The current Covid-19 pandemic has provoked the world to respond in ways unprecedented in this generation. State governments are shutting down schools and churches, forcing businesses to close, and asking citizens not to leave their homes. This highly contagious virus is spreading infection around the globe, and along with it, a great deal of anxiety. People are understandably concerned about their health and the health of loved ones. People are worried about the economy and wondering how they will make ends meet, or if their businesses will be able to survive Covid-19.
As I reflected on our situation, it made me curious about other pandemics in history. A quick internet search provided some interesting reading.
I read about the most tragic pandemic in recorded history--The Back Plague of the 1300’s. It is estimated to have killed as many as 200 million people over 7 years, and at least 1 out of every 3 people in Europe--no wonder many at that time thought it was the end of the world! How did the Catholic Church of this time respond? In some ways they responded positively, helping to bury the dead, caring for the ill and encouraging quarantines to slow the spread of the disease. In other ways they responded very poorly, promoting superstitions and blaming people groups such as the Jews. The pope himself blamed the Jews for the cause of the plague and sadly, many Jews were lynched by angry mobs. There were also those who preached the plague was God’s judgment poured out on mankind, and in an attempt to appease His wrath there were monks who would parade through town flogging themselves for days.
In 1918 there was an estimated 1.5 billion people on the planet and the Spanish Flu infected about 500 million people or 1/3 of the world’s population. It is estimated that it killed 50 million people worldwide, including 675,000 in the U.S. In the mid 1900s the world’s population had increased to just over 3 billion people and there were 2 different flu pandemics causing 2.1 million deaths worldwide, with 216,000 deaths in the U.S. (Stats according to the CDC)
As of today, 3/31/2020, John Hopkins University reports the worldwide deaths from COVID-19 is over 42,000, with deaths in the US approaching 4,000. The White House is now estimating that the number of deaths in the US could reach 100,000-240,000 deaths this year.
These numbers are scary, but I am grateful to live in a time that we have the tools to fight these infections with some effectiveness. Although the world’s population has increased from 500 million in the 1300s to 7.5 billion today, the mortality rate from these diseases is decreasing. Creation has been subjected to decay because of man’s sin and this corruption will continue until the end of time when the redemption plan is completed (Romans 8). But the same God of justice Who subjected it to corruption, demonstrates His mercy by allowing mankind to do as He commanded in Genesis 1—subdue the earth. This is being done in part through scientific and medical advancements that have allowed us to better overcome these types of challenges. Praise God!
In looking for strength and wisdom from the scriptures, my mind was drawn to 2 Corinthians 4 and I found much that could be applied to our situation today. I encourage you to read the entire chapter, because I will only quote it in part here.
In 4:1-2 Paul says, Therefore, seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not. Brothers and Sisters, we must remember we have received God’s mercy—freedom from sin and bondage; life and reconciliation with God the Father. This is not a time to lose heart and be fearful, but a time to share that message with a world that is dying without hope. The Holy Spirit may even now be using this pandemic to prepare hearts and minds to hear this message!
With all the talk of what Covid-19 is doing in different countries, verses 3-7 remind us that in reality, there are only two kingdoms, and in the midst of this pandemic there is a war for souls. …The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of the darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Satan wants to use this pandemic to blind people. Sowing fear, forcing wedges in relationships and driving people to rely on themselves, science, or the government, anything but God! God will use this to turn the hearts of men and women to Him. Some will turn to God out of fear, others from the inspiration of watching how the disciples of Christ respond with peace, confidence and love. It is a dark time and the light of Christ must shine brightly from our midst.
Verses 8-18 exhort us to draw our minds away from our temporal troubles, and turn our eyes to eternity, where we will find our strength and comfort.
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;…Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body… For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
These are disturbing times, but there is hope and a purpose in it. For the believer, why worry when we have already died with Christ and been raised to new life? Jesus will be made visible to the world through the lives of Christians. When we compare these difficulties to what God is doing in our midst, to what past pandemics caused, and to what awaits us in eternity, this is but a light affliction which only lasts a moment! I can’t help but say it again…Praise God!
How should the disciple of Christ respond to the Covid-19 pandemic? Let’s learn from the mistakes of the past and allow Scripture to give us courage and purpose for today. First, thank God that we live in a time of good medical care and scientific knowledge that allows us to broadcast information quickly and fight this virus. But remember man is limited and we need to take this seriously. Avoid putting yourself or others at risk with a flippant attitude. Live out your love for others and your reverence for life by respecting that this is a contagious and deadly disease. Respect your government, as we are commanded to do in scripture, by following the rules of the land.
Second, do not be caught up in fear and conspiracy theories. When you read stories about who is at fault, secret agenda’s, questionable treatments, etc., be skeptical and do not forward them to other people. When you do this, you are only helping to advance Satan’s kingdom of darkness and division.
Instead, use your phone to connect with and encourage loved ones you cannot visit in person. Use it to look up reliable information about the virus. When looking for information use reputable, trustworthy sources such as the John Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Coronavirus web page. Either of these would be a great place to start and a quick internet search will bring you to these sites.
Lastly and most importantly, remember the lessons from 2 Corinthians 4. You are a child of the King! Turn your mind to Christ Jesus, what He has done for you, what you have in Him…everything you need. Turn your energies to sharing that message with those around you and letting the light of Jesus shine through you in serving others. Who knows what God may doing in the world through this crisis? We will see evidence of God working through it in our lifetime, but He is likely doing something bigger that will only be seen 200 years from now…if the Lord tarries that long. Let’s be sure we are working for Christ and His Kingdom!
John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource
When A Third Of The World Died From The Plague: Christian History Institute Website
Wikipedia Flu Pandemics and Black Death