The novel COVID-19 virus is now touching all our lives in a myriad of ways. Our church’s trip to Israel has been cancelled, conferences have been postponed, my 18 year old daughter is worrying about her A Levels, the need for skype lessons and logistics around her exams. My 87-year-old father in hospital is being fast-tracked to get an operation scheduled for nine months to be done now. Emergency plans at work, keeping our distance from one another and every surface springing a hand gel are constant reminders of an unknown, disruptive threat.
But what of our response? The regular updates on our phone pinging the latest statistics and the pictures of empty shelves and commuters covering their faces all work to heighten our hardwired instinct to be anxious and to protect ourselves. And maybe put that extra bag of rice or pasta in our supermarket basket – just in case…
So how should we respond as Christians?
Put our trust in God
None of us can predict the future but we can draw strength from what we do know. Worry is not our friend and panic is not our way. ‘If you faint on the day of adversity, your strength is small’ (Proverbs 24.10)
Corrie ten Boom, who faced extreme adversity, reminds us that ‘Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrows, it empties today of its strength’. Jesus calls us to respond in prayer and put our trust in him. ‘Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go’. (Joshua 1:9)
Services and businesses are going to come under pressure and people in general may be experiencing extra stress – we won’t always know what they might be dealing with on the inside. Asking God to give us extra servings of grace and patience for others will help mark us as different.
Be the first to arrive and the last to leave
Throughout history, Christians have stood out because they showed up and reached out to the sick, the vulnerable and the marginalised through plagues, pandemics and persecutions. Sociologist Rodney Stark writes about a plague in AD251 which swept through the Roman Empire decimating the population: ‘Pagans tended to flee the cities but Christians stayed. The early Bishop Dionysius writes ‘Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves, and many departed this life serenely happy’.’
In nineteenth century England, when thousands were dying of cholera, Charles Spurgeon visited homes to care for the sick. Today, the church of Jesus in Wuhan China, the virus’s epicentre, is open and ministering to everyone.
Not all of us will be on the front-line of caring for the sick, but rather than holing up at home, there are things we can do. Food banks have reported that they are running out of staples, so that extra bag or rice or pasta could be donated. Elderly people in your church or community may feel even more isolated with access to online services, so running errands or just a listening ear over a cup of tea may be a lifeline.
Be watchful for those who are vulnerable
This week I spoke to a girl in her thirties who works for herself and is originally from Romania who was very worried about the virus. When I asked her what she was most worried about, it wasn’t getting ill in itself, but the fact that she was alone here in the UK. We live in a world that has never been better connected but so many feel alone, vulnerable and anxious. In times like this we can be beacons of light in a dark world offering our love, peace and confidence through the power of the Holy Spirit.
One practical idea might be to set up Whatsapp group for the neighbours on your street, as a couple of enterprising people we know have done in London. They posted a note through letter boxes suggesting starting a group that could share shopping, collecting medicines or just being a listening ear.
Above all we can pray! The disruption of this unknown threat may be an inconvenience for most of us, but we must pray for those working in the NHS, for the government decision makers and our supermarket supply chains. As well as those who will be deprived of income and those who may suffer personal loss and extreme pressures.
Praying leads us closer to God and is a reminder that confidence in God trumps fear, thankfulness trumps selfishness, and understanding his love for us unleashes our love for our fellow humans.
Prayer-infused peace, compassion and selflessness should mark how we talk about Coronavirus. Jesus Christ put on flesh and made himself vulnerable. He healed the sick and loved the marginalized and we should follow his lead.