Like nearly the rest of the world, I’ve been praying and reading and thinking and praying some more about how to address the ongoing hysteria surrounding COVID-19, a.k.a. the coronavirus. The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) has declared this outbreak a “pandemic,” which has led countless establishments, organizations, and institutions to close their doors, not to mention the suspension, postponement, or cancellation of sporting events at both the collegiate and professional levels. Needless to say, the ramifications of COVID-19 are starting to taking a violent hold on our country’s social, economic, and political interests. I, however, am most fascinated by how the church will respond to this moment.
I must confess that I’ve never been privy to a news story that has changed as rapidly as the coverage of COVID-19. For as many times as I refreshed my newsfeed yesterday evening, there was seemingly a new development in our nation’s response to the ominous strain. To be sure, I don’t pretend to be any sort of expert on this escalating matter. However, it would appear that fear has us all captured in a vice-grip. Fear and anxiety are ruling the moment in many pockets of society resulting in a virulent mania that’s almost worse than the strain contagion. Even still, with every media outlet urging you to prepare for the apocalypse, there’s a verse that keeps coming to mind:
God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. (2 Tm 1:7)
We who believe in Christ Jesus as the Savior from all sin and the King of all nations are not given reason to panic. We need not react rashly or hastily. Rather, we are given every reason to be comforted and composed, yes, even in moments of crisis like the one we’re enduring right now. We can (and are called to) be responsible, but we need not be cataclysmic in our response to this outbreak. Christ Jesus hasn’t been caught off guard by COVID-19. He knows its end and extent, and his promise of all-sufficient grace is still just as true as ever. (2 Cor 10:9–10) The Church has weathered worse crises before. There is no need to sensationalize this moment into something that it isn’t. Folks outside are calling for an inevitable future of doom and gloom. But Jesus is still King. He is still, as Scottish churchman Patrick Fairbairn terms it, “the Sovereign Epoch-maker” who has determined all things according to his indomitable will before the foundations of the world were formed. (Eph 1:3–10)
When He is spoken of as King of the ages, He is presented to our view as supreme Lord and Director of the successive cycles or stages of development through which this world, or creation at large, was destined to pass — the Sovereign Epoch-maker, who arranges everything pertaining to them beforehand, according to the counsel of His own will, and controls whatever takes place, so as to subordinate it to His design.1
In light of the global outbreak of COVID-19 and its untold havoc-wreaking potential, I would like to offer the following encouragements as we wait in faith in the days and weeks ahead:
This goes without saying, but it bears repeating. Wash your hands often. Avoid touching your face. Utilize hand-sanitizer (if you’ve been able to safely procure some). You know, basic hygiene stuff. Don’t visit densely populated areas necessarily. Don’t do anything premature with your money or investments. And if you are sick or feeling ill at all, stay home. Don’t go to church. Be discerning and sensible as you weigh your family’s physical and spiritual health.
In moments like these where confusion and chaos are running at greater speed than any virus, there’s a temptation to isolate and withdraw from community with the goal of self-preservation. Perhaps there will come a time for that, where quarantines are mandated — but do not let the anxiety of what might be steal away your faith. I urge you to continue reaching out to those in your community of faith. Keep your eyes open for those in need. Keep your love for the Lord and love for your neighbor chiefly in view.
The Lord Jesus hasn’t abdicated his throne yet, and he never will. Even now, he is sovereignly ruling over all creation. And you and I have access to pray to this Lord who holds the heavens in the palm of his hand. (Pss 8:1–9; 121:1–8) What’s more, the hands that hold the universe in the balance are the same hands that are caring for you even now. This unassailable truth of the gospel should alone be enough to allay our fears and, as author and speaker Paul Tripp puts it, “blow our minds”:
We, with all of our sin, weakness, and failures are welcome to do what should blow our minds. We are not only tolerated by God at a distance; no, we are welcomed into intimate personal communion with the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the creator, the sovereign, the Savior. We, as unholy as we are, are told to go with confidence into his holy presence. The blood of Jesus has made the impossible possible.2
His promise to us is still the same: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand.” (Is 41:10) Take time and pray for the Lord’s peace and grace and faith as we endure this season of doubt.
Don’t let your fear of the moment outweigh your faith in the One who is ruling over this moment. Look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith. (Heb 12:1–2) He has promised to be with you in every season — fire, famine, flood, contagion included. (Is 43:1–3) He is with you now. (Ps 23:1–6) He is your Provider, Protector, Sustainer, and Healer in every moment of your life. His work for you hasn’t ceased. Let us declare in hope and praise along with the psalmist:
God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble. Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas, though its water roars and foams and the mountains quake with its turmoil. (Ps 46:1–3)
For further encouragement, I would recommend reading the following articles:
“3 Things Coronavirus Can’t Do to the Church” by Obbie Tyler Todd
“Your Only Comfort in Life and Death,” by R. Scott Clark
“Why Panic Won’t Save Us,” by Samuel D. James
“Anxiety, Waiting and the Coronavirus” by Alasdair Groves
“COVID-19: Lessons from Martin Luther” by Josh Buice
“Attentiveness: Pandemic” by Dr. Scott Sunquist
Patrick Fairbairn, The Pastoral Epistles: The Greek Text and Translation with Introduction, Expository Notes, and Dissertations (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1874), 101.
Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 197.