As Christians are sorting out what sorts of responses to the COVID-19 virus we should have, we are doing so in a cacophonous time, and it can be hard to figure out what to think, or how to respond. What I thought to do here is throw a number of apparently random observations together which, when taken together, might help create a fuller picture. I want to address any number of things — money, political power, the media, and public health — in the hope that all of us can see that there are many plays being run on us simultaneously.
But please keep in mind that this post is simply a collection of observations, and not one sustained argument.
Things are not desperate yet. At least Joe Biden has not called it the COVID-18 assault weapon, and he has not added the fact that his sons are avid hunters.
Or at least one of them is an avid Hunter.
God Remains Sovereign
Until God’s appointed time comes for any individual, nothing can touch that person. Our days are numbered by God alone. But because the sovereign God uses means, we should take all reasonable precautions (which will obviously vary depending on whether you live in Italy or South Dakota), and we should do so while trusting in the Lord fully.
“Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, Even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, Neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.”
Psalm 91:9–10 (KJV)
What can separate us from the love of God in Christ? Absolutely nothing. Moreover, apart from His sovereign will nothing can even touch us. And at the same time, because we are trusting in His sovereign will, we should at the same time obey His sovereign will, and take all reasonable precautions. “The simple believeth every word: But the prudent man looketh well to his going” (Prov. 14:15). God is in absolute control, and look well to your going.
Pandemics and Panic
The danger is two-fold. One is the threat to life that the virus poses, and it is a very real one to many, and the other should be filed under the costs of quarantine. When a quarantine is necessary, as it has been in a number of instances (cruise ships, Italian and Chinese cities, etc.) the costs of quarantine are simply part of the costs of the disease.
But if there is widespread panic, and a bunch of people go into lock-down mode unnecessarily, the economic ramifications here would be the cost of panic. Christians can and should taken prudent measures, see above, but they should also guard against panic as well as against the virus. A panic can destroy lives and livelihoods also, and so we have to guard our hearts in two directions simultaneously.
Throughout history, many Christians have distinguished themselves as true saints during times of plague. We have to remember that times of plague in the past were much more of a recurring and routine reality, and so we have faced all this before. This courage has included many ministers and monks who refused to leave their people at times when many aristocrats were fleeing the city in question. This kind of behavior has been one of the things that caused the Christian faith to grow and expand and get established in the first place. That pattern has been followed and continued by courageous Chinese doctors in this instance, and if we are called to it, we should be prepared for it as well.
If you are worshiping in a city that is a hot spot, there would be nothing wrong with the elders of your church adjusting the way you worship. That could include, for example, encouraging the elderly to stay home, not allow someone who is hacking up a storm to gather with you, live-streaming the service for the stay-at-homes, etc. But I would only recommend cancelling a service if your congregation happened to be ground zero for the outbreak, or there were some equally urgent reason for doing so. Nobody would think your spiritual priorities were misplaced if you evacuated the sanctuary because of fire.
Follow the Money
The president called for 2 billion dollars to be spent on fighting the virus, which proposal was immediately met with scorn and outrage. Congress wound up authorizing 8 billion for it, and you would not be risking very much if you bet somebody a thousand dollars that the bill was absolutely jammed with pork. If you failed to recognize that somebody is going to get all that money, then you are not nearly cynical enough. It is quite possible that a fraction of the people who get that money ought to have received it, but if you think that you, the people, are going to get 8 billion dollars worth of scientists in white lab coats working feverishly on a cure, then you probably ought to change your name to Simple Simon, and head off to the fair.
And the fact that these, our politicians, who represent us well, are cynical enough to do this kind of outrageous thing in the midst of a public health challenge, means that we are a people who richly deserve to have a plague visited upon us.
Everything is Political These Days
Because we live in hyper-political times, NASA scientists could discover a giant asteroid that was going to land on Baltimore in two weeks, and Nancy Pelosi would blame it on Trump’s “poor leadership.” Not only that, but Trump would respond that he had shown the best asteroid leadership “ever.” So please take everything that any politician says with a grain of salt.
And also remember, as was once said by Rahm Emmanuel, that politicians never want a crisis to go to waste. This outbreak is happening (as they somehow frequently do) in an election season.
So if someone calls this the Wuhan virus, and somebody else accuses him of racism, you can be assured that the plague is not yet serious enough to make us stop being so silly.
The Kung Flu
We should also keep this in perspective. Tens of thousands of people die every flu season from the ordinary flu, but we have already budgeted for that emotionally.
But this new virus is happening in a time when there has been a large breakdown of trust in all public institutions, and this includes institutions that are responsible for public health like the CDC. The coronavirus is stress-testing our systems. Remember the boy who cried wolf. That fable has a lesson that cuts two ways. Cultural leaders need to stop trying to manipulate the public through fear — they need to knock off crying wolf when there is no wolf. And the public needs to recognize that boys who cry wolf when there is no wolf are not boys who make the appearance of wolves impossible.
So on the one hand, I have absolutely no reason to trust these people who have been lying to us all about climate change. Why should we trust them? They lie, and then they lie some more. At the same time, having read a book of history before, I should know that the Spanish flu killed upwards of 25 million people at the beginning of the twentieth century, and that such things can and do happen. They happen even if a liar agrees that they happen.
Dangerous and Beautiful
But take another look at the picture of the virus. We live in a dangerous world, but even the dangers are beautiful. Even the dangers declare the glory of God.