Reflections on the Pandemic’s Impact on Work

90433973_3373882922628861_8640182831735111680_n(Note: This article was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog and the Coram Deo blog.)

“This is not business as usual.”  These wise words came from my boss’ boss at a meeting of key staff members two weeks ago.  These same words had already come to my mind earlier that day.

The corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic has definitely impacted my workplace.  How about you?

Let me reflect on some of challenges that we face together in our work situations in response to this pandemic, remind us of the kinds of valuable coworkers God provides to meet our human needs, and offer some hope grounded in a biblical perspective.  I invite you to join me in seeing what God can do!

Unprecedented challenges at work

One family that I know well illustrates some of the complexities of responding to this pandemic.  The husband is an adjunct college professor.  His wife is a speech therapist at an elementary school.  Both have been put on telework.  Doing speech therapy virtually has proven to be a challenge.  As they have three children under the age of five, so they also have to take care of their children.  They are working together to find time to prepare lessons and engage their students while the other one watches the kids. 

In addition to teleworking teachers, another effect of school closures is that thousands of parents have now been given a chance to home school.  Two-parent families have had to make hard decisions as to which parent stays home if both worked before.  Single parents have a much tougher time.

Other families have had much more drastic changes to their lives.  Those who work in restaurants, retail stores, and professional sports venues are unemployed.   Businesses, large and small, which are deemed “unnecessary” have been shut down, and their employees were told to stay home.  I am hearing staggering statistics that 17 million Americans have lost their jobs; about one in ten working men and women.  This is hard for me to fathom, and much harder to experience.

These unique challenges and others I did not mention are on top of the thorns and thistles that are spelled out in Gen. 3:17-19, where work became unnecessarily painful and unproductive because of Adam’s and Eve’s sin as well as our own.  (See previous article in my blog.)  All of us experience uncountable negative things at work every day.  They are multiplied ten times over during this crisis.

Unfortunately, the Apostle Paul tells us in Rom. 8:19-22 that that we will experience this curse on work until Jesus returns.  The good news is that there will come a day when He completely delivers us from the curse of sin.  In Rev. 22:3, we see that when He returns that this curse will be no more.

God’s multi-talented coworkers

Let’s not merely focus on just the difficulties we face.  What positive things can we see at work?

From a theological perspective, we must understand that on a grand scale, God has always provided for every aspect of human needs from the beginning.  How has He done that?  Through His coworkers. 

A great illustration from Scripture of how God pulled together a team of skilled workers and leaders when the tabernacle was being built is found in the book of Exodus.  (See previous article in my blog.)

To summarize, Exodus chapters 25 through 31 lays out Yahweh’s detailed instructions to Moses regarding the design and construction of the tabernacle, its major components, and the priests’ attire.  Building this portable temple would require a variety of skilled craftsmen who were empowered by the very Spirit of God. 

These chosen people with special occupations that Yahweh called upon were artisans and construction workers.  Here are the kinds of talented people God would need on His team: carpenters, metalworkers, jewelers, seamstresses, embroiders, and even perfume makers.  Each one of these “blue-collar” workers were necessary to get the project done safely, on time, and under budget. 

What do we see God doing now?  We see a variety of humans with God-given talents and skills, uniquely equipped to meet the physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual needs of people. 

Make no mistake.  God has a plan.  He has provided a host of human coworkers to meet the vast array of human needs during this worldwide pandemic.  We have scientists figuring out how to fight the virus.  We have doctors and nurses treating patients.  We have cleaning teams.  We have reporters informing the public.  We have government leaders pulling all of the nation’s vast resources together. 

Dr. Timothy Keller, in his book, Every Good Endeavor, reminds us, “God does not simply create; he also loves, cares for, and nurtures his creation.  He feeds and protects all he has made.  But how does his providential care reach us? . . . God’s loving care comes to us largely through the labor of others.  Work is a major instrument of God’s providence; it is how he sustains the human world.”  Amen!

Can God bring any good out of all this?

Absolutely!  God’s people, when faced with major crises like this, have often found ways to keep on trusting God to work all things out for good.  Because He is good, they have put their hope in Him. 

Despite recommendations to stay home, the Body of Christ has found creative ways to worship virtually.  They are reaching out to the least, the lost, and the last such as the elderly, those whose immune systems are compromised, and those who have lost wages due to sudden unemployment.

What are we to do?

  • Submit to (and pray for) local, state, and federal government leaders that God has put in place
  • Be patient; the storm will pass; trust in God; don’t give in to fear
  • Rejoice in the midst of your suffering and trials; encourage others to do the same
  • Take advantage of this time to connect virtually with family, friends, and church members

I am fully confident that when this crisis is all over, Christ-followers will be able to testify that God was glorified and that our faith grew during this extended trial.  Press on, my brothers and sisters!

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

What is the Main Purpose of the Old Testament?

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As I was lying in bed Sunday night, I was thinking some random thoughts about the main purpose of the Old Testament.  I believe that somehow it seems to have been overlooked in the church.

I have a feeling that my view, although very basic in my understanding, might seem somewhat controversial in the minds of some Christians because it challenges things that have been taught for years.  I will attempt to support my perspective with the Scriptures every step along the way.

Jesus can be found throughout the Old Testament

You can easily find Jesus revealed in the OT.  He can be seen everywhere throughout the OT, if we know where to look.  Jesus even said so Himself (Luke 24:27; John 5:39).  Let me show you how.

Jesus is seen in OT history in types. Joseph is often mentioned as a type of Christ because certain parts of the Joseph narrative are parallel to the life of Jesus.  Paul mentions that Adam is a type of Christ; the former being the prototype of the old man and the latter being a prototype of the new man.  (See Rom. 5:12-19.)  In Revelation, we see Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of each the main categories of leaders that God put in charge of His people in the OT: prophet, priest, and king.

We also see glimpses of Jesus scattered throughout the OT in types and shadows.  (See Heb. 10:1.)  His blood sacrifice on the cross was portrayed at the first Passover in Exodus.  His future once for all atonement can be seen in the repetitive animal sacrifices at the temple in Leviticus.

Much of OT prophecy points to Jesus.  His life fulfilled hundreds of prophecies about  the circumstances about the birth, suffering, death, and glory of a coming Messiah.  Matthew, much more than the other Gospel writers, highlights for his primarily Jewish audience how Jesus fulfills Scripture.  Starting with the birth narratives and scattered throughout the book, Matthew quotes and alludes to dozens of OT verses.  The other NT writers, especially Paul, also show the same thing.

However, I do not believe that the main purpose of the OT is to point to the Son of God in unclear shadows, types, and prophecies that would be more clearly revealed later in the NT.   It does not seem honest or genuine to declare that the OT is primarily about Jesus, which is what we often hear.  The main purpose of the OT was for God the Father to reveal to His people exactly who He is.

I will get to that shortly.  First, though, I believe we need to fine-tune our Bible interpreting skills.

Reading the Old Testament through the lens of the original audience

Remember, we can only see all these things about Jesus through regenerated eyes.  And, once we see them, we cannot unsee them.  They are there, purposely put there by design of the Author.

But how did the Israelites hear these truths laid out in their Hebrew Scriptures?  These words were written about the nature of Yahweh and were divinely hand-crafted in their time for their benefit.

This is what I think that we are somehow missing.  This is important because it is a basic tool of hermeneutics, the interpretation of Scripture.  We apply it to the New Testament all of the time without thinking about it.  So, why would we want to toss it aside when reading the Old Testament?

I found some support from one of my seminary textbooks.  Kaiser and Silva in their Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics indicate “To argue that we must use the New Testament to interpret the Old is to read the Bible backward and to participate in what is called eisegesis, that is, reading the meaning into the text, instead of using exegesis, leading the meaning out of the Scripture.”

God the Father is revealed in the Old Testament

God revealed Himself through the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.  More than anything else, however, we learn the most about who God is by reading books that fall into the narrative genre.

But first, I want to ask an important question.  Who is the main character in any OT narrative?  Some would say the main character is usually fairly obvious.  It is Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, or someone else.  Or is it?  I maintain that the main character of any and all narratives is God the Father.  It is in these stories we teach to our children that we see the attributes of God: His mercy, grace, sovereignty, and faithful love.  It is also where we see how God relates to His people.

Take the Joseph narrative for example.  Most of us know the details of his life as it is described in Gen. 37-50:  he was the favorite son of Jacob, he was given a multi-colored coat, it made his brothers jealous, they put him in a pit where he was sold into slavery, he was successful in taking care of Potiphar’s house, he was falsely accused and unjustly thrown into prison, he was taken out of prison when he interpreted Pharoah’s dream, and eventually was put second in command.

But what do we learn about God through this story?  We see the providence of God from start to finish.  God knew what was coming hundreds of years down the road.  In order for Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egypt into the Promised Land, they had to be slaves in Egypt.  They had to have multiplied, prospered, and been set apart in order to be a coveted workforce.  The Israelites had to have settled there in Egypt, initially, under the favor of Pharaoh.  Why were they there?  Joseph.

Longman and Dillard, in An Introduction to the Old Testament, confirmed the basic tenets of my limited understanding of the purpose of the OT:  “The Old Testament in particular is a message from the God of Israel about the God of Israel.  However, it is not about Yahweh in the abstract.  There is very little, if any, abstract theologizing in the Old Testament.  No, the Old Testament is a revelation about Yahweh in relationship with humankind, specifically with his chosen people.”

Let me address something Jesus said about His Father.  I think it is also relevant to our discussion.

In John 8:19, Jesus boldly stated to the Pharisees that if they knew Him, they would know the Father also.  (Jesus seems to imply that they did not know either Jesus or His Father.)  This passage puzzled me for some time.  Other than in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5-7, and in many of His parables, Jesus did not directly teach much about the attributes of God.  We do not learn everything we need to know about God the Father from the Gospels alone to have a relationship with Him.

What did Jesus mean by saying if we knew Him we would know the Father?  I may be making this unnecessarily complicated, but I believe the third person of the Trinity may be able to help us here.

Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit quite a bit as He was heading towards the cross.  Jesus called Him the “Comforter”, which I appreciate (John 14:16).  He said that the Spirit would be in us (John 14:17).  Jesus also spoke of the Holy Spirit being our teacher (John 14:26).  He would not only help Jesus’ disciples (both then and now) to understand Jesus’ teaching (and later on, all the other NT writers), but also He would help us to understand the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).  Simply put, it is the indwelling Holy Spirit who enables the Christian to get to know God the Father as we read the OT.

Finally, I maintain that there is complete harmony and unity between the Old and New Testaments.  However, it is not harmonious and unified just because Christ can be seen in both.  I believe that it is because God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – one in essence and three in persons – co-authored this book of books.  By His grace, God has revealed Himself in its pages.

Closing thoughts

My challenge to all who are reading this is to make an effort in your reading, study, and preaching on the OT to do more than finding Jesus there.  True, we cannot be in the OT without tying its truths to their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  But please try to not be so quick to jump forward into the NT.  We need to understand the OT by seeing what God was saying to His people back then.

Despite all of the incompleteness of the Law and the difficulty of interpreting prophetic passages, there is much to be learned by God’s people now by discovering what God revealed about Himself to His people way back when.  They needed to be reminded of God’s attributes time and time again because of their stubbornness.  They kept forgetting He was a God who was full of mercy, grace, omnipresence, and lovingkindness.  We too need to be reminded of Who our heavenly Father is.

I exhort you to keep on seeking Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Old and New testaments.  God in three persons can be found there on every page.  In knowing God, we will quite naturally bow to Him in humble adoration, submit to Him in humble obedience, and will get to know Him more.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Pathway Imagery in Proverbs (Part 1)

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To begin the new decade, I read through the book of Proverbs one chapter a day (more or less) in the month of January.  During this time, I posted some observations about how Proverbs alluded to the Ten Commandments in a two-part series on this blog (see part 1 here and part 2 here).

I also noticed a familiar theme that excited me.  I want to begin to unpack it now.

The image of pathway is used in the Psalms often.  (See Ps. 17:5, 23:3, and 25:4.)  I was first introduced to this recurring theme in the book, Seeing the Psalms: A Theology of Metaphor, by William P. Brown, which I read while pursing my master’s degree with Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  Solomon is David’s son.  It should be no surprise that he would use this rich metaphor in Proverbs as a literary device to contrast the straight paths of Yahweh with the crooked paths of man.

Before I show how Proverbs uses this image, let me provide some background from the Psalms.

The path of the righteous in the Psalms       

Brown indicates, “The psalmist identifies the righteous as those who are on the move. They ‘walk’ and ‘seek’”, which implies “movement and direction.”  Often, this was seen as a march towards Jerusalem and/or the temple to experience the presence of God.  Furthermore, the way in which God’s people walk is according to His word, which means living out the kind of conduct that God’s word requires of all believers.  Brown also emphasizes that God’s word points to “the true ‘way’ among many ‘false’ ones.”  This is a common thread throughout the OT and NT.

Brown observes that Psalm 1 “is deliberately framed by the image of ‘pathway’ (1:1, 6). The righteous and the wicked are distinguished by their respective paths: the way of the righteous is safeguarded by YHWH’s protection, but not so that of the wicked.  The evocative metaphor of ‘way’ signifies both conduct and destiny.”  There is an obvious cause and effect, which should motivate the reader to choose the path of right conduct, which offers God’s protection and peace.

Brown states that “the path of righteousness is also the path of deliverance.”  He quotes Psalm 86:11, 13 to support the idea that “God’s deliverance not only elicits the psalmist’s praises and gratitude but also awakens the desire to be taught.”  Brown proposes that “the ‘pathway’ is “set resolutely toward ‘refuge,’ the locus of divine protection. . . . The metaphor of the ‘pathway’ effectively directs desire, conjoins body and soul, and prepares the heart to enter God’s domain.”

Regarding this deliverance that God provides to those who choose the path of righteousness, I see that God initiates His deliverance, as illustrated in the OT by the exodus out of Egypt and in the NT by the cross of Jesus Christ.  We respond in obedience, which leads to seeking after God and walking in His ways.  This leads to further deliverance when needed to keep us on the way.

Brown acknowledges that this recurring metaphor continues beyond just the book of Psalms.

The path of the wise in the Proverbs

Brown mentions that both “Proverbs and Psalms utilize the motif of the ‘two paths’: the path of the wicked and path of the righteous or wise. . . Proverbs focuses intensely on the moral quality or nature of the path. . . The ‘pathway’ metaphor in Proverbs targets the ongoing quest for wisdom, which showers the ‘student’ with the blessings of prosperity and long life.”

In contrast, Brown states that the Psalms dwell less on specific applications of living a moral life than Proverbs, focusing more on the destination, “God’s habitation”.  He concludes, “Psalms and Proverbs offer two complementary yet distinctly different metaphorical landscapes through which the ‘path’ of conduct winds its way.  Both paths lead to their respective destinations.”

One could add that the Psalms seem to focus on the heart of the believer towards God, while the Proverbs focus on the hands, tongue, and feet of the one who follows after God.

I think it is fascinating that God uses this same metaphor of pathway throughout these two books placed side by side which make up the largest portion of the “Writings” or “Wisdom Literature” (to distinguish these and other books like them from “the Law” and “the Prophets”, which are the two biggest parts of the Old Testament.)  I see the Law as the foundation, focused on God’s work in the past, while the Prophets address God’s work in the present and the future.  The Writings address people’s relationship with God and how to live, based on what He said elsewhere.

How can a Christian apply these observations?

Gratitude is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of how I used to walk on a path with no peace, no purpose, no joy, no life, no wisdom, and a dismal future.  By His grace and mercy, Jesus Christ delivered me through His death on the cross from it, putting me on a new path filled with all the things I needed plus eternal life.  (See 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:1-5; Col. 1:13-14.)

The second thing that this pathway metaphor reminds us is of God’s deliverance.  There are still times I am tempted to wander back to the old path, but then I look to His word to keep me walking with Him on the new one.  When I do stray, He gently disciplines me as needed to get my attention.  (See Heb. 12:10-11.)

Third, I am recall the book of James, which contrasts the world’s wisdom with that which is from above (James 3:13-17.)  Essentially, he paints a picture of two well-worn paths for us to choose.

Lastly, knowing that walking on this path in the presence of the Lord leads me homeward to His eternal presence gives me peace in the midst of every storm and strength to endure all trials.

In subsequent articles in this series, I will highlight where and how the pathway metaphor is used.

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Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.