In recent days, coverage of the coronavirus has shifted to the increasing polarization over how concerned we should be about the situation. Some think we are much too concerned and causing unnecessary damage through protective measures; others think we are not concerned enough and need stricter and longer-lasting protective measures. Given that our generation has never been in a situation like this, the fact that there would be a diversity of opinions should not come as a surprise.
My concern here is not to point to a precise point on the “concern scale” that is correct (which is impossible), but to provide some biblical considerations for Christians to use to process their position. My larger concern, though, is to push those of us who belong to Christ and hence, to one another, towards unity amidst diversity. Even if we can agree on the points below, we will put emphasis in different places, and we will draw different conclusions as to the best path forward. And that’s okay! We don’t all have to agree on every jot and tittle; but we do need to make love for another a priority, which requires much grace in a time like this.
Here are eight considerations for Christians, grouped by four good concerns and four good confidences:
- A concern for human life is a good thing. When Jesus faced the death of a man he loved, he wept. As those who proclaim the sacredness of life as a gift of God, we should have sympathy for the many lives that are being lost. This should both weigh on our minds and affect our actions. Even if we are not in the high-risk groups, the virus clearly can be transferred quite easily and from those who show no symptoms.
- A concern for human flourishing is a good thing (though not an equal concern with human life). Having a concern for the economy, people’s livelihoods, and the effects of protective measures being taken is not necessarily a disregard for saving people’s lives, nor an idolization of money (though it may be). “Loving your neighbor” certainly entails a concern for their welfare, and an economy that enables this.
- A concern for the orders and recommendations of government and health officials is a good thing. Unless we are being told to do something that goes against God’s law, we are told to “honor” and “be subject to” human governments (1 Pet. 3, Rom. 13). Up until this point, there is very little evidence of any attempt to specifically restrict Christians or churches. We can talk about human rights being impinged upon, but the church is not being persecuted. All of that being said, there is room for using wisdom to discern the spirit of the orders and recommendations being given, as they do not (and cannot) address every single situation.
- A concern for God to relieve us from this pandemic is a good thing. With the effects this situation is having on human lives and human flourishing, we should be diligently praying for God to bring relief and to rescue us. A lack of crying out to God in such a time likely reveals either a disregard for those suffering, or a pride that we can handle this apart from God.
- A confidence that God will use this pandemic for good is a good thing. At one and the same time that we pray for God to relieve us, we should be praying for God to work through this time. Times of uncertainty, hardship, and the threat of death are often the means God uses to draw people to himself, and wake up his church to greater devotion and urgency.
- A confidence that the end and outcome of this does not ultimately depend on estimates, figures, and theories but on God’s sovereign will is a good thing. It is difficult to not study all the date and predictions being put out by numerous sources, and we should be thankful for this work that is certainly saving lives. But none of these efforts control the future. “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). It should be a great comfort (for believers) that we are not bound to human estimates and human measures, but to the good and sovereign will of God. The one who suffered for us, the one who promises to work all things together for our good, is in control.
- A confidence that our worth, identity, hope and comfort cannot be lost by the coronavirus or its effects is a good thing. While we should mourn with those who mourn, be sympathetic with those who suffer, we should not give into fear, anxiety, hysteria, despair or hopelessness. The most significant part of our lives cannot be lost. As Martin Luther wrote in a hymn: Were they to take our house, Goods, honor, child, or spouse, Though life be wrenched away, They cannot win the day. The Kingdom’s ours forever.
- A confidence that death is not the end for believers is a good thing. Death is an evil intrusion into God’s good world. It should cause us to mourn. Remember, Jesus wept. But for believers, death is no longer something to be feared, or a reason for despair. Charles Spurgeon said, “Death seemed to be all black and evil, like Satan himself, something into which he had put his most venomous sting. But now, to believers in Jesus, death is a messenger from our Father in heaven calling us home to Him—not a black angel, striking terror to our hearts, but one who is exceeding bright and fair, coming to bid us fly away to realms of light and love.”
I hope those of us who belong to God through his grace in Jesus can agree on all of these things. I would say these truths are quite clear in Scripture, and quite valuable for living as God’s people in this world.
That being said, we will not all agree on the implications of these in a time like this: what measures are needed, when should we resume life as normal, at what point does the government go to far, to what degree is it our responsibility to encourage/exhort others to take protective actions? These are things that we can, and perhaps should, discuss, but our unity and love should not depend on complete agreement on these things. The source of our belonging to one another (the love of God in drawing us to himself through the body and blood of Jesus) runs much deeper, and should be of greater importance.
May we keep our eyes on Jesus, and our identity in him, as we seek to show love and grace to one another in this time, and reveal to the world a unity much deeper than our political leanings, opinions, personalities, etc.