At a time when the globe is gripped with anxiety over the Coronavirus outbreak, it is important for Christians to be turning to the Bible for help and perspective. Here are a few biblical reflections.
The gospel and God’s punishment of sin
The first thing to realise is that this an opportunityfor Christians to explain the gospel to others. Situations like this one seem to result in a greater honesty among people about their fears. Often people will tell us that they are not scared of dying, but the reaction to the Coronavirus across the world shows that that is clearly not true. It shows that the Bible is right in its assessment that people need to be rescued by Jesus not only from death itself, but also from their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15). We need to use this opportunity to talk about the one who gives hope beyond the grave.
Secondly, we should expect global disease as a sign of the times in which we live in -the end times -the time between Jesus’ first and second coming. If my reading of Revelation is correct (Revelation 6:7-8; 9:1-21) then not only do these verses describe the age in which we live now, but they also show us that God allows these things to happen so that people will turn to him in repentance (Revelation 9:20-21).
Thirdly, we must not understand this outbreak as the punishment of God on a particular people group for their sin, which is somehow worse than that of others. We must not think that those who have been infected (and have died) are worse sinners than the rest of us. In Luke 13:1-5 Jesus discusses the fates of some Galileans who died at Pilate’s hands and some people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them, and states that those who died were no worse sinners than the rest of the population. He twice states in these verses: ‘I tell you, no! Unless you repent, you too will perish.’
We do not have the right to point fingers at others about God’s judgment because we are all guilty of sin before God and need to turn to him before it is too late. Tragic events like these happen, the Bible tells us, to warn us all that life is short and that one day soon we will stand before God on the judgment day. Trusting in Jesus is our only hope of survival.
To fear sickness and death because of the Coronavirus is to focus on the wrong global disaster. God has set a day for his coming judgement (Acts 17:29-31). He loves a rebellious world and waits patiently to bring his final judgement because he wants people to come to repentance (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9). That is the ultimate disaster. The one we must rightly fear -the anger of a righteous God at our rebellion on his judgment day. Jesus said ‘…fear him, who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him’ (Luke 12:5). It is only Jesus who can deal with our sin problem once and for all time through his work on the cross.
Christians and God’s sovereignty
The Bible reminds us that God is a good God who loves his people, who protects them and rescues them from danger (e.g. Psalm 116). But that truth does not mean that Christians are immune to the deadly effects of the Coronavirus; it means rather that God can be trusted to be working in all things for our good (Romans 8:28).
We live in a fallen world and that reality affects Christians too (Romans 8:20-23). Christians have, no doubt, died (and will die) because of this virus. But we can be assured that every day of our lives is mapped out in God’s sovereign plan (Psalm 139:16) and that God always does what is right and good. He has authority over sickness -even death itself (e.g. Mark 2:1-12; 3:1-6; 5:21-43). He has a thorough knowledge of us as human beings (Psalm 139:1-6). He knows where the outbreak began (better than the conspiracy theorists!) and he knows where it will end. The world is not spinning helplessly out of control. We can rest in his sovereignty.
How Christians must respond
Let’s think about how we respond as Christians to this crisis.
First, we must recognise our duty to love. Jesus summarised the Old Testament law in two statements -love of God and love of neighbour (Matthew 22:34-40). These commands to love must shape our lives as Christians, especially at this time. We love God and our neighbour by acting in a way that preserves life. We must take all the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the disease. We must carefully follow the health advice given to us. Even though we believe in a sovereign God who orders our lives, we have a responsibility to act wisely and well in this situation. And these commands to love do not just extend to seeking to prevent the spread of the virus. As Christians we must actively and courageously serve others where we have the opportunity (Mark 10:45). Christians should be on the frontline in caring for those who are badly affected by this disease. God cares for the broken-hearted and the grieving (Psalm 34:18; John 11:35). And so should we. As people face illness and bereavement Christians have a duty to love as God loves.
Secondly, we must remember where our priorities lie. Jesus calls us not to worry about our bodies, but to trust God’s providential love and to seek first his kingdom (Luke 12:22-34).
Thirdly, we must not be afraid of this disease and the worst it can do to us. We need to remember that Jesus’ victory over the grave means that death is not the last word for Christians (1 Corinthians 15). We do not need to be scared of dying because this life is not the end; we live in hope of an eternity with Christ (John 10:27-30). Even in the face of physical death we have hope in the risen Jesus who has taken the sting of death away.
Finally, as we (naturally) feel concerned about the Coronavirus and its effects across the world, let’s remember that we have a God-given way of dealing with anxiety. We can bring our anxiety about this situation (and every other situation) to the Lord in prayer so that we can know his peaceat this troubled time (Philippians 4:6-7).
As shock waves about this virus are still being felt throughout the world, we need to be reminded as his people that we have not been forgotten by God. He knows us. He cares for us. And he calls us not to be afraid (Luke 12:6-7; 1 Peter 5:7).
By Josh Hooker