Every day delivers fresh headlines, and further fuel for fear, about the global rise and spread of coronavirus. News broadcasts carry dramatic images of cities on lockdown, politicians visibly sweating from the symptoms of the condition, and a growing sense of inevitability that a pandemic is on the horizon. As cases mount up across the world, and as infection moves the boundaries of its camp closer and closer to our homes and communities, now seems like a good time to take some stock of how we as Christians might respond to this outbreak, and how God might use such circumstances for his glory and the salvation of souls. There is so much more that could be said in addition to what appears below, but these are three of the ways in which evangelical Christians can have a distinctive voice and presence in what increasingly appears to be a crisis:
As with any global event there will be a temptation for Christians to speculate about the ultimate significance of immediate news. In spite of horrendous missteps in this regard in the past, well-intentioned believers can be slow to learn. The images of apocalyptically abandoned communities, the voracious spread of a virus from a market to major cities of the world, and the sense of foreboding and dread engendered by dramatic media stories all issue an invitation to diagnose where such events might lie on the timeline of future things.
No doubt there is a fringe of Christians who indulge in this kind of conversation regardless of the headlines, but for moderate believers now is not the time to prematurely wed what’s happening to what’s written.Regardless of your eschatological position, parading one’s views about the end of the world as we know it will find little justification in Scripture, and even less traction with a watching world. This is true in the short term, but even more so in the long term, when the present crisis has passed and life returns to a lesser level of physical fear. How foolish Christians will look to have end times egg on their faces, and how weakened their voice will be in times of future importunity. Even if eschatology is your favourite tune, now may not be the best time to turn up the volume.
A much more productive approach to the feelings of ordinary people at the present time is to help them think through the ultimate issues which such crises raise. A major outbreak of disease brings the latent existential issues which reside in every heart to the surface. People who normally dim down the mortality horizon of their lives to a distant shadow begin to think about our vulnerability as people, and the irrepressibility of problems which threaten our entire existence. Combine the potential global outbreak of disease with current climate fears, and it is not hard to see the deep malaise and fear which dwell not far beneath the surface in society.
If we belong to gospel preaching churches, these issues will never have been off the agenda. If we believe in serious minded interaction with Scripture, then ultimate issues already permeate our regular ministry and thinking. If this is the case, then now is a good time to help our neighbours and friends, our loved ones and colleagues, to think their fear through to its logical conclusion – what of our lives beyond now, what of our existence beyond comfort and pleasure? What kinds of questions would God have us to ask in light of the fact that we are not, after all, invincible? In a society which has become accommodated to increased longevity, seemingly sovereign medical science, and a culture of comfort at almost every level, the outbreak of major illness can go some way towards breaking up fallow ground.
If our personal Christian lives have become individualised to the point of our own personal and immediate needs, if the emphasis of Bible teaching has become therapeutic and present-oriented, then we might just find that the world is asking questions we are not, and seeking answers that we can’t give. Coronavirus might just be the prompt that we need to assess how well we speak in to the existential element that God’s Word makes us face, as well as the individual issues that it addresses.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15)