Over the last several weeks, I have personally struggled to gauge the severity of the spread of the coronavirus. It is a virus that originated in Wuhan, China, and it is now considered a pandemic.
I am increasingly wary of media and government, largely due to what I perceive as unbalanced reporting and distasteful priorities. With all the hype, I have remained calm and even mildly cynical. My family has purchased some extra essential supplies, mostly because we’ve been more concerned about a panpanic than a pandemic.
Then, yesterday, I read a startling report from Italy about the spread of the virus among Italians. Hospitals are turning away patients. Healthcare workers are becoming sick. Cities have essentially shutdown.
Today, we learned that the President of the United States, Donald Trump, will halt all flights to the USA from the European continent to mitigate the pandemic. The National Basketball Association has now postponed its season. So has the National Hockey League. Locally, the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival is cancelled, and we have three confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Waterloo Region.
Already, this virus appears to be one of the most economically and socially disruptive events in my lifetime. Concerned about how this will unfold over the spring and summer, many are experiencing high levels of anxiety.
Mortality rates of the virus appear to be roughly 3%. That is a significantly higher mortality rate than the flu, but this is certainly not even near the mortality rates that occurred during black death or the plague.
Alas, my job is not to discuss the virus and it spread. There are others much more informed and qualified. My job is to discuss our church’s response to the pandemic.
The plan is for our Sunday services to be on schedule. We hope to have hand sanitizer available near ushers and greeters. We will instruct our ushers and greeters to not initiate physical contact, like handshakes or hugs. If someone else initiates physical contact, the ushers and greeters may or may not reciprocate at their own discretion. There is nothing shameful about saying, “Due to health concerns, I’d rather not shake hands. But I am so thankful to see you and have Christian fellowship with you this morning.”
My mother taught me to frequently scrub my hands, to cover my mouth when I cough or sneeze, and to not stick my fingers into my mouth or nose. Such motherly wisdom seems even more valuable these days.
I do have a pastoral concern for the weak and elderly among us. I have always placed a high priority on church attendance. It is commanded in Scripture, and it is good for our souls. However, pastorally I am concerned that the most vulnerable among us not feel pressure to be in public or even at church. Please don’t feel guilt for staying home, if you are weak or elderly. If you have a family member or small group member or friend in the church who falls within this category, please advise them accordingly. If you know of someone staying home, please consider helping them with shopping. If you do decide to stay home or if you know someone who decides to stay home, could you please let me know? An elder, another pastor, or I would be delighted to visit the housebound during the week, for prayer, Scripture reading, and encouragement.
For those who do possess signs of sickness or who have traveled by air or who have been exposed to persons or geographical areas infected by the coronavirus, you should self-quarantine for a time. If that is you, please let me know. I want to minister to you as best as I can.
At these times, we need reminders to put our confidence in our God. King Asa was one of Judah’s better kings. He did, nonetheless, have his shortcomings. He once sinned by turning to medical professionals before he turned to the Lord:
In the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet, and his malady became increasingly severe. Yet even in his illness he did not seek the LORD, but only the physicians. So in the forty-first year of his reign, Asa died and rested with his fathers. (2 Chronicles 16:12–13).
God has kindly given us medicine, and for that we are thankful. But medicine is not God. Medicine has the power to kill some viruses, but only God can give us life and healing. We can easily place our hope in the wrong places at times like this. Government, doctors, and pharmaceuticals can easily become our saviour and hope. That is idolatry, and God is jealous for our affections.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7).
The instability has created concern over potential breaks in our food supplies due to shipping and production disruptions. No family should panic. But each family should prepare. We should trust the Lord and keep the cupboards full.
As we think about government and society, I am reminded that God often sends plagues in judgment of a wicked people. He sent plagues to judge Pharaoh and Egypt. In Numbers 25, God sent a plague that killed 24,000 in one day for their sexual immorality. In 2 Samuel 24, God sent a plague that killed 70,000 men in judgment for King David’s sin. The fourth horseman of the apocalypse brings death by pestilence (Revelation 6:8).
Now is an appropriate time for our government and society to repent of its distasteful and godless priorities. We live in a nation that has intentionally and overtly rejected the rule of God, even to the point of celebrating its own rebellion. God’s judgments often start as a small warning, and their severity escalates incrementally over time. He is patient, but his patience only lasts for a season.
As for Christians, especially during times of crisis and public fear, the Lord Jesus indicates that we will remain meek. “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Meekness is a quiet trust in God, especially amidst crisis or opposition. If this is a crisis, our faith remains confident and our temper quiet. We know our God, and we know He reigns supreme over every atom and every virus. Viruses spread at His command, and viruses halt at His command.
He has proven Himself trustworthy for generations. His Church has already come through persecution, famine, and plague. She continues to flourish. As Noah traveled on the waves of the sea to find solid ground on Mount Ararat and a bright world of opportunity after the storm, so will the Church of God. The waves appear to be chaotic, but God sits enthroned above them. The waves are His servants to carry His people to higher ground and brighter times.
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
May the LORD give strength to his people!
May the LORD bless his people with peace!