Coronavirus is not our first pandemic on our a planet. In their print Special Edition on the Pandemic, The Epoch Times identifies other pandemics we’ve experienced. Over four years during the 14th century, for example, the Black (bubonic) Plague took the lives of half the people in Europe, between 75 and 200 million. That plague also recurred roughly every decade for 200 years. In the Great Plague of London, in 1665, over one fourth of that city’s people died in 18 months. Other pandemics, such as the Russian Flu (1889), the Spanish Flu (1918), and the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic (2002) have also afflicted us. What is a Christian response to this Coronavirus pandemic?
A Christian Response to Coronavirus Pandemic
Our home pages and TV’s are filled with statistics and examples of how we can respond. I’m most interested, however, in how we as Christians responded to the current Coronavirus pandemic. What is a Christian perspective? I’ve share my view here and here. In this blog, I bring together the views of a number of Christians who have thought about our current experience from a Christian perspective. These views will give way in a later blog to how Christians have responded, not simply in thinking about the pandemic, but by their actions. How Christians are currently thinking about this experience can help put our lives into perspective through the lens of Scripture. This, in turn should allow our fear to give way to faith.
Our Delusion of Self-Sufficiency
With perhaps the best medical care in the world, with technology at our fingertips, and with the freedoms we enjoy in the United States, we may well convince ourselves that we are self-sufficient. What is a Christian response to our pandemic? Paul David Tripp, author of Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, reminds of the delusion of human self-sufficiency. Although he lives in Center City, Philadelphia, he observed, “It has become a ghost town: churches have been shut down, businesses have been shut down, restaurants are closed, families are separated from one another, friends can’t gather anymore. It’s an amazing thing, and it reminds us that we were created to be dependent—dependent on the Creator.”
We need each other, and we need God. No one of us can exist apart from others. This should teach us appreciation for the gift of life, the contributions of others to our well-being, both in our past and in our present, and our dependence on God. People are at present protesting the radical steps to shut down our social relations and our economic commerce. Pressure mounts because isolated, our businesses wither away, our social relationships hunger for others, and our souls crave nourishment in corporate worship.
A Christian Response To Suffering
Well-known Christian author Phil Yancey provides another Christian response to our pandemic. He urges us to “follow Jesus through the Gospels and watch his response to a widow who lost her only son, or even a Roman soldier whose servant has fallen ill. Never does he blame the victim or philosophize about the cause. Always, without exception, he responds with compassion, comfort, and healing.” From that model of Jesus’ love for people, his willingness to risk his life to touch even the leper, his self-sacrificial model of giving himself up to the cross to bring redemption from sin and provide forgiveness for the lost, his followers developed into a self-giving people.
Yancey points to sociologist Rodney Stark who, in The Rise of Christianity, wrote that “one reason the church overcame hostility and grew so rapidly within the Roman empire traces back to how Christians responded to pandemics of the day, which probably included bubonic plague and smallpox. When infection spread, Romans fled their cities and towns; Christians stayed behind to nurse and feed not only their relatives but their pagan neighbors. Their proffered comfort drew others to the God of all comfort.”
Our Lost Art of Lamentation
Noted British New Testament scholar and prolific author, N.T Wright presents another Christian response to the Coronavirus pandemic. He points to the Psalms of Lament as a resource for Christians during these times of physical and emotional separation, illness, death and grief. “The point of lament,” he writes, “woven thus into the fabric of the biblical tradition, is not just that it’s an outlet for our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments. Some Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in his world. That’s not the picture we get in the Bible.”
People unable to accept the idea of a personal God, often ask, “Well, what’s your answer, Christian? How can God be present, and love us in this pandemic? How do you explain all this suffering?” In response, Wright says, “It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead.” Like many around us, we go into mourning, calling upon God to intervene, calling on Scripture to lead us into the right words to verbalize our grief.
Perspective on Social Distancing
One area in which we now grieve, is the demand we practice social distancing. To defeat this virus, we must remain physically distant, by some accounts I’ve read, at least 13 feet. The virus can be transmitted nearly that far. What possible good can come from “social distancing”? My wife has already noted the slower pace of life as an advantage. Kenneth Samples in his reflections on this crisis in historical perspective, shares this tid-bit:
“In 1665, following an outbreak of the bubonic plague in England, Cambridge University closed its doors, forcing Newton to return home to Woolsthorpe Manor. While sitting in the garden there one day, he saw an apple fall from a tree, providing him with the inspiration to eventually formulate his law of universal gravitation. Newton later relayed the apple story to William Stukeley, who included it in a book, Memoir of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life, published in 1752.” This reminds us that the providence of God is far more elusive that we think. What looks to be a disaster can turn out, in the end, to bless us.
One other Christian response to our coronavirus pandemic comes again from Paul David Tripp. He reminds us of the potential for erosion to our faith. Reject thoughts of fear, he says, especially toward God. Tripp raises some of those pesky questions skeptics pose. And some we think ourselves. “Fight the lies of the enemy that would whisper into your ear, Where is your God now? What is he doing now? Why isn’t he here? Why doesn’t he answer? The Bible says, God’s near…Do not run away from him. Run to him. Sure, we’re going to wonder, Why? And maybe those questions won’t be fully answered here and now; but again, we know who God is… and we know that this moment points us to…one…who has greater power than us, who has greater control than us…”.
Instead of succumbing to fear, he writes, cultivate gratitude. “One of the most powerful defenses against fear is gratitude.” Where are you in your “lockdown” or “restart” process? If you’re still bewildered, I point you authors who have given our stressful time some thought. They provide us Christian responses to our pandemic. We needn’t remain in crisis mode.
[Image: The Cleveland Clinic www.myclevelandclinic.org Sources: Yang, Catherine, “Past Pandemics and Epidemics,” The Epoch Times, Special Edition, March/April 2020, p 16. https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/reflections/read/reflections/2020/03/31/historical-reflections-on-the-pandemic. https://www.crossway.org/articles/5-ways-the-covid-19 pandemic-…pel&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0275bcaa4b-c2cb067094-284436989. https://time.com/5808495/coronavirus-christianity/ https://philipyancey.com/living-in-plague-times]