A few weeks ago, I had the flu. For sixteen years, I have faithfully received flu shots and every year they worked until this year. By best recollection, I hadn’t had the flu in at least 20 years. It was miserable. I hated it. I had forgotten how much worse it is than a cold. Thankfully, I was diagnosed in the window to get an anti-viral medication that helped me get over the flu faster. In a week, I returned to life as normal.
I say this, because in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen several people on social media make light of the situation. They talk about how many more people the flu has infected and killed. They talk about how, like me, they had the flu or some other illness and recovered just fine. So, they ask, what’s the big deal? Some even couch it in religious language, “God’s in control. I don’t have to worry.”
And in some sense it’s true, it won’t be a big deal for the vast majority of people. It’ll be like the flu I had or a cold–you’ll be miserable for a few days but a week or two later, you’ll be fine. Someone like me–in my late 30s and in decent health–probably has less to personally worry about than I did with the flu.
Yet, that doesn’t mean we should treat this lightly.
As much as many medical experts say that most of us will come out fine, they also caution that this is still a new manifestation of the coronavirus and we’re still learning about it. But what the trends do show is for the elderly or those with various medical conditions or those with compromised immune systems, this can be a very big deal with serious complications and death. Not to mention that the transmission rate appears higher than the common cold or flu–in other words, even if you’re infected and will be fine, it’s easier for you to spread to those who might not be than the cold or flu.
Does that mean that we panic and buy up all the milk and toilet paper? No. And really, we as Christians, should be on the forefront of not panicking.
Psalm 90 was in my devotional reading this morning and it reminds us: “Lord, you have been our refuge in every generation. Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, you are God” (90:1-2; CSB).
We shouldn’t panic because God is God, just as he has always been and just as he always will be. Nothing happening today caught him by surprise. God is not panicked. And God knows how to care for his people. Now, with that, God never promises universal protection for this life. Even the faithful may die young. Be it by some virus or old age, if we have Christ, when we die, we will step into life everlasting. God doesn’t promise perfect health in this life. God does promise to bring us safely into his heavenly kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18).
Our life is like grass–we sprout, we grow, we wither, we dry up (Psalm 90:5-6). We don’t know the length of our days on earth (90:9-12), but God does. So we do not panic.
However, we should act in wisdom and prudence.
This past Sunday we chose not to cancel church because there has yet to be reported cases of COVID-19 in our town or county. Another church in town did cancel. As did friends elsewhere, while others went on-line. We did, however, take certain precautions–no handshakes, no passing the offering plate, and no nursery, for at least the next few weeks. While we still met, we also prayed for those who chose otherwise–that the Spirit would encourage them in whatever their endeavors to worship. We are, after all, part of one big family in Christ.
Is there wisdom in cancelling in communities that have been hit? Is there wisdom in taking general precautions in other places? Absolutely, on both counts. Is this somehow a denial of the protection and sovereignty of God? Absolutely not.
After all, Psalm 90 was written by Moses, the same man through whom God spoke the law to Israel. And what do we read throughout the law? Commands of isolation and quarantine (in a different context might we even call it “social distancing”?) in the face of certain medical conditions, including highly communicable diseases. Therefore, even from Scripture, we can see the wisdom in choosing to isolate or practice social distancing, even in terms of cancelling church meetings for at least a couple of weeks until the tide turns for the better. This does not negate our trust in God and his sovereignty as we look to him as a refuge in the midst of this momentary trouble.
In our day and age, we have numerous ways to creatively connect and encourage worship among our church even if, for the moment, we cannot gather as a church. So, while we chose to gather this past Sunday, we will not begrudge those who did not. And as we decide the best courses of action for the foreseeable future in light of medical and governmental recommendations, we hope to still find ways to connect and worship for the glory of God.
It’s easy to want to say, “It’s not big deal–just like the cold or flu,” and do what we want regardless of recommendations from the government and medical professionals. But let us also remember that the sovereign King of Creation gave his people commands to isolate when appropriate to keep the community healthy. So, even if we’re not in a high risk category, let us walk in prayerful wisdom, let us have deep concern and love for those who could be most hurt, and let us not panic but also let us not take this lightly.