Editor’s Note: Coronavirus is on everyone’s mind. To help us think wisely and biblically about this issue, we reached out to Dr. Ronald F. Halbrooks, a physician, former missionary and ethics student at Southeastern Seminary. For another perspective, read “A Plea for Christians Facing the Coronavirus” by Doug Ponder.
Few headlines have grabbed the global attention like the recent surge of the CoV19 (Coronavirus) seemingly out of nowhere. Why does the Coronavirus scare us so much?
We don’t seem to be as shocked and concerned about more familiar deadly diseases. These health events just become part of the fabric of human life. For example, this year alone there will be some 40,000,000 cases of Influenza and more than 40,000 deaths (CDC data), yet we trivialize these numbers by saying this is just a ‘heavy flu season.’ The sheer cost, morbidity and mortality of Influenza right now dwarfs CoV19.
Consider the magnitude of tuberculosis — which saw 10 million new cases and 1,451,000 million deaths in 2018 (WHO data). Also, there were 228,000,000 new cases of malaria and 405,000 deaths in 2018 (WHO data). Both malaria and tuberculosis are ancient diseases, and though these diseases are huge in the world and cause severe personal and financial setbacks, no one says these two diseases are disasters like Coronavirus. Why?
We could pinpoint several answers to this question. But C.S. Lewis’ well-known quote about pain and suffering will help give some clarity to this subject.
We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world….No doubt pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul. (CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain)
The unexpected is painful. For example, death in the elderly is not always seen as painful but as a relief; death has eliminated their suffering. But death due to a new disease is anything but a relief. This large-scale unexpectedness is traumatic.
And the Coronavirus is certainly unexpected, daunting, largely unknown, and seemingly out of our control. We know influenza, tuberculosis and malaria cause deaths, but we feel like we understand these diseases, and we do not feel surprised by them. However, Coronavirus is new, and we don’t know what damages it will bring. This is scary.
Understanding that God is in control can give us comfort.
In these moments of fear, let’s cling to a handful of biblical truths.
1. God is sovereign.
God is in control of his world. The prophet Daniel clearly explained this truth:
Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven timespass by for him.‘The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.’ (Daniel 4:16,17, NIV)
The Apostle Paul describes this sovereignty to the church at Colossae:
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17, NIV)
God is in control of kingdoms and his creation. He is the creator and sustainer. Understanding that God is in control can give us comfort. We may be surprised by Coronavirus, but he’s not.
2. We never know what tomorrow will bring.
We don’t know what tomorrow will bring in our finances, our work, our lives or in the world. No one in Wuhan, China was thinking about the Coronavirus in November 2019, nor was it on the radars of the WHO (World Health Organization) or CDC (the United States Centers for Disease Control). Now, of course, the whole world is thinking about it.
God, given his sovereignty, wasn’t surprised. As a result, we must realize our complete dependence on him. James speaks of this clearly in his epistle,
Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:13-17, NIV)
We don’t know today or tomorrow will bring, but we must trust that to our Sovereign and all-knowing God. As a result, we should see how utterly dependent we are on God every moment — not just during world health crises.
We can pursue contentment — even in an unknown or unexpected situation like the Coronavirus.
3. Pursue contentment.
We are not naturally content, especially in challenging times. We see this lack of contentment in ourselves in our fear-filled responses to the Coronavirus. The Apostle Paul addresses this need for contentment, writing,
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13, NIV)
To be sure, we should wisely prepare and use discernment. But we can also pursue contentment — even in an unknown or unexpected situation like the Coronavirus. This kind of contentment finds its strength not in our circumstances, but in our great God.
4. Love our neighbors.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus depicts for us the importance of loving our neighbor. The Good Samaritan does 11 things for the injured man, each of which put the Samaritan at great physical and financial risk. But he feels compelled to help this hurt man.
And so should we. Those suffering from the Coronavirus are our neighbors. Those suffering from despair and distress about the Coronavirus are also our neighbors. If given the opportunity, we should wisely but lovingly be Good Samaritans to them, too.
Yes, the Coronavirus is frightening. But we can trust the Sovereignty of God, trust our tomorrow to God, be content with what God has brought into our lives and be good Biblical neighbors even in hard times.