Four ways that Christians can respond to the Coronavirus crisis
Unless you’ve been living as a hermit out in the desert, or on another planet, for the past few weeks you’ll have heard all about Coronavirus.
I’m sure we’ve all been watching the news bulletins and reading the newspapers in the past week. Coronavirus is here. And it’s going to ‘get worse’, before it ‘gets better’. That much is, we are told, absolutely certain.
But how should Christians, and how should the church, respond?
Here are 4 ways Christians can respond to the Coronavirus
1. BE INFORMED
Let’s admit it, many Christians can be prone to leaning towards extreme views. So, it follows that the Coronavirus outbreak must be either one of two things, EITHER
1. A massive over reaction that is nowhere near as serious as the media have portrayed it. Overhyped, overreaction. After all, more people die from flu than have died from Coronavirus.
2. The beginning of the end of the world, apocalyptic end-time tribulation foretold in Revelation. 'We're doomed' - as Private Fraser was heard to say in 'Dad's Army'.
I’m exaggerating to make the point – but those kinds of extreme viewpoints basically just make Christians look silly.
Friends, we are called to be Jesus' hands and feet on the earth, and to be among those offering answers and solutions - not adding to the problem.
How do we become an army of solution-bringers? By being educated, not reactionary. And understanding WHY these seemingly extreme measures are being taken in our churches.It is to control the spread so that our healthcare system can better tend to those in need. And as a bonus it might just help keep our churches open for worship for a few weeks longer.
Absorb every single news source that you can find. Watch, read, listen, ask - do your homework. Walk in wisdom, not in ignorance. Don't ‘share’ or ‘like’ incorrect information on social media. Don't hoard, don't panic buy, don't rush around buying up every toilet roll that you can find for no reason that anyone can fathom.
Above all, stay calm. God really and truly is in control.
More importantly, ask the Holy Spirit for discernment. We actually have a spiritual helper that will lead us towards truth. John 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come
2. DON'T BE FEARFUL
Fear is a survival instinct that is hard wired into us. It is not necessarily a bad thing – it is what has helped humans survive over the years. So today ‘fear’ should drive us to wash our hands and not share common cup (among other things)
However, for us as Christians, a paralyzing spirit of fear is not just a bad thing: it is actually a sin. When we allow ourselves to be gripped by fear, it cuts us off from the voice of God
When all we can think about is the worry, anxiety, and unknowns that tomorrow will bring,
we lose touch with God and single-mindedly focus on the thing that is causing the fear.
Said another way, we have made an idol of that thing.If we are bowing down and worshipping the Idol of COVID-19, we are not - and cannot - at the same time be bowing down and worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Not only that, but from this position we will never be able to be agents of heaven on earth being solution-bringers in the midst of a frightened world. 2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and a sound mind.
3. BE CAREFUL
I’ve had a few people say to me over recent days: ‘Isn’t all of this showing a lack of faith’ It’s as if we can avoid Coronavirus entirely simply by praying more
But what is that saying to those who have been infected or died – including Christians?
Remember that one of the most affected countries has been Italy. Over 1000 people have died in Italy including, most likely, several hundred Christians. Did none of them ‘have faith’? Did God not hear their prayers?
Yes we need to have faith – but we also need to practice good hygiene and some common sense. Taking the decision to cancel after service coffee isn’t lack of faith – it’s common sense. It’s about not putting the most vulnerable group, the elderly, in harm’s way. And I think that is a fully Christian, fully Jesus-centric, compassionate course of action
But is this really the extent of the church’s response, to have antibacterial hand gel available for people? And to provide support to people in self-isolation over the phone rather than in person?
Rodney Stark in his book The Rise of Christianity looked at how the response of the early church to the plagues in Rome was integral to the growth of the church. He quotes the early bishop Dionysius saying: “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead…”
That’s certainly an interesting take on it.
It’s not that Christians should throw sense to the wind or ignore advice. And it’s certainly not that the communion cup contains magic powers that prevent germs being transmitted. But it is a determination that in a world gripped by fear of what might be, the church should be the non-anxious presence that witnesses to the peace of Christ that lives in us.
4. BE PRACTICAL & PRAYERFUL
We must stay in the place of worship, prayer, and God’s word during this troubled time. If hand washing, coughing into a tissue, and not touching your face are 3 primary ways to protect our bodies, then worship, prayer, and God’s word are THE three primary ways to protect our soul and spirit.
Worship keeps our focus on God, not on the situation around us. Continuing to come to worship each week – certainly whilst we still able to meet – is a good thing and helps us to focus our hearts and minds on the God who brings healing and peace.
At the same time we are called to pray, standing in the gap between heaven and earth and calling out for God to bring peace, calm, health and healing in these trouble times.
Lastly, but most certainly not least, we MUST stay grounded in the Word of God.
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow
There is a sad irony of calls for ‘self-isolation’ a phrase none of us had even heard a few weeks ago. Because even with many people around we can still be isolated, cut off from human connection and starved of relationship.
Perhaps we can leverage current events to be better at creating the kind of the church that fosters community, shows genuine compassion and lives out the radical values of the Gospel?
Wouldn’t it be great if all of us here in the church were able to offer some real practical help?
Here is one idea for doing just that. A simple card that you can push through doors in your street. It offers your help, in the name of Jesus, and on behalf of our church. Please consider downloading and printing some out and using them in your area.
So we listen to the medical experts and take appropriate measures. But we need to replace our fear with faith and pray for our nation, that God would protect us. Again I have a resource to offer that I hope will help us to pray more effectively. It's fine to pray in your own words and I am sure that many of you will - but I know that others would appreciate something that is already written down, so please download this sheet of prayers that have been collected from around the Internet.
Philippians 4.6 reminds us, ‘Don’t worry about anything and pray about everything’ So, let’s close with the Church of England’s prayer for the Coronavirus outbreak
Keep us, good Lord, under the shadow of your mercy in this time of uncertainty and distress. Sustain and support the anxious and fearful, and lift up all who are brought low; that we may rejoice in your comfort knowing that nothing can separate us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.