Sometime in January, long before the Covid-19 pandemic was even heard of, we decided to teach on the topic, “Grace to Endure” and we were given a text from James 5:10-11 “My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed, we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” Little did we know that this would prove to be somewhat prophetic!
Those who endured were called “blessed” and we know for a fact that God who is compassionate and merciful will give us grace to endure, to persevere, to hold out against some intense pressure without yielding.
We will endure this pandemic because we know that in this life, we will all face the normal problems of living in a fallen world where sin and its tragic consequences will be with us till we die or the Lord returns.
And while life went on normally for most of us, we are now unexpectedly confronted by the global pandemic that is impacting all our lives in some way or another and has the potential of doing much more damage in the future as well.
It is normal therefore in uncertain times such as this, that we will feel anxious and even fearful. Some of our feelings may be legitimate and some quite unfounded. Nevertheless, there are some important spiritual truths we need to be mindful of.
Jesus said, “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt 5:48)
We also know that “it is appointed for men to die.” (Hebrews 9:27) We only don’t know when, and the manner we may die. Hence, we should not be surprised as if death is something new, or be afraid of it. In fact, if, like Paul our attitude should be, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21) we will even welcome death as our transition from this life of pain, suffering and death to the glorious presence of our beloved Lord and Savior, Jesus. This is why Paul said, “Death is swallowed up in victory. Oh, death where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55)
The words of Job to his wife, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:10) remind us that good and evil may indeed come upon us.
So as someone said, there are only two things we can be absolutely sure of in this life, “death and taxes” So, all of us will die one day, we just don’t know how and when.
Therefore, the first thing to remember is to come to terms with is our own mortality.
Various estimates are given as to how many may die and none of us can be certain of any figure. So, as we move into hitherto uncharted waters of a global pandemic, we would indeed face many questions and our faith may even be tested. For example, what if our spouse contracts this dreaded virus and is taken from us? What if a child faces a similar fate? What if more than one person in our family is affected? These and many other situations can really test our faith. We may even become angry with God for allowing this pandemic to affect us.
One of the biggest dangers to faith is the propagation of false hope. Bible verses are taken out of context and people are made to think that because they are Christians they will not be affected by the virus. I’ve seen memes of the sprinkling of blood on the doorposts and lintels during the Passover in Egypt stating that we will be saved in a similar fashion. Others have very cutely used the letters in Covid to create a message of hope. It’s as if this pandemic will not affect the Christians.
This kind of thinking is very dangerous because if the virus does affect the Christians and some of them die, people who had built their faith on false hopes may even lose their faith. Some may think that God has deceived them or is powerless to answer their prayers or that He doesn’t care for them.
So, let’s place our trust in God and not waver no matter what happens.
It is critical that we continue to trust God in the face of this fast-spreading pandemic. But what does it mean to trust in God? The Bible urges us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). There are two thoughts here, one, trust in the Lord and two, lean not on your own understanding. This means that the final test is that we stop seeing things from our own perspective and see things from His. An example of seeing things from His perspective is what we said earlier about death, we see what God has to say about it and accept it. We need to trust God while being conscious of the reality of what’s going on. By trusting in God, we can face the crisis with God-given confidence and this brings true peace to our hearts.
Next, this is a time when we as Christians can demonstrate love.
Dionysius of Alexandria testified, that when the plague swept through Rome in the 3rd century, “Most of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves…they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ…and departed this world serenely.”
Martin Luther’s pastoral advice during the Black Plague: “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.” (Martin Luther, Works v. 43, p. 132. Letter “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague” written to Rev. Dr. John Hess).
Being out there on the front-lines may not be possible for all of us but there are some things we can do. And even if we can’t provide them with food (if they are elderly, living alone and so on) we can at least use our phones and talk and pray with them.
We should also remember the poor and the vulnerable among us.
Even during a major theological controversy in the early church, the injunction from the elders in Jerusalem to Paul was, that “They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.” (Gal 2:10). Many will not be able to stock up if there’s a lockdown, if possible, we should reach out and help them.
We should also act wisely, while it is true that for Covid-19 there is a very high recovery rate and low mortality rate, we should remember that though we may be able to survive the virus, some others especially the elderly, who we come in contact with may not be able to. We should all, therefore, exercise maximum social distancing as this was the one method that helped China, Taiwan, and other countries control the spread of the virus.
Finally, we should pray. Pray especially for wisdom for all those in authority to make the right decisions to help protect lives, pray for those in the healthcare services who put their lives at risk to care for others, pray for those who have been infected, pray for those who have lost loved ones during this time, pray for our friends and families and for ourselves that we may be found faithful and that through our lives, His name will be glorified. And pray also for those who do not know Jesus that during these uncertain times that they would come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
And finally, that’s my second finally, let’s remember the words of Mordecai to Esther 4:14, “who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” or as Jesus said, albeit in a different context, “it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.” (Luke 21:10)
May God Bless You
Vice President: Ministry Operations – India
* All the Bible quotations are taken from New King James Version (NKJV)