The title of this post begins with the word “a,” meaning that I think there are many ways for Christians to respond to the coronavirus. What follows is one Christian’s response.
Let’s start with the shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders which have become so pervasive. While I believe there is a place for them, especially to protect those who are most vulnerable, like the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, there needs to be concern for the rest of humanity. In early March, my family and I agreed that there would likely be a rise in suicide as people sheltered in place. Two months later, I read federal agencies and experts were warning that a historic wave of mental-health problems was approaching, including PTSD, substance abuse, depression, and suicide. In the context of COVID-19, some of these issues are brought about by isolation, while others are brought about by economic hardship as well as other factors. We’ve all heard about–and in some cases experienced–small businesses closing, people losing their jobs, and a resultant sharp spike in the unemployment rate.
I don’t think we should ask which is more important: protecting the lives of the most vulnerable among us or reopening the economy. A better question is: how can we balance the needs of everyone? For the sake of comparison: depending on your age, you may have heard of the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69, which killed somewhere between one million and four million worldwide; by comparison, COVID-19 has killed about 300,000 so far. During the Hong Kong flu, there were no shelter-in-place orders in the U.S. (Remember Woodstock?) Why has the reaction been so strong this time? I believe one of the main reasons is the 24/7 news cycle. Back in 1968, the “news” was mostly in newspapers and on the 6:00 TV news. I’m sure there are many other reasons that people can come up with as well, including the blame game that politicians and the rest of us like to play. However, I believe there is also a deeper reason, which is a different attitude toward death.
50+ years ago, families were larger and lifespans were shorter; the prevailing attitude seemed to be that death was something natural that happened to everyone–and everything–sooner or later. In our comparatively sanitized lives now, the average person is less likely to see a dead animal close up, for example. Furthermore, people are less comfortable talking about death than they used to be. Now there are increasing efforts to extend life as long as possible, partly because of so many amazing advances in health care. I believe that all of this explains the fear and panic I observed during a shopping trip to Costco on March 6; you could see the fear on people’s faces, and you could observe the panic with which people were buying mass quantities of various items. This was six days before the CA governor imposed the stay-at-home order, and the panic buying quickly worsened.
In Scripture, there are many verses that tell us not to be fearful or anxious. There are some pastors who have taught that these are “normal” feelings but not necessarily sin. Well, they are normal, but they are also sinful because they reflect a lack of trust in the Lord. It was very refreshing recently to hear a guest pastor of our new church say that fear is selfish. He didn’t explicitly say why, but I believe it’s because fear tends to be paralyzing, which makes it less likely we will serve others.
I have my own fear of bees and other stinging insects, but that does not prevent me from mowing the lawn with bees buzzing around flowers on the edge of it. I can sometimes become anxious about other things as well, but as Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” If you have become fearful and anxious in the age of the coronavirus, take these verses to heart.
A relative that I have a lot of respect for mused in early March about whether COVID-19 could be one of the end-time “pestilences” mentioned, for example, in Luke 21:11. At the time, I didn’t think so, but now I think it may very well be a forerunner of much worse plagues to come.
A final comment: Several weeks ago, I saw a list of movies and shows in which the apocalypse is brought on by nuclear war or plague. Missing from the list was The Stand, a wonderful 1994 miniseries. If you want to watch an ultimate battle between good–with a Christian theme–and evil in the aftermath of most of the human race being wiped out by plague, this is for you. Because of some violent content, don’t watch with young children.