Thinking Christianly about the Coronavirus (COVID-19)
News about the Coronavirus has continued to develop almost hourly over the last few days. Even the most skeptical deniers have had to face up to the fact that billion dollar industries do not shut down events and alter operations in ways that will cost them millions if not billions of dollars without being convinced that the threat is serious enough to warrant such risk. Schools are being closed.
President Trump has invoked the Stafford Act to call for a state of national emergency. State and local municipalities are preparing emergency protocols as experts warn that medical infrastructures will be unable to address all of the needs that are on the horizon. If skepticism is no longer a great danger, panic is.
Remember the God Who Raises the Dead
Christians are not free to give into either. We should be the ultimate realists because we know the real God. That knowledge keeps us from denying facts. It also keeps us from giving into fear. In other words, we must think and respond like Christians to the news of this pandemic and the crisis that is emerging. While that involves many things, at the heart of our response should be an unshakeable confidence in the God who raises the dead.
Our great God loves us so much that He has given up His Son for us. He who did not spare Him, “but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) What this means is that since the Lord has already given us the Son of His love, we know that He will not withhold anything from us which we need. He is sovereign. Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from His will (Matthew 10:29). As George Whitefield once said, “We are immortal until our work on earth is done.”
With that sure hope that comes from knowing that our good and sovereign God has reconciled us to Himself through our crucified and risen Savior, we seek to live humbly, boldly, and wisely in this world of sin, death, and viruses.
Psalm 91 is full of instruction and comfort for God’s people as we do this. The whole Psalm is worthy of meditation, but the first six verses are particularly relevant to our current situation.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. 5 You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
Christians should seek to “dwell” in the shelter of God and “abide” under “His shadow.” How do we do this? By faith. By taking God at His Word. Believing and remembering what He has told us and what He promises us in Christ. He delivers us even from “deadly pestilence” (vv. 3, 6) and even from the “plague” (v. 10). Does this mean that no Christian will ever die of disease? Not at all. What it does mean is that what Whitefield said is true—God has our lives in His hand and no virus will overrule His eternal purpose, including the day that has been appointed for our death.
This is no license for a Christian to be cavalier or nonchalant about the Coronavirus. We should take proper precautions and listen to medical and governmental authorities that the Lord in His wisdom and goodness has given us. But as we listen and heed wise counsel, and as we take precautions and use the good medical gifts that He has given us (like doctors, nurses, hospitals, and medicines), we do so without letting our trust shift from Him to those gifts. In other words, we must be careful to love and trust the Giver more than the gifts He gives.
That is a challenge that we constantly face, isn’t it? God has been so good to us in so many ways—He has showered us with so many good gifts—that we are regularly tempted to think that it is the Tylenol that takes away our fever and not Him. When we fall into the pattern of thinking like that then when we get sick, our first (and sometimes our only) thoughts tend to be that what we really need is medicine rather than God. This was the sin of King Asa: “even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians” (2 Chronicles 16:12).
In and through every precaution that believers take, we must remind each other to remember our God and Father in heaven. Let’s pray to Him, trust Him, and hope in Him as we take appropriate measures in the face of the Coronavirus.
Churches are facing the question of whether or not to meet in their regular gatherings. I have heard from pastors in our local community, state, nation and various places around the world who are grappling with this issue. Some churches will not meet this Sunday. Some will not meet for the next several weeks. Others are asking their members to meet in smaller gatherings in homes. Some have only slightly altered their schedules.
Each church must exercise wisdom in making those decisions and no church should stand in judgment on what any church decides about such pressing issues. The same is true for individual Christians in the same church. During this season of unusual pandemic, some may choose wisely not to gather at all even in small meetings of believers. Others may be equally wise in choosing to gather in such meetings. Through it all Christians should pray for one another and encourage each other to remember Jesus Christ, to resist operating out of fear, and to do whatever we do out of faith in Him and with a desire to see Him glorified in our communities.
Love Your Neighbor
The measures that government officials, businesses, and churches are taking may seem drastic in some ways. But they are being taken as precautions because this virus is so highly contagious. Scientists are still discovering its characteristics and making new recommendations about how to fight it. As Christians, we should do what we can to help prevent the spread of the disease.
That involves taking basic, common-sense precautions which are always relevant:
- Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. Use hand sanitizers.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes (and wash your hands again, as appropriate)
- If you are sick or have a fever, stay home and/or seek medical attention
- Get plenty of rest
- Stay hydrated and eat healthily
- Forgo hugging and shaking hands for a season
- Listen to reputable sources for updates about the spread of the virus and how to respond (such as the Center for Disease Control)
Do these things not only for your own sake but also for the sake of others. It is an expression of neighbor-love to take such precautions.
As fear gives way to more and more panic, God’s people must remember to show love to our neighbors—love that is motivated by our supreme love for Him. We can do this because we ourselves been loved at such a great cost and in way that results in being reconciled to our Creator.
So, when others hoard, we share. When others steal, we give. When others hide, we serve. When others give way to fear, we comfort in the hope of knowing that our God loves us, is for us, and raises people from the dead. In our hearts we honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us; and we do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
I have been helped by recently reading an open letter that Martin Luther wrote on “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.” He was asked that question as the Bubonic Plague came to Saxony in 1527. Among many wise pieces of practical counsel that he gave, is included this admonition to those who came to different decisions about whether to flee or stay.
We must pray against every form of evil and guard against it to the best of our ability in order not to act contrary to God, as was previously explained. If it be God’s will that evil come upon us and destroy us, none of our precautions will help us. Everybody must take this to heart: first of all, if he feels bound to remain where death rages in order to serve his neighbor, let him commend himself to God and say, “Lord, I am in thy hands; thou hast kept me here; thy will be done. I am thy lowly creature. Thou canst kill me or preserve me in this pestilence in the same way as if I were in fire, water, drought, or any other danger.” If a man is free, however, and can escape, let him commend himself and say, “Lord God, I am weak and fearful. Therefore I am running away from evil and am doing what I can to protect myself against it. I am nevertheless in thy hands in this danger as in any other which might overtake me. Thy will be done. My flight alone will not succeed of itself because calamity and harm are everywhere. Moreover, the devil never sleeps. He is a murderer from the beginning [John 8:44] and tries everywhere to instigate murder and misfortune.”
May the Lord enable us all to live like people who know the risen Savior and whose hope is anchored steadfastly in Him.