Friday, March 13, 2020

How to Be a Christian During a Pandemic

  Do not call conspiracy 
everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear, 
and do not dread it. 
The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, 
he is the one you are to fear, 
he is the one you are to dread. 
He will be a holy place…     
-Isaiah 8:12-14 (NIV)

So what have you been talking about with friends and family the last few days?
     Maybe it’s the NBA and NHL suspending their seasons, or Major League Baseball delaying the start of theirs, or the conference tournaments in college basketball being canceled. Maybe you’ve been talking about a scheduled trip that you’ve decided not to take — or maybe it was decided for you. Maybe your work is encouraging you to work from home. Maybe your kids’ school schedule has been interrupted. Maybe you’re talking about buying hand sanitizer and toilet paper on the black market.
     It’s likely that you’ve talked about at least one of those topics recently. But none of that is what you’ve really been talking about, is it? At the root of all of that, of course, is the spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus that seems like it’s threatening to cause the world to stop spinning entirely for 14 days to a month. It isn’t, of course. Sooner or later this pandemic will run its course. Coronavirus might be part of our medical lexicon from here on out, but the disruptions will eventually stop and life will go back to normal. Until then, though, things may feel pretty out of whack.
     What tends to happen at moments like this is that we can lose sight of our faith. It’s easy to listen to the fear and hysteria, forgetting that there are those in our world who trade in fear and hysteria, and forgetting that even in difficult times we’re disciples of Jesus first and foremost. 
     It’s especially in difficult times that our world needs us to follow him.
     So how should a Jesus-follower live in a post-coronavirus world? Is there a Christian way to go about life during a pandemic like this?
     I think there is, and I hope the following suggestions might help you.
     First of all, I think it’s important for us to have the humility to listen to reputable and informed sources. Proclaiming that “this is no worse than the flu” and grousing about how all the “hysteria” will cause a recession would be kind of silly, frankly, if it wasn’t so irresponsible. There is a reason that medical people, like the Centers for Disease Control, are making the recommendations that they’re making. There are people in our world who study epidemiology and public health, and who have simulations for scenarios exactly like this that tell us exactly how we should act to control the virus as much as possible. Taking their advice, and ignoring the people on social media who make claims and promote conspiracy theories, is a good place to start. We’re people of faith, and we don’t need to control our environments by making unilateral decisions in our own little petty kingdoms.
      Related to that, we have to realize that our response to coronavirus is about others as much as it is about ourselves. Jesus teaches that we should behave toward others as we’d have them behave toward us. You may not be particularly susceptible to COVID-19, you may not be part of an at-risk population (the very young, the elderly, those with underlying heart and respiratory conditions or compromised immune systems), but someone you have contact with definitely is. Those of us who claim to follow Jesus should be full of compassion and concern for others, even if it means some inconvenience for ourselves. 
    Maybe you know this already, but the issue with COVID-19 isn’t really how many people have come down with symptoms so far. Nor is it the mortality rate. The real problem is how fast the virus can spread, and how people who show no symptoms seem to be able to transmit it. The concern is a spike in infections that overwhelms our health care system. That's what all the cancellations and postponements of large events are all about. The good news is that there are things we can do, both individually and in communities, to control that. Washing our hands thoroughly (I’ve been saying the Lord’s Prayer to myself as I wash mine), being careful with sneezes and coughs, avoiding unnecessary travel, disinfecting our homes, businesses, and churches regularly, checking on each other by phone and social media — these are all things we can do to help keep someone who’s particularly vulnerable from getting the disease. You would want that if you were vulnerable, after all. 
     We need to resist the temptation to draw into ourselves. Fear and uncertainty can make human beings self-centered. It’s precisely at moments like these that we need to think about others as well. Buying up everything on the shelves at Wal-Mart or Costco is a selfish response to this crisis. It ignores the needs of others, especially those who aren’t able to buy in bulk. We can’t let the virus keep us from serving others, loving our neighbors, and sharing our lives with the church, though we might have to change how some of that looks temporarily. Perhaps this crisis will help us to reexamine our tendency to think that the life of the church is all about what happens in a large group on Sundays. Maybe it will help us to get better at ministering to one another in small groups and one-on-one. Maybe it will help us to consider how we can be better at ministry in more remote, “socially distanced” ways.
     Don’t give in to fear. There is always something to fear in our world, but Isaiah reminded the people of his day that they weren’t to fear the things that everyone else fears, nor join in the conspiracy theories of those looking for someone to blame for their fears. When we fear other things, it can cause us to lose sight of God — the one we should truly fear. Fear makes us blind and deaf to him. It makes us operate purely out of anger and self-interest. It activates our fight or flight responses. Worst of all, it can make us forget that we have a sanctuary, a place of safety, in God. Jesus has died and risen again. We believe in life because of him. Therefore we aren’t afraid of any of the forms death takes.
     I like the words of C.S. Lewis in reference to a global concern of his day:    
 “....The first point to be made and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

     When coronavirus and its effects come to our communities, let it find us with minds and hearts led by the Spirit of God doing the things that Jesus has called us to do.

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