The Coronavirus, originating from China in late 2019, has begun to spread to other countries. The recent increase in the cases of people affected by the virus has led to a worldwide interest and agitation. At the time of writing, there have been 96,955 cases, with 3,310 reported deaths. There are still 39,664 active cases, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated a 3.4% mortality rate. The virus has spread to 31 countries.
The majority of the cases are in China. China, South Korea, Iran, and Italy constitute 96% of all the reported cases.
A stream of the Coronavirus referred to as SARS-Cov broke out in 2002/2003 in China. The current stream has been dubbed “SARS-Cov-2.” There is another stream referred to as MERS-Cov. Coronavirus spreads from animals (Camels and Civet Cats, for example) to humans and then from one human to another through respiratory droplets (sneeze, cough, and exhales).
The virus has caused disruptions in activities, especially in the most affected places. Football games have been canceled, schools have been closed, some countries have repatriated their citizens, screenings at airports have been intensified, museums have been closed, and churches have embraced online services.
On February 25, the first case of Coronavirus was reported in Nigeria through an Italian man who flew to Lagos for some consultancy work in Ogun State.
How should Christians react to Coronavirus? How do we live as believers amidst dangerous viruses like this?
Zeal without Knowledge
In the face of situations like this, it is very easy to slump into despair. A certain level of fear and anxiety develops. Everyone around is discussing it; it is all over the news; the reported cases are skyrocketing; everyone is in despair. As a result, it is easy for us to fear and join the bandwagon.
One of the results of such fear and despair is that we can no longer separate facts from rumors. A certain level of fear and anxiety makes us lose our common sense. Instead of seeking education, we latch on to every Whatsapp status, broadcast message, false news, and social media posts.
Nothing kills faster than ignorance. When we allow fear and anxiety to have a grip on us, we begin to lose our rationality – our ability to make reasonable decisions based on facts and not hearsay.
When situations like these develop, our first response is education. Whatever the nature of the epidemic, the first recourse is to attain knowledge so we will not be like the Jews who had zeal without knowledge (Romans 10:2).
Getting verified information from trustworthy sources will give us the calmness and composure we need to make rational decisions and take reasonable cautions.
We should not feed on rumors and false reports (Proverbs 14:15); neither should we spread them (Exodus 23:1).
Caution not Despair
There are two equal and opposite errors, we might fall into here. One is to embrace everything that people send to us on social media or everything we hear on the street. This goes back to the place of knowledge. Every caution we take in the face of epidemics like Coronavirus should flow from knowledge, not rumors.
The wicked flees when no one is pursuing (Proverbs 28:1). Wickedness and foolishness are equivalent terms in the Proverbs. We should be careful of acting out of ignorance resulting from the apprehension and anxiety we see all around us.
The second error is to neglect the place of knowledgeable caution because we believe God will protect us. Yes, God will protect us (we will get to that soon), but if we are reading our bibles correctly, we will recognize that God uses means to achieve his ends.
Yes, God will save the Israelites during the famine to preserve a people for himself (Genesis 45:7; 50:20), but he did that by instructing the Egyptians to save food in the years of abundance for the years of famine. Yes, everyone who was with Paul on the ship will get to land safely (Acts 27:23-24), but Paul was clear, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.”
We can cite many more examples, but the point should be clear. God will protect us, but he uses means, and while in some cases he does so in miraculous ways (the plagues in Egypt), at other times, he does it through ordinary means – taking cautions (e.g., Leviticus 13).
Therefore, as believers, we must trust God enough to take caution. The same way we trust him enough to provide for us that we work with our hands, we must trust him enough to protect us that we take cautions. Nevertheless, it bears repeating; it is knowledge-driven cautions that we must take.
“But we trust in the name of the Lord.”
Even though God uses means, he rebukes those who put their trust in the means rather than him. When Israel was losing the battle to the Philistines, rather than going back to God in repentance, they trusted in the Ark. However, God taught them a valuable lesson when he allowed the Philistines to defeat them (despite the presence of the Ark) and cart away with the Ark (1 Samuel 4). It is the presence of God and not the Ark that gives them the victory. When Jerusalem began to trust in the temple, thinking they can live anyhow and God will not do anything, he brought the Babylonians who destroyed the temple and took them away. (Jeremiah 7)
No wonder the congregation of Israel sang, “Some trust in chariots and some on horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (Psalms 20:7). God uses horses and chariots to give victory to his king (and his people), but their trust is not in the chariots. Their trust is in the God who uses any means he likes (army of soldiers, a visiting angel, or a choir). Isaiah warned the people of God in these words, “Those who go down to Egypt for help are as good as dead, those who rely on war horses, and trust in Egypt’s many chariots and in their many, many horsemen. But they do not rely on the Holy One of Israel and do not seek help from the LORD.” (Isaiah 31:1)
Yes, we must take caution, but we must never trust in our precautions. We must not be like unbelievers who live as if there is no God. They trust in their precautions, but we trust in the LORD our God. We know that every good and perfect gift comes from above even if they come through the labor of a hardworking farmer or a diligent team of medical experts.
A horse is prepared for the day of battle, but the victory is from the LORD. (Proverbs 21:31) Let’s look beyond the means and to the God who sustains the universe and takes special care for his elect people.
Therefore, it is to him we must cry. We must pray to God for his protection. We must pray to him to give wisdom so that the medical people can develop a vaccine. We must also pray that God will intervene in the lives of those diagnosed to prevent further death. We must pray for his grace and protection towards all those who are laboring to prevent the spread of the virus. It is the LORD our God that we must trust.
Standing on the Promises
God has promised to protect us from harm, and we must not blush about it. Psalms 91 is one of those passages we must relish:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust. Surely, he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings, you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday” (Verses 1-7)
Amid epidemics, let us sing the Psalms, let us meditate on God’s promises, and put our trust in his promises of protection.
The Sovereignty of God, the Reason We Can’t Despair
How can believers live amid Coronavirus and not despair? It is because the God we worship is sovereign over everything in heaven and on earth (1 Chronicles 29:11-12, Psalms 103:19). Nothing (including Coronavirus) happens outside of his knowledge, will, and purpose (Proverbs 16:4, Ecclesiastes 7:13-14, Isaiah 14:24)). God does not just know the end from the beginning; he ordains the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:9-10). God does not just know everything that happens; nothing happens outside of his divine will (Lamentations 3:37). Since nothing happens outside of his divine will, nothing happens outside of his divine purposes. (Proverbs 16:4). No sparrow falls to the ground apart from our Father’s will. (Mathew 10:29)
We do not despair not just because God protects us, but because of the kind of God who protects us. He is the sovereign God who rules over Coronavirus (Isaiah 45:7, Ecclesiastes 7:14). Suppose you visit the house of your friend A with another friend B. Suppose, the two of you are visiting the house for the first time. If friend B tells you he will protect you from the dogs and that the dogs are not even violent, will you be confident? What if it is Friend B, the owner of the house, who gives you the same assurance? Who will you trust? He is the sovereign, and Coronavirus does not exist outside of his knowledge, will, and purpose. Why should we then be afraid when he who holds the whole world is the one who holds our hands?
Everything in this world serves God’s purposes, including the devil and Coronavirus. Therefore, we must not despair for our God is sovereign.
All Things for Good
Nothing can happen to us outside of his permission, and if he permits it, his purposes are good. Romans 8:28 is one of the most popular verses in the bible for a reason. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)
Thousands of Christians are diagnosed with cancer and other deadly diseases. Who knows, maybe hundreds (or thousands) of believers are among those who have been diagnosed with Coronavirus already. However, if we are thinking Christians, what we must never say is that those people do not have enough faith or that we are more spiritual. Rather, we must look to the God who is sovereign over the suffering of his elect people and who will work it all out for our good- our sanctification and ultimate glorification.
Therefore, we can face Coronavirus and everything else that is a result of this fallen creation with confidence in the sovereign God who has promised to never leave us nor forsake us and who is working out his glorious purposes in our individual lives and in the world as a whole.
The Coming Redemption
Diseases and sicknesses will not have the last word. The creation is groaning, but the day of its deliverance is fast approaching. We ourselves are groaning, but the redemption of our bodies is fast approaching.
When Jesus Christ rose from the dead, he inaugurated the new creation. When he comes again, he will consummate that new creation. This present order of things will give way to the new heavens and the new earth. His victory over sin, death, and the devil (at the cross) will be brought to consummation.
This world of sin, sorrow, pain, and suffering will pass away, and God will make all things new. In that new world, there will be no Coronavirus. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3)
That is our hope – the glory to come that is incomparable to the sufferings of this life. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Armed with that hope, Paul reminds us, we even rejoice in trials.
In Luke 13, some people came to inform Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus reminded them that neither those Galileans nor the ones who fell from the tower of Siloam were worse sinners, but unless they repented, they will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:1-5)
Pestilences and epidemics are some of the ways God judged (judges) nations (Deuteronomy 32:24, 1 Chronicles 21:12, Ezekiel 7:14-15). While we may not be able to say if a particular pestilence or epidemic is God’s direct judgment or only part of the fallen creation we live in, we can say that every pestilence, epidemic, death, destruction (natural or human-induced) should remind sinners that the wrath of God is upon them and it is only because of his longsuffering that they still exist (2 Peter 3:9). If you have not repented of your sins and believed in Christ, remember that unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Nations also sin (whether through ungodly legislations, permissiveness, or the persecution of God’s people, etc.), and situations like these should remind them that God is the ultimate ruler, and he is a holy God.