At this time, all of us can’t help but find ourselves deeply immersed in the reality of our world’s plight during its so-called, “pandemic.” Never in the personal history of most of us in the western world have we seen anything quite like it. The world is weeping! Sadly, even the animals seem to feel the reality of it all! Instead of toilet paper, I think, what the world needs is face-wipes!
What started as a small unidentified flu virus outbreak in China in the final days of last year has quickly come to engulf the entire globe. Almost no country is now immune to what has come to be called, the Coronavirus, or Covid-19. As I write, there are almost 156,000 cases of the virus that have tested positive and, sadly from it, some 5815 deaths. But thanks to the yeoman-like efforts of many government and health workers everywhere almost half of all known cases have providentially already recovered.
But with no immunization available in the foreseeable future, the world has been thrown into a panic about how to curb illness and death from this outbreak. All events involving the gathering of large numbers of people including governments, schools, and professional sporting events have been cancelled or postponed. Even the Summer Olympics scheduled for Tokyo, Japan in August, could be cancelled because of the epidemic. In order to contain the disease, all non-essential international travel has been seriously curtailed with self-quarantining requested upon returning home. Spring-break vacation and travel plans have changed for a lot of people, including us. Beyond shopping for necessities most people are leaving their homes as little as possible. Even churches have closed their weekly Worship Services or suggested ways to minimize personal social contact.
On the positive side, this appears to be God’s prescribed time for everyone to step back for a while — to contemplate this reality and its impact on our lives. While many will regard it as just another of the world’s inevitable crises, many others will look for significance in it because of its drastic effect everywhere. As for me, I find myself among the latter group, and here’s why:
A Christian world-view, based on the Bible, can’t help but lead us to the conclusion that everything has significance in our personal lives and in world events (i.e Romans 8:28). This is a time in which it seems evident (as in so many other cataclysmic events in biblical history) that God is seeking to gain the world’s attention (as expressed in Psalm 100, for example). Like God’s voice through the plagues of Egypt in Moses’ time (Exodus 7-12), or the collapse of the Babylonian Empire in the time of Daniel (Daniel 5), or even in the dispersion of Christians during the Great Persecution in the time of the early church (Acts 8), God has a way of using these events to reveal and fulfill His will.
At the least, one can’t help but think God is using this pandemic to help everyone know that we are not as self-sufficient as we may have thought. It is extremely good for us to be reminded in this way that God is ultimately in control and that He has the last word on what happens in the affairs of humanity. So, at the least, this is a time for contemplation along these lines — a time to reflect on God’s holiness and our need for humility before Him. No doubt, what we’re seeing is a warning about things to come as God prepares to bring world history to its climax. (See Matthew 24, Revelation, etc.)
Secondly, the prospect of the Coronavirus infection means we are being forced to slow down — in order, for one thing, to think about where we have been placing our values and priorities. Before this news, many of us may have been putting all the emphasis in our lives on trying to get ahead materially or financially, not realizing that all of it can quickly be lost in the wake of such a world-wide crisis. Perhaps, through this, we are reminded that some things don’t matter as much as we thought.
Thirdly, it’s a time to think about the brevity of life and the reality of death. No matter how long we live, death is inevitable and there is always the possibility that it may come sooner than we expected. The rapid spread of the Coronavirus means that none of us is immune to being overcome by it, thus facing the prospect of departure from this world sooner than we had anticipated. Just yesterday in the context of a conversation about all of this, I said to the person providing a shuttle service for my vehicle appointment, the most important thing in life is to be ready to die — to which she readily agreed.
This mention of death and salvation raises a fourth outcome of this potentially deadly disease — the opportunity it gives to speak out about God’s message of salvation through faith in Christ. The spread of the virus even provides an illustration of the nature and pervasiveness of sin and how we can ensure we are not overcome by it. Like the Coronavirus, we are all subject to contamination. But in the case of sin, we are all already infected and under the spell of death (i.e. Romans 3:23 and 6:23). Thankfully, God has provided an antidote in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our sins. It is by faith in His sacrifice and resurrection that we can escape the certainty of eternal death. And in its place, by the grace of God, we can experience the joy of everlasting life (John 3:16).
One of the outstanding effects of the virus has been a paralysing sense of fear that seems to have seized the world. Most media outlets appear to focus on the virus’s negative outcomes. It is this sense of fear that is behind the panic shopping and hoarding that has gripped the general population. The Christian answer to this inordinate obsession with fear is faith and hope because of God’s promise of peace and provision in the midst of great distress. (See Psalm 91, for example.) While it’s right to heed danger and take reasonable precautions against infection, it isn’t necessary or helpful to panic. The pandemic is an opportunity to actually demonstrate freedom and courage in ways that are joyful and productive. One very practical way to stay healthy and mitigate contamination, I’ve heard for example, is to enjoy the sunshine and air of the outdoors. Even the dogs perk up at that kind of activity!
Another positive outcome from this experience is that it enables us to realize how much we take for granted in the ordinary course of our lives. It seems God wants to use this epidemic to speak to us about our general sense of ingratitude. Perhaps, this worldwide crisis can help us appreciate the beauty of the world in a new way as well as its many blessings, for which we can offer thanks. One possible positive effect is that this crisis renews our appreciation for the importance of prayer. It is heartening to hear about calls to prayer, even by some world leaders, at this time. God promises to send healing if His people seek Him in times like these (2 Chronicles 7:14).
And finally, there is something in this experience that makes us realize how dependent we are on one another. If there’s one thing this pandemic has shown us, through the ease of today’s travel and communication, it is that we really do live in a global village. We might isolate ourselves to avoid contamination, but we desperately need one another for commerce, for health, and for mutual encouragement. The pandemic is an opportunity for us to see those around us in a new light — as fellow image-bearers of God that He has brought into our own lives for the purpose of true love and appreciation.
It turns out then, that the pandemic is actually a great blessing if, in fact, it leads us to reach out to God and to appreciate one another in ways that we may have forgotten. In other words, this crisis actually provides many reasons for thanksgiving and peace instead of crippling anxiety.