We are living in a different world to the one we were a week ago.
In December 2019, a pneumonia outbreak was detected in the city of Wuhan, China. It was soon traced to a new strain of coronavirus—but not before travellers with coughs and fevers had crossed international borders in every direction.
A few months on, and the virus has spread to over 160 countries and resulted in over 7,000 deaths. While somewhere between 97%—99% of people who contract COVID-19 recover, the elderly and those with chronic health problems are most at risk. Governments the world over are deeply concerned that their hospital systems will collapse.
Because of this, and because a mass-produced vaccine is still a year away, the world is being turned upside down. Borders are closing and streets are emptying as governments shut down schools, restaurants, bars, and countless large gatherings. Everything is cancelled is the new normal.
Supermarket shelves are being stripped bare as shoppers panic-buy. It turns out that the toilet paper shortage that began a few weeks ago (and produced some hilarious memes) was the canary in the coal mine.
“Social distancing” is an odd new phrase on our lips as we work out how to do business, trade and relationships in this new set of eerie circumstances.
It’s hard to believe that this is real life—it feels more like the movies. But as you check your phone again or see the blanket news coverage of coronavirus on a TV screen or broadsheet, you realise once more that this is happening in real time.
Fortunately in Australia, we haven’t had the same contagion rates as other parts of the world. God willing, it stays this way. But in terms of social upheaval at least, what’s happening now in Europe and increasingly the USA may be what we can expect here in the days and weeks to come.
So where is God in this midst of it all?
The Bible is more relevant than ever
A few days ago, Eternity published an article called “Should a Christian flee the plague?” Martin Luther was asked. I’ve always loved the Reformers. But a few months back, I couldn’t have imagined that medieval advice on the bubonic plague would become relevant again in 2020.
As new and strange as the coronavirus seems, the only thing genuinely new about this plague is its all-pervasive disruption of our globalised lives. Pestilence itself is as old as the hills, and it’s mentioned countless times in the Bible.
Pestilence appears in the story of the Exodus as one of the ten plagues. It was a common threat to ancient Israel, especially during their times of disobedience.
More curiously, Jesus said that the growing threat of pestilence—among many other events—would be a sure sign that His return is drawing near.
I am convinced that many Bibles will be dusted off and cracked open again as a result of this year’s events. Maybe even Christians will start reading those much-avoided chapters again, like Matthew 24 and Revelation 6.
But I would also hope that we recapture what it means to “love your neighbour” in a crisis like this. Jesus speaks in sombre tones of Judgment Day, but His heart is always turned towards the vulnerable.
Our elderly neighbours and relatives are going to need our help. And they are going to need it in a very odd way.
We have to slow the spread of this virus down. As strange as it sounds, our personal hygiene and our contact with others is going to have real-world effects on how many of the sick and vulnerable survive the coming months.
Those we know in these high-risk categories may also need some of the groceries we have stocked in our pantries, and a phone call every now and then to know they’re not forgotten.
Now that globalism has screeched to a halt, “love your neighbour” has a more local and literal meaning than ever.
The Church is still the Church
For decades, we Christians have been saying that the church isn’t a building or a program, but a group of people.
As our gathering sizes continue to be limited in the western world, we’re about to find out if these were just catchy sermon lines or if we truly believe it.
Some have warned that after the coronavirus threat passes, many will have adjusted to staying at home, and they’ll stop attending church altogether.
I’m more hopeful than that. I think this pandemic is a wake-up call. Too many of us have let church become defined by the world of consumerism. This is our opportunity to bring it back to the basics. As we feel our way forward, we have much to learn from the underground church.
Now that sermons can’t be served on a platter once a week, we will need to be proactive in our pursuit of God. It’s time for every heart now to seek him.
Reading Scripture in our homes just became far more necessary—as did praying alone and as a family if that isn’t our habit. Fellowship and breaking bread will look different, but it’s going to be more important than ever. And if your church can’t live-stream, there are billions of hours of sermons online.
When life is so radically reshaped, we soon work out what’s really important, and where we have been placing our faith. We’re living in strange times—but it is an exciting time to be the Church.
God is still on His throne
God is shaking the nations. There is simply no other way to put it.
With the stock market in free-fall, weddings being cancelled everywhere, and businesses shuttering, certainty about the future escapes us all. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the biggest disruption to daily life since World War II.
But God is still on His throne.
When everything else in life is stripped bare, God is the one certainty that we can cling to. Take seriously Psalm 91, and let God be your everything when nothing else can meet the challenge.
1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
He is my God, and I trust Him.
3 For He will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
4 He will cover you with His feathers.
He will shelter you with His wings.
His faithful promises are your armour and protection.
5 Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
6 Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
7 Though a thousand fall at your side,
though ten thousand are dying around you,
these evils will not touch you.
8 Just open your eyes,
and see how the wicked are punished.
9 If you make the Lord your refuge,
if you make the Most High your shelter,
10 no evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your home.
11 For He will order His angels
to protect you wherever you go.
12 They will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;
you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!
14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love Me.
I will protect those who trust in My name.
15 When they call on Me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honour them.
16 I will reward them with a long life
and give them My salvation.”