The news cycle is loud, but we need to hear those who can’t shout
As the apostle Paul wrote, we see through a glass darkly. J.I. Packer and others have noted that we don’t know what discussions in heaven are like, so I certainly am not saying the following dialogue actually happened—but it might have. I do think our coronavirus response should keep with what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:7—“God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” So, with those caveats in mind, please read on.
Many Christians in America feared God and tried to turn away from evil. They were blessed: Many children, many sheep and oxen, so their country was the most prosperous in all the earth.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord. Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered the Christians? They are sinners like all on earth, but they fear God and try to turn away from evil.”
Then Satan answered the Lord: “Do they fear God for no reason? Have You not put a hedge around them? They are not immune to Adam’s fall but You have blessed the work of their hands, and they meet together to worship You and have community with each other. But stretch out Your hand and send among them a plague that people can have without showing signs of sickness, so they will distrust each other and quiver in their own homes with their own food and hand sanitizer.”
And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all they have is in your hands. Only do not stretch out your hand and kill more than two of each hundred.”
That could be Chapter 1 of our new book of Job. In the 1918 influenza pandemic, people became ill quickly and signs of illness were evident. This one is different in that people can be symptomless for up to three weeks as they transmit the virus to others. That’s why this could be a disease designed in hell, breaking the bonds of community as it creates fear of everyday encounters.
Why God allows this, or a Tennessee tornado that killed at least 25, is beyond us. Words translated in the English Standard Version as “disease” or “plague” appear 144 times. Sometimes this suffering arises from specific sins, but Jesus explained that a tower in Siloam fell and killed 18 not because they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem: He said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Temporarily, it’s wise not to shake hands. But it’s not wise to shake with fear.
God’s sovereignty is always evident, as in Leviticus 14: “When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a case of leprous disease in a house …” But taking precautions is wise. Those with leprosy went into quarantine for at least seven days, and sometimes much longer. Leviticus 13:46 says, “He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. … His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”
What can be particularly sinful is our response to disease. As Martin Luther and others have argued, we should not be foolhardy: It was wise to cancel South by Southwest and other massive crowd events. Temporarily, it’s wise not to shake hands. But it’s not wise to shake with fear so we stay out of contact with each other. We are meant to serve each other.
We should not be so concerned about our own health that we’re afraid to be neighbors. Pay attention to the needs of the elderly. Take a meal to doctors or nurses working long hours. How we react to a crisis like this shows whether we are new creations—and the whole world is watching.
If we merely hunker down, that is Satan’s triumph. We always need to show God’s love. That’s especially true in the time of coronavirus.