The same topic is on everybody’s mind. COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has arrived quickly, and while its impact seems to grow daily, its nature remains mysterious.
This is uncharted territory, the kind of landscape that raises so many questions for us about our daily lives. It’s natural to have questions. It’s natural to feel many things at a time like this.
While we all face moments of crisis from a range of temperaments and perspectives, is there such a thing as a “distinctively Christian” response to such a time as this?
As we grapple with these questions together, I wanted to offer 5 postures for us to consider as followers of Jesus.
1. We Remember the Faithfulness and Power of God
For the Christian, our starting point for thinking about any issue we face is with the “perspective of Heaven.” In other words, our starting premise is not the circumstances we face, but the character of God.
God is dependable and consistent, just like the sunrise. Thankfully, my emotions about the sunrise doesn’t alter its fundamental nature. God’s nature doesn’t change because of what’s happening in the news, schools, or stock market.
God is faithful, powerful, and able to provide for us even in these unforeseen circumstances.
At our staff worship time this week, I was deeply moved as our team sang out the lyrics from a song that we often sing at Trinity, proclaiming, “God I look to you, I won’t be overwhelmed, give me vision, to see things like you do...Hallelujah our God reigns!” As we sang this in unison, I could feel my faith rising, declaring the goodness and character of God. (Listen to the song here)
2. We Resist both Fear & Foolishness
As a church, and in our own lives, we can easily swing between two equal and opposite errors. It’s unhelpful to cower in fear and defeat as we continue to receive news about the spread of this virus, AND, at the very same time, we aren’t called to be foolish in our behavior or callously dismiss genuine concern. COVID-19 is not “the end of the world,” nor is it a hoax to be ignored.
As Tyler Huckabee pointed out recently in an article in Relevant Magazine, in times like this, we can often tend to think in terms of an “...inherent binary when it comes to faith and fear. The communicated message, intentional or not, is that those who go on “living their lives” with minimal disruption are living in faith, while those who cancel travel plans, make arrangements to work from home and avoid large events are living in fear.”
Of course, it’s not that simple. Panicked chaos is not of God, but we do also want to be mindful for our own health, our families, and importantly, mindful of those around us who may be more susceptible to illness. We want to abide by the health recommendations we are hearing without living in a continued state of anxiety.
As Huckabee points out, “preparedness is an opportunity to literally love your neighbor as yourself”.
Above all, we do not want fear or foolishness to define us but rather the peace of Christ in all circumstances. 2 Timothy 1:7 says: “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Lord, give us strength and wisdom to live this out!
3. We Cultivate Compassion
The spread of this virus can instill a sort of paranoia and suspicion of everyone and everything around us. We cringe when we hear a cough nearby, wondering what invisible thing has been passed along. We reach for the Purell. Instead of seeing each person as made in the image of God, it’s all too easy for even the most well intentioned among us to internally dehumanize others as we enter survival mode and self-preservation.
As Christians, we must beware of the subtle fear of “the other” during this time, where we end up living with suspicion of those from certain towns, ethnic backgrounds, or nationalities. Xenophobia, racism, and parochialism are not the way of Jesus.
In ancient times, leprosy was among the most horrible and feared of all diseases. People who suffered from leprosy were often shunned by society. Yet, when we look at Jesus’ ministry, rather than running from them, he reached out to provide healing. Jesus always runs towards our pain and suffering.
As Christians, while we should practice wisdom, we should not be afraid of “those people” who are sick with COVID-19. We want to be a people who care deeply about those who are suffering. Instead of self-preservation, let's cultivate compassion by asking God that we would have His heart for the people around us.
4. We Shape our Worries into Prayers
I brace myself every time I check the headlines. There is so much upheaval, and it appears to be getting worse. For some, the concern is primarily about health, but for many in our region, the upheaval to the economy, portfolios, and financial security looms large. The floor may feel like it’s falling out from under us.
It’s perfectly normal to feel the weight of all this uncertainty, between health, jobs, schedules, kids, closures, quarantines, travel issues, threats of a bear market....it’s a lot to process!
Here’s the good news... If that’s you, God knows how you feel and doesn’t dismiss your angst. God is really the only one who can perfectly carry our burdens and do something about them.
Christians through the ages have dealt with challenging, painful, uncertain times. In the modern West, we have largely been shielded from many issues that Christians in previous centuries (or even Christians in other parts of the world today) have dealt with. Yet in every age, the invitation of the Christian is the same - to walk in wholehearted surrender in the way of Jesus, a way that is most often counter-cultural to the world around us, marked by surprising hope, joy, and peace.
Philippians 4:6-7 says in the Message version: “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”
5. We Pursue a Christian Witness
Our true nature is revealed under pressure. A moment of societal panic is the very moment when we can point to Jesus, through our words and actions. It’s a moment when “the Church can be the Church”.
I so appreciate the perspective from Trinity congregant, Mike O’Neill, who just published a piece inviting Christians to respond to the COVID-19 situation with a posture of service and generosity in this time of unrest.
“One thing is clear, our communities will need social cohesion, not just social distancing. Love, and not fear. Friendship, and not isolation. Generosity, and not scarcity.” - Mike O’Neill
I was also recently reminded of Rodney Stark's writing on Early Christianity, where he mentions how the response of early Christians to the plagues in Rome played a crucial role in the expansion of the Church. He quotes the Christian leader, Dionysius saying ; “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ…”
Of course, let’s not be reckless, but we are called to live differently. Christians are invited to a different vision of the world, and of life itself. While the world around us is gripped by fear of the unknown, we are called to live as ambassadors of Jesus, to live as a “non-anxious presence.”
We are carriers of hope, sources of encouragement, living signposts pointing to the God of peace. As a Church family, I invite you to join me in prayer for our world, and for our local communities as we navigate this season together.
Let’s stay connected, caring for each other, and those around us.
May you know the peace and presence of our living God so tangibly in the days ahead.