Thoughts on the Coronavirus
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you” ( Isaiah 43:1)
At the moment, it is difficult to avoid hearing about the Coronavirus (Covid-19), a new flu-like virus, which was first encountered in Wuhan, China in December 2019, and has since spread all over the world. In total, there are 590 confirmed cases in the UK, sadly with 10 deaths. America has seen infections pass the 1,000 mark, with deaths rising to 33, as President Trump has today suspended travel from European countries for 30 days. Italy has the highest number of cases out with China, with more than 12,000 confirmed cases and 827 deaths, and in is in a state of lockdown, as travel is restricted and public gatherings are forbidden.
This week, the Health Minister, Nadine Dorries, said that she had tested positive for the virus, and is now self-isolating at home. Last night, Manchester City’s Premier League match with Arsenal was postponed as a “precautionary measure,” whereas increasing numbers of football matches across Europe are expected to be played behind closed doors. Today, the Spanish top flight, La Liga, has been suspended, for at least the next two rounds of matches, as a result of the Real Madrid squad going into quarantine.
We live in a society, where we are increasingly exposed to political scaremongering through the media, to the point that few take any real notice of claims by establishment politicians that society will collapse if we don’t conform to their way of thinking. However, there is genuine fear and uncertainty amongst many, as the coronavirus continues to spread, exasperated by the fact that there is currently no vaccine available. Even here in Stornoway, there has been panic buying of hand sanitiser, with empty shelves evident, bar signs limiting customer purchases to three. Elsewhere in the UK, photos are appearing of people wearing surgical face masks, as means of protecting them from the virus, with Amazon reported to have sold out of “anti-virus flu masks.”
How ought we, as Christians, respond to the coronavirus and the fear and panic that surrounds us? Does the Bible have anything to say to such a contemporary issue?
God is Sovereign
We cannot claim to know, with intricate knowledge, exactly why every incident in our lives happens or as to why each event on the world stage occurs. The Bible tells us that, “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
God has revealed to us that He is sovereign and in control over all things. If it happens, God ordained it to happen and He has a particular purpose for whatsoever comes to pass, including the Coronavirus, despite how difficult it may be for us to understand or accept. For instance, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, only for Joseph to rise to become second in command in all of Egypt and save many lives, including his father and brothers, from a severe famine. Many years after Joseph was sold into slavery, he spoke to his brothers of God’s sovereign purpose, “but as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
God is Merciful
God has revealed to us, as one minister recently noted, that all natural disasters, such as famine and diseases, “are a thunderclap of divine mercy in the midst of judgement, calling all people everywhere to repent.” Christ spoke such words in response to the tower that fell in Siloam, where eighteen people were killed, “unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5). Whatever the Coronavirus teaches us, it ought to teach us that we are all subject to weakness, illness and death, but also that even in God’s judgement, there is mercy in the midst of wrath. God’s message is to repent, or we will all likewise perish.
Christians Should Not Panic
As we see ever increasing panic and fear around us, at the prospect of the continued spread of the Coronavirus, Christians have no reason to panic or to be fearful. In Isaiah 43, as the wrath of God had been prophesied, God speaks these Words, “fear not, for I have redeemed you,” (43:1). These words tell us that, although Christians are not exempt from hard providences, we have been redeemed through Christ. Whilst we die of diseases like all men, the sting of death has been removed (1 Corinthians 15:55). For the Christian, “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), as we will go “to be with Christ, which is far better,” (Philippians 1:23). Even amidst great suffering, the comfort is that, for the Christian, we will not go through it alone, as He says, “fear not, for I am with you (43:5).
Christians Should be Responsible
On the one hand, whilst we ought not to panic, we shouldn’t go to the other extreme and be irresponsible. Even though the disease has a fairly low mortality rate, and the vast majority of those who contract the virus will recover, nonetheless we ought to recognise that the virus is easily transmitted from person to person, and there are measures we can take to prevent that. The sixth commandment requires, “all lawful endeavours to preserve our own life, and the life of others” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.68). For that reason, the responsible thing to do is for us to follow the advice from the World Health Organisation, to reduce the risk of contracting the virus and of transmitting it to others.
Christians Should Serve Others
Finally, the Bible commands us that, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Amidst great fear and panic, there is opportunity to share the Gospel, with a Word in season, and to prayerfully commend Christ to those who are lost. Furthermore, we ought to look out for others and serve them in practical ways, especially those who are elderly and at particular risk of contracting the virus.
By way of illustration, Rev. Thomas Vincent was one of the ministers, who stayed behind in the great plague in London in 1665-1666, which killed an estimated 100,000 people in 18 months. Vincent stayed not only to instruct his congregation, when many of the pulpits were deserted, but he did so to serve the population at large, that he would take the opportunity to offer spiritual assistance to the vast numbers of people dying.