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Funerals in the Holy Land and a virtual tour of Jerusalem: Using the pandemic for eternal good

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Funerals in the Holy Land and a virtual tour of Jerusalem
A man takes a selfie in front of the closed Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

There is nothing like being in the Holy Land during the Easter season. After leading more than thirty study tours to Israel, I can tell you that each time feels like the first time. There is something miraculous and transforming about this ancient land, especially during this season.

This year, April is not only the month of Easter for Christians, but of Passover for the Jewish people and the beginning of Ramadan for Muslims. Because of the pandemic, however, the streets of Jerusalem are virtually empty. Churches and other religious sites are closed. Even burials are different. 

In Israel, Jewish dead are typically laid to rest in a cloth smock and shroud without a coffin. Now, the bodies of COVID-19 victims are taken for ritual washing, which is performed in full protective gear, wrapped in impermeable plastic, and wrapped again in plastic before interment. Muslim bodies are not washed or shrouded but buried in a plastic body bag. Funerals can be attended by no more than twenty people in an open space. The bereaved are not embraced. 

Here’s some good news, however: Israel’s Tower of David Museum is using virtual reality to allow us to visit the Western Wall during Passover, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during Easter, and the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan. 

The museum has created an immersive 360-degree virtual reality experience for anyone with internet access. We will be able to see the Holy City as it is today and as it looked twenty centuries ago. The link will be available free of charge from the first day of Passover to the first day of Ramadan (April 9–24). 

Jerusalem: Via Dolorosa, Ecce Homo Arch

“Our routine is the scaffolding of life”

The philosopher Walter Benjamin noted, “History is made up of images, not stories.” The images coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, like empty streets in Jerusalem, tell the story of this unfolding tragedy. 

In addition to the escalating numbers of victims and patients and its devastation of our economy, the pandemic is disrupting our daily lives in unprecedented ways. Adrienne Heinz, a clinical research psychologist at the Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, notes: “Our routine is the scaffolding of life. It’s how we organize information and our time. And without it, we can feel really lost.” 

As a result, she says, “I’m . . . really worried about families. I’m worried about increases in alcohol use. I’m worried about domestic violence. I’m worried about child abuse, because parents are under-resourced.” 

Psychologist Susan Clayton adds: “Most of us have not faced a situation like this. So we have no previous experience that we can use to interpret it. We have no guidance about how we should be responding.” 

One way I am praying for God to redeem this crisis is by using it to give us such “guidance about how we should be responding.” Our culture prior to the pandemic was quickly sliding further from biblical morality than ever before. Attacks on the sanctity of life and religious freedom were escalating. Secularization seemed to be dominating our culture. 

Burying your sins “in the depths of the sea” 

This week, we are praying for a spiritual awakening to come from this pandemic that would reset “normal” for our lives and our society. On Monday, we introduced the familiar text: “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” (2 Chronicles 7:14). 

On Tuesday, we learned the urgency of humility, admitting we need what only God can give. On Wednesday, we focused on praying for and with each other. Yesterday, we discussed the privilege of seeking God’s face with personal passion. 

Today we’ll close with God’s call to “turn from their wicked ways.” Turn in the Hebrew original means to “turn back,” to stop going the wrong direction and turn back to the way we should be traveling. Wicked translates the worst Hebrew word for sin. Ways translates a Hebrew word for roads or journeys. 

To know which “ways” are “wicked” in your life, ask the Lord to bring to mind anything that displeases him, then repent of all that comes to your thoughts. Claim the fact that he then forgives all you confess (1 John 1:9), separates your sins from you “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), buries them in “the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19), and will “remember [your] sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34 NIV). 

Billy Graham’s observation about adversity 

2 Chronicles 7:14 is not a formula or a one-time commitment—it’s a lifestyle. Our Lord wants us to live in a constant state of humility, corporate intercession, individual spiritual growth, and personal repentance. When we do, we position ourselves to experience his best for us and through us. 

And we can know that we are doing what we can do to advance the spiritual awakening we need so urgently. 

The coronavirus pandemic will be over one day. I am praying that God will use it to spark genuine spiritual transformation in our nation and world. But I am also praying that this transformation will begin a new way in my life. I invite you to pray the same for yourself and those you influence. 

Billy Graham observed: “Comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much as adversity has.”

How will the present adversity enrich your soul today?

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