Life lessons from professor pandemic

By President Dondi E. Costin | November 10, 2022

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” 

This ancient proverb foreshadows what modern educational theorists call learner readiness, the rather obvious idea that students learn best when their individual maturation and prior learning have prepared the ground for what comes next. 

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Other times you find that you are not so much in need of learning something new as in being reminded of truths that have slipped your mind. Yet when you finally get around to filling the knowledge gap, the longed-for Aha moment makes all the difference in the world. 

Like most trials by fire, the vehicle God uses to build our character and conform us to Christ usually differs from what we would choose if allowed to pick our own poison. 

Many of us share this perspective when reflecting on the painful months between March 2020 and today. While we never wished for global contagion to take us to the woodshed (and would never wish for a sequel), we cannot deny that Professor Pandemic has given us the opportunity to move to the head of the class. How comfortable are you in the role of Teacher’s Pet? 

As we lick our wounds and prepare for life on the other side of this pandemic, we should not waste this once-in-a-century opportunity to make the most of a sad situation. Better yet, we must not miss the chance to wring every ounce of spiritual growth from the wet blanket COVID threw on our party. 

Lord willing, this may be our last pandemic, but it will not be our last trial. In the providence of God, Professor Pandemic’s curriculum featured an exhaustive list of lessons learned, but these fundamental five are at the top of my list as I cram for the next exam.

God is always sovereign.

The sovereignty of God leaps off every page of Scripture, so I camped there every time the pandemic tried to elbow me from faith to fear. The Good Book consistently affirms both sides of the coin regarding God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, but Psalm 115:1-3 throws down the gauntlet and removes all doubt as to who is really in charge: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Why do the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.”

Christ-followers are sometimes tempted to let God off the hook for circumstances that don’t mesh with the god our culture has formed in its own image, but a Christian’s ultimate comfort rests in the fact that God is always on the throne and doesn’t need us to protect Him. He never retreats from His responsibility for everything that happens in us, to us, and through us. So when bad things happen, we know for sure that God is always in control. He would have it no other way. Neither should we.

The Lord is forever faithful.

As the pandemic raged, I routinely thanked God for giving us no viable alternative to trusting in Him. Sometimes God puts us in situations that clarify our utter dependence on Him, an undeniable truth that we often take for granted. A global pandemic reminded me second by second that we go to God because there is nowhere else for us to go. 

Without a doubt, Professor Pandemic’s syllabus capitalized on the wisdom of James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance … so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” God’s faithfulness through the pandemic taught us a life lesson Joseph mastered during his extended season of great trial at the hands of his own brothers: even what others intend for harm, we know that God will use for good (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28). Keep tabs on that one; you’re going to see it over and over again.

Life is short. Eternity is long.

Two years ago in this column, I wrote of the “millions infected, 100,000 dead.” In that moment I could not have fathomed that we would have now lost more than 1,000,000 fellow Americans to COVID. Since then some of our closest family and friends have gone to heaven much sooner than we anticipated. Thankfully, they understood that C.T. Studd was right when he poetically opined, “only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

If the pandemic has done nothing else, it has reminded us by way of the daily COVID tracker what the Bible has told us from the beginning—every one of us will become a death statistic someday (Heb. 9:27). How much better for the believer to know that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). For eternity.         

When crisis comes or opportunity knocks, be ready to open the door.

The pandemic caught us all by surprise. In Charleston Southern’s case, that grand surprise happened during Spring Break of 2020. In God’s Providence, as one of the country’s leading universities in providing world-class virtual education, our faculty and staff turned on a dime to make sure more than 700 students graduated and thousands more made progress toward their academic degrees that semester and beyond. Consistent with the old saying, we learned once again that “success occurs at the point where preparedness and opportunity meet.”

What is true for universities, churches, and other organizations is also true for individual Christians. Jesus made it abundantly clear that “in this world you will have trouble,” so nobody should be surprised when trouble comes. Yet the best part comes as Jesus completes His thought: “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). 

Crisis is coming, opportunity is knocking, and trouble is on the way. All the more reason to prepare yourself in advance so Professor Pandemic can award you an A on test day.

This world is not our home. The best is yet to come.

Anytime trouble comes we should be quick to remember that this world is not our home. Too many earth-dwelling minds are captivated by earthly things, but we know that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). Truly, this world is not our home.

Scripture insists that we help advance God’s kingdom with every fiber of our being between the here-and-now and the not-yet. God commands us to avoid idleness with as much vigor as we avoid idols (2 Thess. 3:6-15). And we are to live in such a way that even pagans see our good deeds and glorify God as a result (Matt. 5:16). Whether we live in some earthly paradise or in some pandemic, the Christian understands that the best is yet to come.     

As this course of study concludes, I join you in praying that we have seen the last of this pandemic. Now that the COVID-19 version of Pomp and Circumstance is underway, check your transcript to see if you’ve learned everything Professor Pandemic had in mind. 

The good news is that it is never too late for the student to get ready. The bad news is that your favorite professor has more lesson plans in the hopper when it is time to appear. Something tells me the doctor is not done.

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