disease on the rampage. There were no climate scientists and no labs to come up with a vaccine to stop the plague. What do people do when there is nothing they can do?

That’s a tough question for us to answer in some ways because such is our ingenuity, and such has been our technological progress, that we can often think of something. With Covid-19 it has not been that obvious. There are rumours of possible treatments, stories of developing vaccines (even if they are long months away from the market) and we should be incredibly grateful for scientists who are probably working day and night to get us through this. Meantime we self-isolate and try to wash our hands and some of us maybe wonder if life will ever be the same again.

What do people do when there is nothing they can do?

God’s answer to Solomon was that if only his people would humble themselves, pray, seek his face, and repent, he would hear and would heal their land. Rain would fall to water the barren earth. Locusts would be banished and the plague would be gone.

Should we expect all our political leaders to don sackcloth and lead our nations in seasons of prayer? Is this not rather a time for the Church – God’s scattered people in nations across the face of the planet – to take the lead and to stand in the gap?

Like you, I’ve read about calls for prayer and I’ve seen some suggested prayers ( I even suggested one myself the other day), from prayers for healing to prayers that want to dismiss the virus in the name of Jesus. I’ve even seen a church that’s been running corporate prayer via Zoom!

I would love God to answer and for there to be a sudden change in the direction of the storm. I dare say most of us would begin to breathe a sigh of relief if the numbers suddenly started to go the other way and the dreaded peak appeared less severe: maybe things would be back to normal sooner than we feared!

But, leaving aside what ‘normal’ might look like, what would we have learned from it all? Would we retain the lessons of kindness that we’re hearing about along the way? Would we decide that a bit less travel might reduce pollution? Would we reevaluate the importance of family and friends? Would we decide that medical professionals should be better paid than football players?

I wonder how much of our learning would be horizontal (love your neighbour) and how much would have to do with our love for and dependence on God.

Among all that’s being said I can’t help thinking that in the midst of everything that we need right now, the most profound and lasting change would come in our learning to humble ourselves in 2 Chronicles style and acknowledge our dependence on God. What if God has allowed our world and entire civilisation to be shaken in ways that are unprecedented in any of our memories, so that at least some of us would remember that he is God and we are not?

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

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