As the rapidly unfolding responses, both personal and governmental, explode across social media several trends appeared. Following are some thoughts about the Church’s response to the COVID-19 virus and the resulting viral fear, anger, and outrage. Atheists and agnostics deride churches for closing in efforts to protect people. Christians condemn people for being outside the walls of their homes. The world in general has screeched to a halt, waiting breathlessly each day for the latest death toll. The crowd screeches, alternately criticizing folks for taking it too seriously or not seriously enough.
In praying, starting a new Bible Study, keeping in touch with family and church groups, and focusing on God as the chaos of this moment washes over my Facebook feed these trends became clear, and so did some responses. So, here goes, three responses from God’s Word to help guide our steps and calm our hearts in the days ahead.
Scoffing Skeptics and the Power of God
Thousands of churches across the globe have shut their doors and stayed home on Sunday morning. They have cancelled small groups and other activities. And, of course, the response from non-believers, secular humanists, and anti-theists has been something along the lines of “If God is so powerful why does a virus make you afraid to have church?” Understand, my concern here is not convincing the scoffers that God is, it is instead providing a biblical foundation for Christians who may be struggling with the same question.
Is it a lack of faith?
My first, admittedly flippant, response to this question was, “We’re protecting the folks who don’t believe in Jesus.” To a large degree, that’s actually not such a flippant answer. The highest goal of any Christian is the salvation of souls. We share encouragements with each other constantly that while there is breath there is hope. (Ecc. 9:4) We also know however that true healing from God is often a function of faith (Mark 5:34; Lk. 17:9).
So for those who do not have faith, which would actually include many sitting in the pews of churches as visitors or those not yet saved, gatherings during this virus are a distinctly different danger than they are for the believer. They may not only lose their health, but also their souls, with no inclination yet in their hearts to cry out to the Great Physician for their salvation. In light of this, it isn’t a lack of faith on the part of believers to stop gathering in a time of trial, it is instead an act of grace toward those not yet strong enough in their faith to withstand the effects of the virus. (Rom. 14:1)
Is it disobedient?
The other issue that arises with this is a criticism that it is somehow disobedient for churches to close in this time. God does indeed call believers to gather together. (Heb. 10:25) Corporate worship, the proclamation of the word, corporate prayer, and fellowship are all critical components of the community of Christ. Yet this is not the only command given in Scripture to the body as to how it is to behave. In most places where churches chose to abstain from corporate gatherings there is a common factor: the federal or local government has either advised against or outright forbidden gatherings of more than 10 people as a measure to mitigate the virus.
While there are instances when the disciples and Christ Himself defied human authority, those instances were only when governmental direction was in direct contradiction to God’s Word and will. Since the Word, especially in the New Testament, does not command a set schedule of gathering there is no conflict between the government requirement to stay home and God’s directions. There is, however, a conflict between insisting on violating government authority and God’s Word. Jesus, Peter, and Paul all provide direction to abide by government rule where it does not violate God’s law. (Mk. 12:17; 1 Pet. 2:13-25; Rom. 13) Is it possible that there are churches currently being led to gather in spite of this? Yes. It actually is possible. But, for the most part, being obedient to public health policies is certainly not being disobedient to God.
As a Christian, it’s important to have an answer for the hope you have. In this case, not so much to convince the scoffers but so that your faith does not waiver or grow confused in the chaotic noise going on around us. Because if we are not careful to examine our faith, we might become the scoffers…
Fearful Pharisees and Pointing Fingers
While anti-theists attack the brethren for staying home, the brethren are attack one another for … not staying home. There has been an increasingly strident trend on Facebook of memes, posts, and articles. The theme goes something like this, “More people are going to die from this virus because SOME people won’t stay home.” “Why are these people outside their houses?” “Stay the ?!?!?@?! home!” “It’s not fair that I’m doing my part and all these other people are outside.” Brothers and sisters, Scripture speaks to us on this as well.
Varying our virus viewpoint
Scripture tells us not to judge another man’s servant. (Rom. 14:4) None of us knows why the person outside our window isn’t sitting comfortably at home on their couch. We all know that there are folks out there working tirelessly in “essential businesses.” But we don’t know who they are. Everyone recognizes in our minds that all the kids are home from school. But we don’t know if that woman who has her three children in the grocery store with her is terrified of the virus, but because she’s a single mom has no other option but to bring them with her. We don’t know … what we don’t know.
And that’s the point. Casting aspersions on other people’s character, thinking of them as heartless or brainless or selfish because they haven’t barricaded themselves inside their homes in the moment you happened to see them isn’t Christian. It isn’t worthy of the God who calls us to be gentle and loving toward one another, to encourage, and to judge rightly, by God’s criteria, not by the world’s.
Woe to the hypocrites
Scripture also condemns those who add burdens to the laws God, or man, already gave. (Matt. 23:3-5) We need to remember that the people we “see” on social media live all over a large country. Each state, county, and sometimes municipality has different restrictions based on the needs and threats in their locality. If you live in New York City you’re under a much stricter isolation mandate than someone who lives in rural South Dakota. Which is as it should be. Scripture’s command to comply with government direction does not mean that believers must also comply with every individual’s interpretation of those directions or directions that don’t apply to them in their circumstance.
The White House offered very specific guidelines for social isolation for 15 days. There was a very specific purpose: to slow the spread of the virus. Those guidelines and purposes have been exaggerated, extrapolated, and then applied as universal via media punditry and individual social media madness. As Christians, before we succumb to doomsday predictions and hiding behind barricades, and then rant at others to “get educated” we need to first be educated ourselves. Then we can reasonably encourage folks to follow the guidelines prescribed for them in their circumstances, rather than imposing what we think would be a good idea. And in deciding what we think is a good idea, we need some perspective …
Proportional Perspective in a Pandemic Panic
Two of my favorite epithets in the last week have been “modern day Aztecs” and “virus deniers.” The friends who have been posting and making these allusions have been decrying those who question the wisdom of locking down a multi-trillion dollar economy in response to a virus that, by the known numbers, is not a great deal worse than many other illnesses that have struck the world. The reasoning goes, “You can’t compare this to the flu because …” Or, “If you don’t want to shut everything down you want to sacrifice people for the dollar.” Set aside that politicians inflate crises to centralize power. Ignore the cyber-reality that panic is more of a virus than COVID-19. These arguments alone ignore important truths and critical perspectives for Christians to keep in mind.
Saving the virus-vulnerable
Critics of those concerned with economic or long term effects of this lock down cry we need to do anything to save the vulnerable. If we don’t DO something drastic more people will die. When someone brings up the death toll in relation to the flu they emote that one death is too many. I want to highlight something here for a moment. In the late 14th century the Black Plague arrived in Europe. Over the course of about five years it killed between 25 and 30 million people, 30-50% of Europe’s population. It had a 66% mortality rate for the infected.
I know, I know. You can’t compare the Black Plague to Coronavirus. Those aren’t the numbers Christians need to keep in mind. By 1452, 100 years after the Black Plague, 100% of the survivors were dead. We know, because life has a 100% mortality rate. While we can slow the spread, conserve resources, make sensible decisions, people are going to die. Sooner or later ALL of the people are going to die. Blaming people for those deaths is an extreme act of hubris. It assumes we, as finite humans, can control the course of a disease, and override the death that only God controls. (Ps. 139:16)
Crashing the Cash
Since we know every person now breathing will one day stop, prudence tells us to weigh all of our options. Then we must act on that knowledge rather than the utopian ideals or emotions. I mentioned in the first section Christians must be willing to sacrifice to protect others. We are also commanded to count the cost. (Lk. 14:25-34) For instance, we know that recession causes widespread financial hardship. Recession in the U.S. creates widespread financial hardship around the globe. Poverty, especially when it results in homelessness or an inability to obtain food, electricity, water, or other essentials like medication, leads to people dying. That isn’t conjecture. That is a scientifically proven fact and the driving force behind the decades long fight against poverty around the globe.
Centralization of government control, if left unchecked, creates poverty and hardship. That too will be especially true if continued unchecked consolidation of government control of the economy happens in the U.S. Much as in the U.S.S.R it will create shortages, market disruptions, supply chain disruptions, and it will impact the entire global economy. People die as a result of government consolidation of power, especially under the guise of crisis response. That isn’t conjecture. That is a historically proven fact and the driving force behind the current devastation, privation, and despondency unfolding in Venezuela, among other places.
Prayer for Peace and Grace
As Christians, before we condemn, criticize, label, or question the motives of our fellow Christ-followers, perhaps we should first remind ourselves that while governments are instituted by God, the whole of the earth belongs to Him. He is ultimately sovereign. We cannot, by our own power add one day to our lives (or anyone else’s) (Matt. 6:27), nor bring about perfection in the world. (Matt. 24:35) We can and must abide in the Christ who called us. We are to demonstrate His love, grace and authority in the world in this time and place where He has sent us, and rest in the promise that He is on His throne and is our protector, in this world and the next. When you think about it, in the face of such uncertain times, what a glorious promise to hold onto as we carry His hope into this present darkness.
Father, as we walk through the days ahead, help us to remember the fruit of Your Spirit grows within us for just such a time as this. Let us overflow with Your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Help us remember You have placed us here to lift up the Son, so others can find You in the darkness.
Be blessed and a be a blessing my friends.