Posted on 18/03/2020
How can Christians respond to the coronavirus?
The news is dominated by one thing: coronavirus. As chaplain at a school built upon the Christian faith, it has got me thinking about what Christianity and the Bible say about something like Covid-19. For some people that may seem like a strange thing to dwell on: surely in times like this the focus should be on urgent realities and more practical measures. To be blunt, however, if Christianity and the Bible have nothing to say about something as serious as a global pandemic then they are a waste of time and not worth considering at any other stage.
Here, then, are 7 ways Christians can respond to the coronavirus. This list isn’t exhaustive but will give you food for thought. As we always encourage the boys, it is an opportunity to learn, think, question and challenge.
Christians can respond to the challenge of coronavirus:
- With realism. The world is facing a challenge to health unprecedented in recent times. There has already been a great deal of suffering. I watched an interview with a doctor from Wuhan, China, who saw 5 patients die in one night. In his press conference on 12th March the Prime Minister said that “It is going to spread further and I must level with you, I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”
Living in the West in the 21st century we have become used to comfort and the right to be free from this kind of suffering. For most of history the thought of living to 80+ years of age would have been unimaginable; for us it is an expectation. But now we are confronted with suffering and ultimately with our own mortality.
The Bible isn’t surprised by suffering. It clearly says that this world is broken, and since the fall and sin in Genesis 3 the world is not the way it should be. The Bible is the most realistic book in the world - every page recognises the brokeness and messiness of the world we live in. It also speaks about death. Lots of us may have avoided thinking about it until coronavirus has brought it uncomfortably near, but the Bible is doesn’t shy away from and reality and horror of death.
- With practical wisdom. It’s easy to think of Christians as ‘pie in the sky’ or ‘airy fairy’ people, and the Bible as a super-spiritualised book divorced from the practical aspects of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christians are called to see the truth about the world and make good decisions in response. They are called to be wise and to recognise the gifts God has given certain individuals. In a crisis like this it is wonderful to recognise the God-given gifts that scientists and medical professionals have. Proverbs 12:15 says: ‘The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,but a wise man listens to advice.’ In an age where anyone and everyone on social media has an opinion, the Bible says it is wise to listen to those whose advice can be trusted. It is absolutely right that we are doing this as a school.
Churches are also sending out sensible advice. My own church sent out an email with guidance about interactions during Sunday services, updates on increased cleaning procedures in the church building and information on opportunities to watch services livestreamed on the internet. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think practically.
- With compassion. As Boris Johnson said in his press conference, many families are likely to lose loved ones over the next few months. There may be a number of boys in our school who lose grandparents. Others with chronic health conditions will go through serious suffering. Still others will struggle with long periods of isolation. Finally, those who work in the NHS, emergency services and other core areas will be pushed to the limit. Our response should be one of compassion.
When Jesus’s friend Lazarus became seriously ill Jesus travelled to see him. When he arrived Lazarus had died. Even though Jesus is the Son of God and was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, his immediate response was this: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Chrsitians should have the same kind of gut-wrenching compassion as Jesus.
- With service. As we see people struggling and suffering, and as we feel compassion for them, we should be moved to serve them. This is easier said than done (or felt). We are naturally selfish! But we should help each other, whether that is by delivering food to elderly neighbours, staying in self-isolation so as not to infect others or whether it is countries supporting each other on an international level. We will get through this if we help others rather than ourselves. As a school, whether staff, governors, boys or parents, we will need to pull together over the coming months. On his blog the Bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin, has helpfully listed a number of practical ways we can serve others. There is so much going on at the moment over which we have no control. What we do have control over is the way we treat each other.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Christians have been here before. In the 3rd and 4th Centuries the Roman Empire was struck by a series of deadly pandemics, with thousands dying each day at their peak. Historians from the period record that people were stunned as communities focused on self-preservation while Christians took the opposite approach and, ‘heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ’.
- With trust & confidence (in the true king). One thing that Covid-19 has shown us with crystal clarity is that we are not in control. Barely a few weeks ago none of use would even have known what ‘Covid-19’ was. I looked back at the first Western news article on the outbreak in China. It came from only a couple of months ago and wasn’t even reported on the BBC news website. At that stage only one person had died. Now it is a global pandemic.
So if we’re not in control, who is? The Bible is very clear. The term ‘corona’ means something that resembles a crown, and is used for coronaviruses due to the shape of protrusions of the virus. But coronavirus doesn’t wear the ultimate crown. It’s not the king. The Bible proclaims loudly and proudly that Jesus is king. Even for a Christian dying of coronavirus Jesus is king of the universe and he is in absolute control. Nothing takes him by surprise, including this pandemic. Not only that but he is a king who knows what it is to suffer and die. It’s no wonder Christians want to tell others about him.
Coronavirus is humbling for humanity. King Nebuchadnezzar lived in the 6th century BC and was the most powerful man in the world, ruling over the Babylonian empire. Then he came to recognise who the true king was:
“I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.”
- With prayer. 19th Century London preacher Charles Spurgeon once said that ‘prayer is the slender nerve that moves the muscle of omnipotence’. If God is in control and Jesus is king, prayer becomes one of the most obvious things in the world for a Chrsitian to do, whether in a time of crisis or not. Simple yet profound.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- With hope and longing. Finally, a situation like this makes Christians long for a time and place where there won’t be fear, suffering or death. It’s not wrong to long for this. The Bible says when Jesus returns he will take his people to that wonderful new creation, and the Christian’s hope in it is a hope of something certain. Here’s how the penultimate chapter of the Bible describes it.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea…
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe 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.”