The COVID-19 epidemic already appears to be very bad. Most people don’t yet know someone with COVID-19, but you likely know someone having trouble paying their bills because they work an hourly job in the service industry. You likely know someone whose retirement next year looks harder because the market is 20% down from one month ago. Someone’s dreams and plans for the coming months are put on hold. As colleges suspend, cancel, and change classes, the last months of some students’ senior year and job prospects look radically different.. Those are the realities right now. Down the road, more people will be grieving the death of loved ones.
How should we think Christianly about COVID-19? How do we engage emotionally with this Coronovirus crisis?
In the face of so much uncertainty, great, and sadness, I think we start with grief. Grief for ourselves and grief for others. Matthew 5:4 says, “"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” We should lean in to mourning. This is a time to weep with those who weep and not a time to make and share funny jokes. This is a time to lean into the grief of these days. This is something that we do not do well in America. We fight. We fix. We plan. We work. What is lost is the time and attention to weep.
When we look at the empty shelves in the store, we can grieve for those who don’t have a Costco nearby or the money to stock up for three weeks. When we see people shopping with ski gloves and dust masks, we think about the fear that they must be facing. We don’t understand their fear, but we can grieve it.
COVID-19 and the underlying virus can threaten a lot of things. It is a threat to life, to health, to work, to finances. It seems to disrupt daily life, relationships, our economy, etc.
If you are like me, the threat produces fear. We fear both the virus and the effects of the virus. What we hold dear is now uncertain.
Where do we turn in the uncertainty? What is the Christian reaction to the threat and the fear?
There is one thing that cannot be threatened by Coronavirus: your identity in Christ. If you are in Christ, then there is nothing that COVID-19 can do to separate you from God’s love for you in Christ.
Romans 8:35 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” This virus threatens so many of those things, danger, hunger, nakedness, death. But COVID-19 cannot separate you from the love of God in Christ. His love is rolling and reigning in your life even in danger.
The Christian response to Coronavirus is not to claim that it cannot affect you or threaten you. The Christian response is that it cannot threaten what is truly valuable.
In the face of fear, what do we say?
Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
It is our relationship with God that drives out fear, not reassurance about the situation. I know of no verse in the Bible that says, “Do not fear because things are not that bad.” God calls us away from fear because we are known by him and relate to him.
I went to Costco on Thursday. It was our normal shopping day and the beginning of our budget month, so I had extra food and supplies that I would normally buy. The store was the busiest it has ever been. Employees told me that the last three days were busier than any Black Friday they had ever had. One woman with two babies stopped me and asked me if I was afraid to have my 2 year old with me with all the people in masks and gloves. I mumbled a poor response to why I wasn’t afraid. I was shopping and caught in my own rush to finish my errands. This is what I wished I had the time and attention to share with her: Jesus is my shepherd and he promises to be with me through the valley of the shadow of death.
*Recommendation: Read and Meditate on Psalm 27 in these days because the entire Psalm deals with fear and uncertainty and pain.
Love your neighbor as yourself
The effects of COVID-19 will be widespread. Death is not the only one and definitely not the most common. Whole countries are shutting down their schools, businesses, and gatherings. If that happens here, there will be people who work in service-industry jobs who will not earn money as long as the shut-down continues. There will be people self-quarantining at home who may not have the food, medicines, and supplies to get them through 14 days. The hospitalization rate is high for the virus, so many people will have large medical bills to pay after this is over.
If Jesus meant it when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” then Christians cannot ignore the needs and vulnerabilities of those who live around us. If the disease is not likely to be fatal to you, then you are still responsible to not spread it so that the elderly or weaker people around you contract it. Loving your neighbor means not spreading lies or deceitful stories about what and how to treat the disease. Loving your neighbor might mean checking on your elderly neighbor, bringing food to someone struggling to pay the bills, etc.
When the bubonic plague ravaged Europe, Christians took people into their homes and went to the cities to care for the sick. We know them as heroes today for demonstrating Christ-like love, compassion, and service. We have the opportunity to rise up as heroes to serve our communities, or we can stand on the sidelines and mock our neighbors, their situations, and their worries: "As long as it doesn't kill me, I don't care what it does to everyone else” is not a Christian response.
Join with Christians throughout the ages who lived as heroes when their neighbors needed them most. Join with Jesus who "did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant," Philippians 2:6-7.