If you have been watching the news or reading about the coronavirus online, then you quickly realize that opinions about it range the entire spectrum, from the sober-minded perspective based on sheer objective data to the emotionally sensationalized, over-the-top paranoia from those screaming that “the sky is falling!”
To illustrate the disparity in perspectives on a personal level, here’s what I experienced recently.
Two days ago a well-educated, scientifically trained Christian told me to my face, “Ted Cruz has the coronavirus!” Surprised at hearing that, I checked the facts and it turns out that Ted Cruz does not have the coronavirus! Spreading false information in a hysterical manner like that is not helpful: it is irresponsible and actually dangerous.
Compare that with the pastor who spoke to me yesterday, just having returned from the Shepherd’s Conference at Grace Church last week in Southern California where he was interacting with, hugging, and shaking all the hands of other men from Monday to Friday, ten hours a day, with no fear or worries whatsoever about coronavirus. He also told me that Pastor John MacArthur did not say one word publicly during the entire conference—where 3,500 men were scrunched together all day long for five days, shoulder to shoulder—about the coronavirus. Those are two radically different responses to the current virus scare, and Christians need to take notice and think biblically about the matter.
There are different ways to approach the topic, but for the sake of simplicity I’ll address it in a threefold manner:
- a practical perspective
- a medical perspective
- a biblical perspective
First, some practical considerations. The next couple weeks will be telling as to the trend and imminent threat of the virus in our country. Fortunately, as of yesterday, March 10, 2020, only 647 people out of 350 million in the US have contracted the virus and with only 25 deaths—many of the 647 are actually recovering.
- If you have coronavirus related symptoms (fever, respiratory problems, a cough) see a doctor.
- If you have symptoms or are sick at all (even a cold) stay home and avoid others.
- If you are healthy stay away from sick people.
- Wash your hands and use good hygiene.
- Avoid biased, non-objective, drama-driven, politically-motivated news outlets on the topic. Sadly, there are many and they are mainstream—the CDC has a helpful website with the latest data. As a matter of fact, there is no more informed and up-to-date resource available to the general public than the CDC website, and here’s what they published just yesterday: “For the majority of people, the immediate risk of being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to be low. There is not widespread circulation in most communities in the US.”
Vice President Pence is working in tandem with the CDC and the most experienced experts in the world on this issue. He is giving regular daily updates and they are objective, sober-minded and worth reviewing. There are many out there trained in science and even medicine who are not current or informed and are dispensing wrong information and even propaganda in order to create fear. Be discerning.
Covid-19 (as of the writing of this) has a mortality rate globally of 3.4%. Keep in mind that’s a global mortality rate of 3.4%. It’s a little bit less than 1% in the United States at the moment, but even if we are to assume a 3.4% mortality rate, or even as high as 5.2% as it is in Wuhan, China (where the virus originated), it still is not as lethal as common diarrhea which kills over 2,100 children per day globally (CDC).
Of the twenty-six people who have died in the US to date from the coronavirus, all of them were already immuno-compromised, meaning they were in poor health and would be at risk for any kind of sickness. Influenza, on the other hand, has been linked to 18,000+ deaths in 2020. That means in the last 68 days, there have been 264.7 deaths per day from the regular flu.
Yes, Covid-19 seems to be highly infectious, but something being highly infectious doesn’t make it highly dangerous. The common cold is highly infectious, but now that we know much about it, the hysteria over it is gone. Mononucleosis is highly infectious, but nobody stays home from church due to that fact.
Long before there was the coronavirus there was the highly contagious fatal disease called leprosy, and it is explicitly addressed by God in the Bible (Leviticus 13-14). I preached on this recently. God’s protocol among the believing community regarding the fears of leprosy provide practical guidelines for us today with any threatening disease or virus (Rom 15:4). Here’s what God required:
- know the symptoms of the disease (Lev 13:2);
- notify the medical experts when you see potential symptoms (13:2);
- the patient is thoroughly examined (13:3);
- the medical experts immediately quarantine the potentially infectious for 14 days (13:4-5);
- if the patient is infected then the medical experts pronounce an official diagnosis (13:28);
- the patient with the infection is put in isolation until there is a full recovery (13:46);
- if the patient is not infected (false symptoms) then the patient is released back into the community after 14 days;
- the medical experts make loud, clear, public declarations as to updates on the various patients whether they are infected or not (13:45) for the sake of communication to the community for the purpose of warning and encouraging (13:59);
- God is to be acknowledged throughout this whole process (14:1-32). There is no basis for God’s people to have dualistic thinking as the pagans who separate the sacred and the secular. Christians have no business looking to secular sources while disregarding basic biblical principles that should guide our thinking in the midst of this or any crisis.
Not coincidentally, the CDC is following this very protocol for coronavirus (except for point #9!), and they got the protocol from the Bible, whether they realize it or not.
When it comes to thinking about things biblically, we have to remember that contagious viruses are not new neither to the world nor the Christian community. During the time the early church was called to meet together regularly—and even before that when Israel was called to congregate in gathered assemblies—contagious diseases had been present. And this has been true throughout church history. People have always been at risk of catching viruses from others, especially viruses that they were not aware of, since it is impossible to detect every contagious illness.
We are fortunate to be in this time of world history where modern medicine is at its best, and to live in a country where the level of both medication and civil sanitation is generally higher than it is in other countries. Thus, according to the physicians who some of us have consulted with (it helps to talk to doctors rather than to look at the internet), some of who themselves are believers, the best way to deal with this most recent outbreak is to continue living the way we’ve been called to live with the prudence mentioned in the paragraphs above.
We have the statistics to work with and a context to deal with. While we want to be careful about both catching and spreading the coronavirus if we can help it, Proverbs 22:13 and 26:13 warn us about living in fear that “there is a lion in the road.” And right now, there is a wide spectrum of opinion on the level of danger of this disease. While some look at this as a deadly outbreak, there are other medical experts who say that this is very similar to a common cold with a bit stronger symptoms. Therefore, we live with prudence, but not in fear, and we don’t allow the presence of the virus in California to prevent us from living our daily lives of service to the community and going about our normal tasks.
Here are some basic biblical principles that all Christians should prioritize during times like these:
(1) Do Not Live in Fear or Propagate Fear
The most repeated command in the Bible from God to His people, from Genesis to Revelation, is “do not fear” (Gen 15:1; Rev 2:10). This is a command, not an option. A Christian who chooses to live in fear is being disobedient to God’s Word. Ironically, this is the very thing the world over is doing—living in fear and promoting fear about the coronavirus, most of it unnecessarily.
(2) Trust God and Walk by Faith
This is the complement to the first point. “Trust in Him at all times, O people” (Ps 62:8). People who claim to have faith in Christ need to live accordingly, and think and talk accordingly.
(3) Be Considerate of Others (Phil 2:1-3)
Put others above yourself; that is Christlike. Take care of yourself. If you are sick, don’t put others at risk. If you have symptoms, see a doctor and isolate yourself until you recover.
(4) Control your Thought Life
Philippians 4:8-9 says to “think on things that are true…lovely.” This also is a command. Your thoughts will control your emotions. If you have wrong information and are getting your news from misguided, sensationalized news sources, void of God’s sovereign perspective, you will be vulnerable to becoming unstable in your thinking and even hysterical. There is evidence of this now among Christians on Facebook posts and in other social media platforms.
(5) Do not Forsake Assembling Together (Heb 10:23-25)
God gave this command as the church was being persecuted and Christians were literally being murdered for gathering publicly. God is in control; He is omniscient; He knows every trial, persecution, virus, disease or natural disaster that would ever confront humanity…He’s in charge of them all. And yet He told His people to continue meeting for worship and fellowship in His name, for His glory. Christians don’t let the unbelieving world dictate when we as the Body of Christ will disband meeting in fellowship together.
(6) See God as the Author of your Life.
“In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me; when as yet there was not one of them” (Ps 139:16). This is the confidence that each Christian should live with on a daily basis; God has already determined how long we will live. He knows when we will die and nothing will change that. He is the Author of life and He alone has the keys of death. He cares for you. He knows when one hair falls from your head. Your secular news sources don’t believe this—they reject such a notion, and they spew accordingly. Do not subject yourself to being exposed to this worldly and dangerous ideology.
The Bible says to pray about all things (Phil 4:6). Thank God for health, life, all your blessings, and your forgiveness in Christ. Ask God to give you peace of mind that comes with thinking on truth.
(8) Be Salt and Light (Matt 5:13-15)
Live differently than the rest of the world in light of this temporary scare. Most of the world is living in fear, but we are children of light, so walk in light and not in the darkness. Trust Christ, living in the shadow of His presence. He promised His children, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:5), even when there is a pandemic virus. Live your normal life, being a good steward of all God has entrusted to you for the day. Walk in wisdom. Know His peace. Confess your sins if you have failed to trust Him in any specific area.
I could say much more about how to live according to biblical principles in light of today’s challenge because the Bible is totally sufficient for everything that confronts us in life. But the eight points above suffice. The next couple of weeks will be telling as to the trend and imminent threat of the virus in our country. In the meantime, we will walk with wisdom, trust God, pray for His leading and continue to meet in all our gatherings as the Body of Christ, including Bible studies, Sunday morning worship service, Fellowship Meals, discipleship groups, Sunday School classes and in individual homes.
I want to thank several of the CBC Elders who gave me input and their thoughts that are collectively reflected in this article.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash