Note from Todd: Since this article was originally published, authorities have increased their concern and I agree that our vigilance in preventing the spread of COVID-19 should appropriately increase as well. The heightened concern, however, only makes the truths below more important.
Respect for others who are more susceptible to illness (including the elderly and immune deficient) should cause us to operate with prudence and compassionate care, all the while modeling the strength and hope characteristic of those who know Christ (Proverbs 24:10).
Christ followers should also model compassion for those who choose to respond differently or react more strongly to circumstances and events (Proverbs 18:2). Be gracious toward others. Continue to lead and minister in ways that express your God given gifts. Recognize there is some subjectivity in responding to this crisis, even among those who are listening to and seeking God’s wisdom.
Because Christians are citizens of Heaven, filled with the strength and peace of Christ, we should be the best citizens on earth. I pray that the principles below will help you do that.
With the recent increase of coronavirus cases outside of China, many believers across America are wondering about how to respond in faith to the increasing alarm. What would God have me do in the face of a growing international health crisis? Should our churches close their doors for fear of spreading illness? Should I take my kids out of school? Do I cancel travel plans? What is my responsibility to help a panicked world?
Let’s start by reminding ourselves of what we already know. Worry is not our friend and panic is not our way. Solomon reminds us, “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small” (Prov 24:10). May it never be said that the people of God are governed more by fear than faith.
Corrie Ten Boom, along with other ‘faithful from among the nations,’ led courageously in the face of the pandemic of the “Nazi virus.” She reminds us that, “Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrows, it empties today of its strength.” If the world needs anything in the midst of crisis, it’s people who are strong, not sick. Worry accomplishes nothing, except sickness of the heart and head. It has long been said, 90% of the things we worry or become panicked about never happen and the other 10% we cannot control anyway.
While we “remain on alert” against viruses of doctrine or disease, let us “be strong” and “act like men” (1 Cor. 16:13). Worrying about the coronavirus will not change your circumstance or lower your chance of infection. It will not help you fight off illness or move you to action. Worrying about COVID-19 (or anything else for that matter) will only increase trouble. People in terrible situations are better off than people who incessantly worry about terrible situations. Rather than worrying and being anxious, Jesus calls us to respond with prayer and trust in Him (Matt 6:33-34; Phil. 4:6). We need not worry because we know the one who gives us victory over sin and death (1 Cor. 15:55-57).
Remind yourself continually that it takes the same amount of energy to worry as it does to pray. One leads to peace, the other to panic. Choose wisely.
As believers, if we worry about anything, we should be “worrying” about how to love people well. The Psalmist encourages us, “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness” (Ps. 37:3). Peter reminds us to press on in the midst of facing every evil, whether persecuted by others or burdened by pandemics, we should trust in the Lord knowing that, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Pet. 3:17). Worry is common to man. Suffering and facing troubles and threats with courage is our calling.
Throughout history, Christians often stood out because they were willing to help the sick even during plagues, pandemics, and persecutions. They loved people and were not afraid of death, because they knew “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). By stepping into the mess of sickness and disease, they were able to demonstrate their faith to the world. So, rather than asking “How do I stay healthy?”, we should be asking “How can I help the sick?” We should be the ones running to help, not hiding in basements.
Prayer-infused confidence, compassion, and selflessness should mark how we interact with and talk about the coronavirus. Why? Because our Savior put on flesh (John 1:14) and stepped into our sickness, sin, and death. He healed the sick and cared for the hurting. In following Christ, we are to do likewise.
None of the above means we are reckless. The love of Christ and God’s Word do not praise careless risks, they promote obedience. Loving the sick doesn’t mean we have to intentionally infect ourselves (Prov 22:3). If infection becomes a legitimate risk (at the moment, the CDC says that the virus is not communally spreading in the U.S. and the health risk is considered “low”) then responding to the coronavirus likely means taking small practical steps like reminding one another to wash our hands, sanitize, and stay home if we are sick. We don’t overreact or panic, but we operate with prudence, and with the conviction that one way of caring for others will be not carelessly spreading the disease ourselves.
Instead of asking if you should cancel your church services, first ask instead, “How can we care for those who are at risk?” As others get sick, care for them. Are most of you still healthy? All the more reason to gather for thanksgiving and prayer. Seek appropriate medical care as symptoms present themselves and don’t forsake caring for one another. Follow the example of those who before you acted faithfully. In 19th century England, when thousands were dying of cholera, Charles Spurgeon still entered homes to care for people. Jesus’ church in Wuhan China, the epicenter of the virus, are faithfully leading even today.
Finally, as you watch the world react to crisis and the current reminder of all our mortality, do not neglect to share the hope that you have (1 Pet. 3:15). Share how Jesus rescues you from the sickness of sin and the penalty of death. Share that your hope is not found in remaining healthy this side of heaven. Remind others that good health is only the slowest path to death and judgment.
We all have to face death eventually and thanks to Jesus, we can face it with confidence. Like Paul, we can remember that to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). We truly have nothing to fear. Not from the coronavirus, the Ebola virus, natural disaster, or anything else. Press on friends. Pray for the sick. Walk in strength. Love the brotherhood. Do good to all men. Use your health to serve, not to hide. Jesus is sovereign over it all. And like I’ve often said before, we are immortal until the Lord is done with us.