I can’t help wondering, “When did new diseases start getting customized names?” It’s like the Weather Channel naming every snowstorm as if it has unique personality. Or when meteorologists seem to make up terms never before heard, like haboobs, bomb cyclones and The Polar Vortex.
Now we have COVID-19: a “novel” coronavirus. How do we handle this unseen enemy? This threat to the economy, to our work and school rhythms, and possibly to our own health?
First, there’s nothing new under the sun. The reality of a Fallen world means that nature, which is designed to bring rain, wind and waves, sometimes brings destruction; that the cells in our body that are designed to reproduce, sometimes get out of control in cancer; that the calling of parents to nurture children and provide security, sometimes horrifically is replaced with abuse. All of this directly and indirectly comes from sin—not the way it’s supposed to be. But at the heart of all of history is the plan of God to make all things new (Revelation 21:5) through the redemptive power of Christ’s life, death and resurrection!
That leads, secondly, to the reality that God is not surprised. He has not come up against a challenge to His sovereignty. Nor are His promises to His people any less valid. We can go to any number of places in Scripture, but here’s just one:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-3).
This is no promise of blanket protection from harm. God’s people die in car crashes, are persecuted for their faith, and suffer disease like others do. Jesus’ words in Matthew 10 help us here. He’s describing the reality of persecution that his followers have faced and will continue to face. He shares these words of encouragement: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (v.28). The fear of the Lord—an awe-filled, reverent response to His ultimate power—should be greater than any measly fear of disease or criminal. The greatest irony? Godly fear of the Lord leads to greatest comfort and assurance, because He is the Risen King! He has the power to save the soul and to raise the body!
Our common temptation in the face of fear—of whatever kind—is to exert more control. Pesticides that might cause cancer? Examine every label, and spend whatever you need to for organic food. Sexual predators that might prey on your children? Never let them out of your sight, and prohibit many social activities. Emotional insecurity, relational breakdown, financial uncertainty? Control can leak out through obsessive cleaning, or harsh criticism of the smallest details.
CORONAVIRUS MIGHT BE THE 21ST CENTURY’S BUBONIC PLAGUE? → Hoard masks (which won’t help), stay home from church, and read every article you can find to minimize your chances of DYING.
But you have a far greater chance of catching the flu, which has resulted in 32 million Americans sickened, 310,000 hospitalizations, and 18,000 deaths in the US as of a week ago! And none of us has resorted to drastic measures to avoid the flu (and many refuse the seasonal flu vaccine, which is the best way to reduce the chances of catching the flu or the severity of flu).
So how should a follower of Christ react to this new global health threat?
With a renewed awareness that God is truly Lord over all. His sovereignty combined with His love means that our greatest ultimate good is His promise to us, not the prevention of every bump in the road or even a death that brings us into his presence “prematurely” → deepened trust in the Father.
With a wisdom that understands our calling to be stewards, appropriately utilizing the gifts of medicine and hygienic practices . . . with an other-centered focus (because you may not be worried, but you could easily spread disease to others) → proactive care, free from fear.
So pray for the glory of God to be revealed more fully in the midst of crisis; pray for “daily bread” in the form of continued health for you and your loved ones; bring your fear to the Lord, the One whose promises are still Yes and Amen in Christ; and WASH YOUR HANDS!
Grace be with you,
Peter Wang is the Senior Pastor.